Field Notes: Reflections from an (almost) mid-career Registrar
"Field Notes" is an occasional Connect column covering practical and philosophical issues facing admissions and registrar professionals. The columns are authored by various AACRAO members. If you have an idea for a column and would like to contribute, please send an email to the editor at email@example.com.
Happy New Year, AACRAO! At the start of a new year, I usually take a moment to reflect over the last year, my twelfth as a registrar. In addition to the New Year, a few colleagues recently left our institution, which provided opportunities to reminisce, wish them well, and tell them how much I enjoyed working with them. As I was thinking about this, I noticed that I tend to wait until people leave before I tell them how much I enjoyed working with them. As I reflect, I wanted to four tips that I have learned, and am still learning, when it comes to work.
Seize the day; do not wait until a team member or colleague leaves to tell them how much you enjoyed working with them. One thing I have been doing is giving handwritten thank you cards to my staff and colleagues, sharing that I enjoy working with them and that they are doing a good job.
I chose to hand write these cards because in our technological world, so many things are typed: letters, emails, memos, and text messages. I believe it is more meaningful to receive something handwritten because it is more personal and is something we do not see as much in today’s world. So far, the feedback I have received is that people are very appreciative of this gesture.
Try to unplug on your off-days
If you are a Star Wars fan, you may be thinking of Yoda’s famous line, “Do or do not, there is not try.” For me, this is an ongoing challenge because with technology, it is so easy to stay connected to the office, such as checking email. I believe part of this behavior is the desire to be needed; but also, if I am honest, it comes down to trust. Do I trust my team when I am not there? I have learned that there will always be things to do when I return to the office and it is an opportunity for me to trust the team and allow them to grow and develop. Unplugging from the office allows me to re-charge and not short-change my family when on vacation.
Have people work in their strengths
We all have strengths and weaknesses, and we all should want to work more in our areas of strengths and manage around our weaknesses. One of my favorite leadership quotes come from Jim Collins, who in his book, “Good to Great” uses the illustration of a business leader as a bus driver, and the bus as the company (or institution). As leaders, one of our jobs is to determine, “getting the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats.” In other words, we need people to work in their strengths. At my current institution, this is no small task because most of my staff are civil service positions, where the pool we have to hire from are candidates who had the highest test scores, regardless of their professional experiences.
How do we identify our employees’ strengths? One way could be to take a strengths test, such as Strengths Finder. However, there is usually a cost associated with taking an assessment. Another way is to observe staff while they work. A third option is to meet and discuss what staff feel are their strengths, and as leaders, we need to figure out ways or scenarios where a team member can use their strengths more in their work.
An example of observing a staff member while working took place in my office. We had a team member who was in charge of our student record files, and spent most of her workday in our records area in the back of our office without much student contact. However, I observed that when she covered the front desk, she was very personable and often times was able to get an upset or irate student to calm down and de-escalate volatile situations. As a result, we met and I shared what I observed and that this was a strength. We planned to transition her to the front desk area more often, which eventually led to a new job classification for her in the office. She now oversees our front desk counter.
Don’t forget to invest in yourself.
In higher education, it is easy to give yourself to your job, from the numerous meetings, to students, faculty and staff we serve, to the next system implementation. However, it is important to remember to invest in yourself. As flight attendants remind us, “Put your mask on first before helping someone else with their masks.” There are times when it feels like I am constantly helping my staff, or helping colleagues that I forget to take time to invest in myself. This investment can be through a number of different things: learn a new software, read a book on leadership, attend a conference, present at a conference, or take on a new initiative. In short, keep learning. Bill Hybels, founding pastor at Willow Creek Church, who sums it up best, “Everyone wins when a leader gets better.”
I hope these lessons are helpful to you as you grow in your career. Have a great year!
By Christopher Huang, University Registrar, Governors State University
Collins, J. (2001), "Good to Great". Fast Company. Retrieved from: http://www.jimcollins.com/article_topics/articles/good-to-great.html