This past February I resigned as head of our Student Affairs Technology Committee. I had agreed to serve as the technology committee leader, and after one full year, it was time to recruit new blood, someone with a renewed sense of direction for the group. Committee members were still passionate about the value of increasing technology use within our division, particularly in the area of social media, but we needed vision and a solid action plan that I was unable to deliver. It was time to take the next step under new leadership.
Now that I’ve had a chance to reflect (and breathe), I’ve come to the following conclusions:
My leadership challenges:
1. I was not the right person to lead the technology committee; I was the only person.
My skills and knowledge were not well-suited for the position. But I was the only person who was willing to do it, and sometimes the only person is the right person. It was apparent that unless I stepped up, we would not have a committee.
Two things convinced me to accept the challenge. The first was inspiration from one of my graduate assistants who wrote about an uncomfortable situation that she had to resolve, and how it turned out to be a great learning experience for her. She wrote that her mantra for the upcoming year was, “Challenge yourself; do not stay comfortable.” If my graduate assistant was trying to be brave, how could I continue to cower in my comfortable office? I needed to be brave, too.
The other was a blog post by Joe Sabado where he acknowledged the value of “accepting challenges despite the risk of failure” in order to create growth. I was used to diving into challenges where I had a lot of control and a strong sense that I would succeed. Leading the technology committee seemed equivalent to diving into a black hole where nothing was certain. But Joe reminded me not to be afraid of failure.
2. I became frustrated when tasks weren’t completed on my time schedule.
One of the first things we did as a committee was to survey our directors to find out their thoughts on technology use in their areas. We found that that there was frustration concerning the response time for IT help, and the lack of support personnel was their biggest concern for increasing technology use. At the time, we had one full-time IT person who was in charge of all technology needs within our division, and he was being run ragged just trying to keep our machines operating. Our committee decided that in order for the division to move forward, we really needed additional full-time technology personnel. In order to present a good case for hiring additional IT staff, we wanted to gather information from other universities about their Student Affairs IT personnel, so a sub-committee was formed to contact schools and collect information.
I checked in with the group three weeks later, and no progress had been made. After another four weeks passed, the group met for the first time to decide how to proceed. But by that time I had become impatient with the lack of progress, so I had researched technology use within Student Affairs, and had written a report about my findings. Based on this report, upper administration within my division decided to hire a technology consultant to give us an unbiased opinion concerning our needs. So ultimately, we were progressing towards our goal of meeting divisional needs, but I had bulldozed over the sub-committee who had been tasked with gathering the information. I should have found a way to work with the committee, rather than taking matters into my own hands.
3. My lack of vision stalled progress.
Our technology consultant’s report stated that the division really needed a technology educator and leader. I was hoping that we would hire a professional staff person for that role. When it became clear that the division would not immediately be hiring another full-time professional technology staff person, I didn’t know in which direction to take the group. Our meeting attendance dropped as we became heavily involved in the responsibilities of the new academic year, but there was a solid core of members who still maintained their passion for moving our division’s technology use forward. We revisited our committee’s goals, discussed what our next steps should be, and made a plan to identify some of the best practices within our own areas in hopes of presenting these ideas to a monthly gathering of professional staff. But beyond waiting to see if our presentation idea would be accepted, I didn’t know where to take the group. I felt like the committee was waiting on me to initiate—something—but what? We needed that technology educator and leader! I expressed my desire to step down and have someone else take the lead. Nobody volunteered. But I just couldn’t carry on without a vision, so I resigned.
What went right:
1. A much-needed conversation about our division’s technology use and needs was initiated and continues to this day. Higher level administration within the division had not realized how long the response time was for fixing tech problems. When you don’t know there is a problem, you can’t fix it.
2. We hired Ed Cabellon as our technology consultant. He echoed the directors’ concerns and cited concrete steps our division could take to move us forward. As a result of his report, we were able to hire a full-time assistant to our professional IT guy, and tech requests are now receiving attention at a faster rate. We still have a long way to go to mirror the ideal that was outlined in the consultant’s report, but now we have an expert opinion that we can use for a model.
3. Less than a week after I resigned, the committee was asked to deliver a technology presentation at “First Thursday,” a monthly meeting attended by Student Affairs professionals, as well as other professional staff outside of the division. This happened at the last minute, and we had little time for preparation, but since we had already identified best practices in our areas, we did well. Working with the small group on this presentation showed me the depth of talent that exists on the committee. I feel confident that someone will step into the role as technology committee leader, and the conversation will continue.
What I learned:
1. Sometimes worthwhile ventures don’t need the most qualified person; they just need a committed person. And though I know I’m not the right person to move the committee forward, at least we got the conversation started. I’m glad that I stepped out of my comfort zone at the beginning and took a chance. In the words of MLK Jr.: “Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.”
2. Compromising on schedules is doggone hard. I want things when I want them. I definitely need to learn how to be more patient when working with a team.
3. There are some staff members who are uncomfortable learning new technology, but there are a number who revel in jumping into it with both feet. I’ve met some of those people on the technology committee, and I look forward to continuing to work with them to meet the committee’s goals—in a supporting role!