Leadership Development Program: What I Learned
I have never thought of myself as a leader. Or, rather, I have never really had the desire to be a leader. So, I surprised myself when I signed up for NDSU’s new Leadership Development program.
I will admit that, until recently, my idea of leadership has been a bit limited. I viewed leadership from the perspective that it’s just for individuals at the top of a company or organization; or at the top of a department. I even had a tidy little list of reasons why I was not meant for “leadership.” My list read like this:
- I am a behind-the-scenes kind of person, that’s where I like to be. (I know, I know… the irony of having a background and interest in public relations has not escaped me.)
- I don’t do drama. I tell it like it is and, well, people don’t always like that.
- Hard decisions are hard for me. What do I want to do this weekend? Why would you ask me such a hard question?
- Managing adults. (Really?… I can’t even get my kids to put their toys away.)
Why then would I voluntarily sign myself up for a leadership development program?
When you are responsible for marketing K-12 professional development classes, as I am, you learn about a variety of subjects. Recently, I have become interested in the concept of teacher leaders. Teacher leaders are individuals who are influencers and mentors in their school or district. They are not necessarily administrators; most often, they are teachers who enjoy teaching and want to continue doing so. These individuals are set apart from other teachers because their experience or characteristics are what the school or district can benefit from. By their very nature, they make change happen, mentor their colleagues, and motivate and inspire others.
"Teacher leaders are individuals who are influencers and mentors in their school or district. They are not necessarily administrators; most often, they are teachers who enjoy teaching and want to continue doing so.”
The concept of teacher leaders opened my mind about what a leader truly is. After thinking about it for a while, I realized that there are leaders in every industry, at every level. Eventually, I concluded that, in many ways, I do fit the definition of a teacher leader or rather a staff leader here at NDSU.
If you are interested in becoming an influencer or mentor at NDSU, the Leadership Development program is a great place to start. I would encourage you to register for the next program. You don’t need to take my word for it. If it helps, I have written a brief description of what my initial experience was like. Though, don’t take my experience as an example of what your experience will be. Everyone will take away different things. And, occasionally, life will throw a curveball at you (and the rest of the world) that will change your anticipated outcome. (I’m talking about you COVID-19!)
About the Program
The basics of NDSU’s Leadership Development program were presented at a Staff Senate meeting from the Director of Human Resources, John Woolsey. He is the Staff Senate advisor and was speaking about the new program at that particular meeting.
After hearing about the program, I was curious to see what a leadership program at NDSU might entail. I quickly filled out the form and hit “submit” before I could change my mind. I certainly hoped, I had made the right decision but still wasn’t sure if I would be accepted to the program. Many local leadership programs have a competitive application process so there was a chance I wouldn’t be accepted.
A few weeks later, I received an email letting me know I had been accepted into the program. I was thrilled and a little worried I might have committed to more than I could handle.
The program was set to begin Spring Semester 2020 and would meet every other week throughout the semester. There were 50 participants split among two groups. The program was intended to be a hybrid program with some participants choosing to join in person and some joining via web conferencing. So, it was convenient and accessible to all NDSU faculty and staff. And, did I mention, the program was offered at no cost to staff and faculty?
The first two meetings went very well. Woolsey offered an engaging presentation on leadership. We discussed several of the pillars of trust based on the book, The Trust Edge by David Horsager, as well as themes of leadership written about by other leadership experts. There were great discussions among the group as a whole and with those at my table.
From day one, I had an itch to get started reading the book and learning more about topics in leadership that covered; effective communication, emotional intelligence, crucial conversations, coaching, and change management. As I read those first few chapters, I identified with a lot of the pillars of trust as well as with the communication topics discussed. I identified with the concepts because my degree is in communication, so I have studied the principles and theories that form the basis of these concepts. Discussing the importance of these communication techniques filled me with hope. Which, I personally haven’t felt much of around campus since all the budget issues began. Overall, those first two meetings were a positive experience, and I was more than able to keep up with the assigned readings. But things started to get a bit dicey after that.
Then Came COVID-19
During the second meeting, there was an underlying concern that COVID-19 might have some impact on our campus. At that point, the plan for the university was, NDSU students would have an extended spring break with a few weeks of distance learning. However, that rapidly dissolved into colleges, universities, and public schools all moving to distance learning for an unknown amount of time.
The leadership development group moved forward by meeting in a virtual format. I found myself working from home in the midst of the busiest time of my year, which might have been manageable if I hadn’t also been responsible for facilitating remote learning (home-schooling) for my first-grader, and entertaining my three-year-old. I began to work off and on for the entire day to get my work tasks done, often ending my days late into the evening. The itch to read the book quickly faded as exhaustion set in. I’m pretty sure I fell asleep once or twice while reading the book. (The book isn’t boring; I was just that tired.)
The Human Resources staff worked hard to adjust the program to a virtual format, but, in my opinion, the virtual environment lost some of the camaraderie the in-person meetings offered. In spite of moving online, the program covered all the principles in the book and the previously mentioned communication topics but much quicker than originally intended. I assume they eliminated some group activities and there was likely a decrease in questions and discussions due to the virtual format. I know I had very little to say after the sessions moved online. As a result of the disruptions of COVID-19, I’m not sure I got the full experience of this leadership development program.
However, I want to stress that this leadership program has the potential to be really impactful on campus, especially if the individuals in the program go back and implement many of the strategies discussed. While I still have very little interest in becoming a formal leader on campus, I do plan to go back and review the book and implement the pillars I am not already using so that I can increase the trust I exude as a “staff leader.”
"…this leadership program has the potential to be really impactful on campus…”
The NDSU Leadership Development program on campus is a great way to learn what it takes to be a trusted leader regardless of your level or broadband category. If you are at all curious about the program, I would suggest you register for the next offering.
Hopefully, your experience will not include a major worldwide shutdown.
** To find out when the next offering of this program is, contact the Human Resources Office at NDSU.
About the Author
Connie Jadrny, is the marketing and public relations coordinator for the North Dakota State University (NDSU) Office of Teaching and Learning.
In more than 14 years at NDSU, Jadrny has learned a lot about higher education. She curates this blog to allow all individuals to continue learning about higher education and best practices in teaching.
Let’s learn together!