Unconventional Leadership and Student Development Reads

Having a book list front and center may have given you the indication that I’m a reader. I have 1-2 on me at all times, even in inopportune places. This has been a trait of mine for as long as I can remember- I remember a particularly heated family Disney trip, turned so after I lost a book somewhere in the park (if anyone sees Baby-Sitters Club #91, let me know so we can make arrangements)- and I’m genuinely pleased it persists.

As an educator in the college and university space who focuses so intently on creativity, the need to approach reading with students creatively is not lost on me. And I frequent circles where book recommendations circulate often, and the same names and topics appear. These recommendations are rightfully earned, as these books are thoughtfully researched and yield important conclusions and lessons. This week, however, I want to pose my offbeat answers to that question. They’re insightful, borne of life experience, and truly entertaining. Whether these recommendations are passed to individual students, or used in classes, I hope they’ll change the way you think about imparting lessons of leadership and development.

What additions would you make to my reading list for the second half of 2017?

Creativity and its Utility in the Workplace

This week, I want to expand upon the cultivating creativity manifesto I shared a few weeks back, by articulating how it can be used in the workplace- and thankfully, I have the data from the National Association of Colleges and Employers to help me out.

Each year, NACE conducts a survey (summarized as their Job Outlook report) to assess what skills are most in demand in job applicants. What qualities should they have? What are you looking for? Where are the gaps between their needs and the workforce we presently have? As I dived into the data, I started to draw connections between the tenets of creativity and the expectations of prospective employers. Below, I’ve encapsulated these connections through an infographic:

Creativity and Its Utility in the Workplace Infographic

To clarify, the percentage next to each trait or desired ability indicates the percentage of employers who expressed they will be requiring this skill in a hired candidate.

Below, the data in text:

Broadmindedness (employing ideas from one scenario, in a new or disparate environment)

  • Initiative: 65.9%
  • Detail-Oriented: 62.1%
  • Organizational Ability: 47.7%
  • Entrepreneurial/Risk-Taker: 19.7%

Collaboration (working with and alongside others to achieve a goal, even as it shifts and changes)

  • Ability to Work in a Team: 78.0%
  • Interpersonal Skills: 58.3%
  • Friendly/[Outgoing] Personality: 25.8%*
  • Tactfulness: 25.8%

*We’ll come back to this soon.

Determination (staying with a project for its full duration, even when it becomes difficult)

  • Strong Work Ethic: 72.0%
  • Strategic Planning Skills: 37.9%

Execution (closely tied to determination, the ability and endurance to translate an idea into action)

  • Communication Skills (written): 75.0%
  • Communication Skills (verbal): 70.5%
  • Technical Skills: 56.8
  • Analytical Skills: 64.4%

Flexibility (the ability to change course when internal or external forces require it)

  • Problem-Solving Skills: 77.3%
  • Flexibility/Adaptability: 63.6%
  • Strategic Planning Skills: 37.9%

What are your programs, procedures, trainings, and student interventions doing to help students develop these crucial and in-demand skills?

[INTERVIEW] 820AM Tampa Bay: On Temperament and Workplace Leadership

Earlier this week, I was invited on 820AM Tampa Bay’s “Fisher and Shriner” to talk about workplace leadership, and the role that temperament plays in leading. In it, I talk with hosts Chris Fisher and Kurt Shriner about misconceptions that surround introversion and extroversion, how modes of communication have contributed to the confusion, and how the look of leadership is changing as a result of greater understanding of these terms.

news talk florida

Listen to the full interview at NewsTalkFlorida


A Brief Spotlight on Shyness

In my sessions about temperament and its role in the workplace and team dynamics, I usually include an exercise that teases out the assumptions and myths people believe about introversion and extroversion. It goes fairly predictably- folks will ascribe traits like “outgoing,” “loud,” and (once) “insecure” to extroverts, while introversion will invite the terms “quiet,” “smarter” (more than once), and “shy.” It’s this last one I want to focus on today, with the help of Cafe Quill. They’ve developed an outstanding set of infographics to help demystify shyness and to help shy people overcome it in service of workplace success.

First, a declaration: introversion and shyness are not necessarily one and the same. The difference? Shyness is grounded in an “embarrassment, anxiety, guilt, or shame” around social interactions or time in the spotlight. Introversion, by comparison, is an understanding or recognition that these sorts of situations will be draining or tiring to undertake. One is grounded in discomfort and perhaps fear; the other is grounded in energy usage and expenditure.

common signs of shyness infographic

Common Signs of Shyness, Per Quill

The challenge in distinguishing the two is likely based on the idea that someone that appears “nonparticipatory” in a conversation or social situation could be introverted or shy or both- but absent an explanation, it’s easy to make assumptions. As Sophia Dembling says in The Introvert’s Way, 

One of the risks of being quiet is that other people can fill your silence with their own interpretations. You’re bored. You’re depressed. You’re shy. You’re judgmental. You have nothing to say. […] Nature abhors a vacuum, and when other people can’t read us, they write their own story- not always one that we would choose or that’s true to who we are.

Another key difference between shyness and introversion: there are strategies available to lessen or overcome shyness, while introversion is a more innate and immutable trait. While it is possible to practice draining skills so they eventually take less energy, the natural inclination will likely always be to use solo time to recharge from overstimulating encounters or events.

How to Manage Workplace Shyness

One thing I often like to share with people: practices I prescribe to level the playing field between introverts and extroverts aren’t designed to elevate one group at the expense of another; these tips will be helpful to multiple groups for different reasons. With that tidbit shared, I’d like to point out that several tips shared for overcoming shyness are also helpful for managing introversion in a highly stimulating environment.

For example, preparing in advance is a tip I often give to introverted students or staff members ahead of situations where they’re concerned they’ll be drained when trying to contribute. Feeling grounded by arming yourself with information will help the shy lessen their anxiety about a coming meeting or presentation, while the introverted will have to expend less energy getting the thoughts from their brains to their mouths, hands, or fingertips (depending on what they’re heading into).

Another effective tip: shifting focus outward. Both the shy and the introverted expend a lot of energy concerned with how they’re perceived by more outgoing or extroverted (which also should not be conflated, by the way) colleagues or peers. In truth, most of us are too concerned about what’s going on with ourselves to notice what others are doing. By listening intently and asking insightful questions as needed, the shy can introduce themselves into a conversation organically and with authority, buoyed by their knowledge on a topic. Introverts can also benefit from this organic entry to discussion, monitoring how it affects the dynamic of the group and contributing accordingly.

Finally, I want to address a few common tips for engaging the shy or introverted colleague or classmate in your midst.

How to Make a Shy Employee Feel More Comfortable Infographic

How to Make a Shy Employee Feel More Comfortable

Here again, more than one of these tips can be helpful to both introverts and shy individuals for different reasons. Case in point: I am a tremendous advocate of offering multiple avenues for communication. The option to share thoughts and questions via virtual suggestion box, email, written note, or later one-on-one conversation is beneficial for the shy, who may be too anxious or embarrassed to speak up in an emotionally charged or contentious meeting. Comparatively, an introvert may not be afraid to contribute in such a space, but may need more time and the option of asynchronous communication to frame their thought coherently. Offering the opportunity to add to a conversation in multiple ways can change the way decisions are informed and eventually made.

And a final point that this chart brings up: respect the boundaries of the introverted and shy people around you. Yes, they may operate differently from what is often perceived as the norm. But there isn’t something inherently problematic about either orientation. Shyness is something that can be overcome when an individual is ready- prodding them to do so ahead of that point can be ineffective at best, and damaging at worst. Introversion can be managed and navigated, even at times adapted to, but not fixed. Allow shy and introverted folks to articulate – in their own time and their own way – how they work or learn, and then do what you can to support them. As you push them to test these boundaries (which, in the context of a strong relationship, can be needed at times!), be understanding of the moments when they may not be ready or able to push beyond their comfort zone- but be at the ready to help and encourage them when they do make admitted leaps.

Thanks so much to Kara and the team at Cafe Quill for the use of these infographics- check them out for more tips on work, life, and everything in between.

[PODCAST] Escape the 9 to 5, with Ali Salman

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of chatting with Ali of Escape the 9 to 5 about my journey thus far as an entrepreneur. It’s still not a term I’m fully comfortable using for myself (likely because of the assumptions and perceptions around it), but it was through this conversation – talking about my process for staying organized, how I came to the work, and all that I’ve learned – that actually helped me start to believe it. Yes, I have a small business. Yes, despite frequent collaborative projects and relationships with editors, I do work for myself. *gulp* Yup, we’re doing this.

Thanks to Ali and the team at Escape the 9 to 5 for the opportunity; give the ep a download (it’s short) and hear our conversation!

Introducing: The Cultivating Creativity Manifesto

I’ve spent the last sixteen months traveling around the country (and to Canada, as of last month) talking to people about creativity. Learning about how they approach it, what they feel gets in their way, and how much potential they believe they have to develop it. All of these conversations, combined with observations about the environments and circumstances in which people are asked to “get creative,” I’ve finally developed a manifesto – an easily summarized set of qualities – that I believe characterizes people with the most potential to be creative, as well as the environments most likely to support them.

cultivating creativity manifesto with lightbulb background

Allies and Advisors
Allies and advisors are the people you want most in your corner, though they may not work on the actual product with you. They are knowledge of the circumstances in which you work, and/or are knowledgeable about you and how you work. Unlike the cheerleaders we all (hopefully!) have in our lives to encourage us and keep us moving forward, allies and advisors are critical as well. They will ask questions that provoke thought, share information that may be discouraging or unwelcome at times, but – and this is important – do so for your benefit and the benefit of the project and idea at hand.
Are you an ally or advisor? Do you have allies or advisors on your side?

So many of us balk at the idea of being creative because of the assumption that to create is to build something altogether new. In truth, a multitude of creative ideas are simply taking an idea or concept that exists in one space, and applying it to a new space; this competency is the essence of broadmindedness. Developing an eye toward being able to recognize where this is appropriate, is one of the most essential skills any creative can have. It can be developed by consuming knowledge and news from a wide swath of areas- not just your chosen discipline, but others both adjacent and seemingly unrelated.
Are you broad-minded? How can you start to broaden your mind?

Time now to bust another myth about creativity- despite what we see about fast-rising entrepreneurs and tech wunderkind, these endeavors are rarely solitary in nature. Even if you have a strong set of allies and/or advisors, you stand to go further with collaborators. More minds on a problem or idea allow for diversity of thought- who does your idea or concept help? Who does it potentially hurt? Developing a collaborative relationship that can weigh these questions candidly, while also yielding an arrangement that aids creativity, is the best case scenario for anyone with an eye toward solving problems- the best reason to use creativity, after all!
Are you collaborative? Who do you work with well, and what elements of the relationship make it work?

“Never give up on a dream just because of the time it will take to accomplish it. The time will pass anyway.” -Earl Nightingale
Too many of us are easily deterred from success when it will take time and hard work to accomplish. And indeed, the fruits of your creative labor may not surface right away. Results may not come until long after your deadline (self-imposed or otherwise); at, these results may not come until after our tenure at an institution or organization is done. But committing to yielding said results, despite our ability to enjoy the benefits, is a noble undertaking. Determination as a creative means persisting even when it’s difficult, or when an element of the process changes (more on that in a moment).
Are you determined? How can you develop the determination to continue a project even when fatigue or discouragement sets in?

Personal confession: while I have good handwriting and enjoy hand lettering, I’ve always balked at drawing or sketching because I don’t consider myself to be artistic in that way. (Worth noting while we’ve hit upon the topic: creativity and artistic talent are NOT one and the same. Cool? Cool. On we go. )
Put another way, execution is what transforms a creative thought into an innovative act or product. Are you able to coordinate the people, resources, and other capital needed to take something theoretical and make it practical/tangible/real? It doesn’t have to be perfect- indeed, the fear of creativity can stem from the fear that you’ll screw it up. Make no mistake, you will screw it up. But strong execution inclination means that you understand that, and choose to push forward anyway.
Are you inclined to execute? Are you prepared to explore what might be keeping you from moving through thought and into action?

To the last point on execution- sometimes you’ll get it wrong. Other times, you may not get it wrong, but you’ll see where a change is needed. Flexibility is being willing to take that information and internalize it enough to use, but not deeply enough to discourage. Put another way, flexibility is the competency of creativity that allows you to get up after a fall, brush yourself off, and not just keep moving- but actively work to not fall the same way a second time.  Even if these falls are the result of external forces- loss of personnel, funding, etc. – flexibility will pair nicely with execution to adapt and proceed anyway.
Are you flexible? What do you do when a proverbial wrench is thrown in your plan, and are you prepared to learn to adapt?

Growth Mindset
There are a lot of assumptions tied up in the use of this term; I want to therefore clarify what I mean when I use it here. Creativity is often treated, oddly enough, like a growth mindset: I either have it, or I don’t. But in reality, the skills to be creative can be taught. Believing that you can become creative, as with so many other things, is central to actually being able to do it. At the risk of sounding cliché, cultivating a creative approach to life is like a muscle; the more it’s exercised, the stronger it gets. And just as with any exercise goals you set, you have to want to achieve them to get anywhere.
After everything you’ve seen here…are you willing to learn how to be creative?

I talk about these elements, with examples and a few extras, in my Pecha Kucha on the topic (originally delivered at the 2017 NACA National Convention in Baltimore, MD):

Each session on creativity that I conduct, be it with students or staff, for training or in a workshop or keynote, is conducted with these principles in mind. It can be adapted to reach a variety of disciplines (activities and programming, residence life, orientation, peer mentorship programs, even career services and academic success), and tailored to appropriately reach many types of departments, institutions, or organizations.

In the months ahead, I’ll be sharing more about exercises, scenarios, and processes that can help cultivate these traits in those you work with- and should you ever want help in person, it would be a pleasure! In the meantime, check out this summary infographic as a brief reminder of the essential elements of creativity (according to me).

Essential Elements to Cultivate Creativity Infographic

Take a look at the infographic here!

[SYNDICATION] The Introvert’s Guide to Job Hunting

Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of sharing my thoughts on job searching for introverts with Jopwell, a career advancement platform for individuals of color.  They specialize in providing inspiration and advice for Black, Latinx/Hispanic, and Native American job searchers, as well as posting positions.

It was a wonderful surprise to see that the article I wrote with them was syndicated to Business Insider, where it gained a larger audience and a lot of excitement. I share it with you here, and encourage you to give it a look. If you’re interested in its contents, I would direct you to my ebooks on the topic – one from the perspective of the searcher, the other geared toward hiring authorities – to supplement the knowledge.

screencap of syndication announcement on linkedin

Click the image above to see the article on Business Insider

SXSW 2017 in Review (via Storify)

As I sit in the airport on my final adventure back to Boston from Austin, I’m struck with the need to share what I’ve learned in the past week at South by Southwest. Too many responded to my assertion that this was my conference excursion for the season with, “That’s a conference?” Yes, it is a well-known music festival. Yes, it has expanded to also cover film, comedy, and technology/innovation. YES, it has way more fun stuff than many of the conferences I traditionally attend.

But it also featured some of the strongest and most thoughtful sessions I’ve had the opportunity to go in nearly a decade of professional conference-going. While I get my head around the rest of it, I invite you to peek at the learning I documented while in sessions via Storify. More reflection will follow, and the photos are on Instagram 🙂

SXSW Banner 1Shedding Light on Hidden Bias
with Robin Hauser (Finish Line Features), Britta Wilson (Pixar), Howard Ross (Cook Ross LLC), and Carl Horton (DELL)

SXSW Banner 2Don’t Dis My Ability
with Brittany Dejean (AbleThrive), Josh Gottesman (MassChallenge Israel), and Matan Koch (Capitalizability LLC)

SXSW Banner 3Get Out, Be In: What I’ve Learned Working Remotely
with David Weaver (Barkley, AccessCMO)

SXSW Banner 4A Dream Deferred: Undocumented Millennials
with Jason Finkelman (Finkelman Immigration Law), Ainee Athar (FWD.US), Saba Nafees (Texas Tech University), and Mayte Ibarra (UT-Austin)

SXSW Banner 5Research Universities Should Be Better at Startups
with Kerry Rupp (True Wealth Ventures), Bob Metcalfe (UT-Austin), and Gregory Fenves (UT-Austin)

SXSW Banner 6 (1)A New Era for College Towns
with Elana Fine (UMCP’s Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship), Eric Golman (JavaZen), Ken Ulman (UMCP), and Scott Plank (WarHorse LLC)

SXSW Banner 7Making People Accidentally Enjoy Learning
with Daniel O’Brien (Cracked), Keli Dailey (News Hangover), and Lloyd Ahlquist (Maker Studios)

SXSW Banner 8Entrepreneurship and Higher Education
with Seth Holloway (Salesforce), Chantal Pittman (Unique Influence Partners), and Connor Davidson (UT-Austin McCombs School of Business)

SXSW Banner 9#OTTNO: The Next Generation of Advocates
with Alexis Moncada (Feminist Culture), Kwame Rose, Maria Teresa Kumar (Voto Latino), and Daunnette Reyome

SXSW Banner 10Why Tech Should Lead on Diversity and Inclusion Now
with Melinda Epler and Wayne Sutton (both of ChangeCatalyst)

The Challenge Conflict Presents to Creativity

This spring, I’m focusing some of my speaking and consulting on helping organizations who are in conflict, resolve it and prevent it from constricting practices like organizational transition, goal setting, and strategic planning. Unresolved conflict presents a lot of issues to organizations: lost productivity, damaged professional relationships, and – most germane to the work I do – compromises creative potential.

As a strong advocate for creativity, I’ve focused a lot in the past year on the circumstances that foster it. At least two, collaboration, and allyship/advocacy, suffer when conflict lies unresolved among coworkers or within a department seeking to change its ways. So I was pleased to see this exact issue raised by Roger Fisher and William Ury (1983) in their theory of principled negotiation. In their Getting to Yes, they identify four challenges to the creativity needed to generate a number of options for solutions. They go on to offer techniques by which to combat these issues. I’ll be contextualizing them for the realm of student leadership, and also providing some strategies to help students enact them.

Obstacle #1: Premature Decisiveness
Fisher and Ury find that premature decisiveness, or coming to a conclusion too early, can stifle creativity. The rush that so many of us often feel to solve a problem means that the first workable solution, or the one shared by the most vocal member of the group, gets enacted with little questioning. What’s more, this strategy rewards the fastest thinker, but not always the most thorough or nuanced one. The potential result? New problems rising from the ashes of old, because their underlying issues weren’t identified in the initial dash.

Fisher and Ury recommend combatting this particular creative challenge by “separating invention from evaluation.” That is to say, keeping the ideation process, where multiple ideas are put on the table, separate from the narrowing process. A lack of this separation often burdens brainstorming to the point of demotivation, as a “Devil’s Advocate” or “Negative Nakia/Niccolo” can shoot down ideas as they’re presented. When looking to a solution, Fisher and Ury recommend delineating, and then observing, four different stages and types of thinking:

  • Statement of the issue;
  • Analysis of said issue;
  • Consideration of general approaches; and
  • Identification of specific actions.

By keeping these elements of the process distinct, and honoring that practice even when challenged by others in the room, a few things happen. First and foremost, it prevents the ideation stage (listed third here) to operate independently from the judgment and narrowing stage, by design. An additional benefit: the potential to hear multiple sides of an issue is preserved. Rushing through that first step often silences testimonies that allow issues to be multidimensional.

TRY IT: If your group is challenged by fully hearing ideas from individuals, for whatever reason, seeking to make the ideation process anonymous may help. Creating a time period that allows multiple viewpoints to be shared, and for those viewpoints to be shared without any stigma that individuals may carry, can bring out thoughts and suggestions that alternate circumstances may not. The analog version of this could be done through a “Suggestion Box” or Post-It wall type practice, or you could use digital tools like Attentiv, Candor, or even a Google Drive document or form to let stakeholders submit and discuss ideas anonymously.

Obstacle #2: Intent to Narrow
Closely related to Obstacle #1, intent to narrow means that participants may come to idea generating spaces looking to quickly hone in on a solution, any solution at all, and adjourn. When I work through the Design Thinking model in my workshops, I caution against this mindset and seek to illuminate its dangers. The one that I tend to focus on is the possibility of freezing out other stakeholders. The model prevents this by placing a key step between Discovery (the moment where one identifies a problem) and Ideation (the generation of potential solution), called Interpretation.

Interpretation of a problem acts as a buffer, by creating a space to interrogate the issue at hand. I describe it to students as the questioning phase, encouraging them to wonder: “who do we need to talk to, to get a full view of the issue?” Put another way, combat the intent to narrow with an explicit directive to widen, first.

TRY IT: As groups are seeking to solve a problem, encourage them to present a list of stakeholders, populations, or affected offices/departments/parties that should be consulted before any solutions are generated. They might find that the ideas they were considering will have an adverse impact on others, or that their solution might create a new problem for someone else. Alternate versions of the design thinking model name the first step as “empathy,” rather than “discovery,” and it’s that principle that this practice is aimed at. When you rush to conclusions, who does that affect and how?

Obstacle #3: Win-Lose Orientation
When conflicts are attacked with a win-lose orientation, the seeds for later conflict are sowed. It minimizes the miles of middle ground that exist for mutually satisfactory solutions, instead focusing on a “winner take all” mentality that decimates the “opposite” side…who will still have to be worked with, regardless.

Fisher and Ury recommend reinforcing the idea of shared interests as conflict resolution gets underway. It reminds me of a strategy that I learned from friends at a workshop a few years back, about how to say no in a way that preserves relationships. In their words, declining an act while honoring the shared ground upon which it was made, can help shape action without seeming combative or needlessly contrary. As an example, consider for a moment the decision to cut board member positions without seeing if there are general members or new students interested in filling them. Pushing back on this proposal may look like, “I appreciate your desire to streamline the organization and I also like to keep things simple, but…” In this way, there is an island of common ground placed between the “win” and “lose” territory.

TRY IT: In a manner that has echoes of a prior step in Fisher and Ury’s model (focusing on interest rather than position), preface any movement on conflict with a discussion of needs. Not just what you want from the end result, but why. What informs that want. What the backstory is. This humanizes the two (or more!) sides of the debate, grounds what might seem like abstract demands in a context that is essential for making decisions. Prompt this conversation with requests for storytelling about how the idea came to pass, a more detailed testimony of who the organization serves, and even a frank conversation about where blindspots might lie: “who or what can you admit you’re not seeing?”

Obstacle #4: Abdication of Responsibility
In positions of conflict, it’s common for the party who believes they’re not causing a problem to yield responsibility, saying they “didn’t do anything,” “it’s not our fault,” or “why should we have to fix this?” But for the sake of organizational health, this can be a damaging mindset to perpetuate.

Fisher and Ury recommend combatting this mindset by thinking about potential solutions in a way that address and honor the needs of the other side. Then, craft a proposal for a conflict resolution that combines each party’s needs and wants. To briefly come back to obstacle #3, this is an added defense against win-lose thinking. The best scenario will address the needs of both sides; having the information to know what they think and need, can help you frame your own argument in a way that is most likely to go over well. This empathetic strategy can help mitigate some of the single-minded thinking that abdicating responsibility tends to perpetuate.

TRY IT: Prior to making proposals for solutions, have each side summarize what they believe the other side’s needs are. Then, allow each side to clarify what their needs are, encouraging conversation about where misunderstandings or misinterpretations may arise. This will require a strong implementation of Fisher and Ury’s first point of the theory (“Separate people from the problem”), but can be done civilly if the group in question adheres to ground rules of openness, civility, and focus on the task.

In summary, creativity can be hampered mightily in the face of conflict. But by working through these issues en route to new solutions, a landscape can be created where new ideas arise even – especially! – when leadership doesn’t always see eye to eye. By ensuring that the underlying needs of conflicting parties are clearly articulated, measures are put in place to ensure that ideas can be heard on their own merit, and that the requisite amount of time is taken to investigate an issue before solving it, some of the points of collision can be smoothed over, clearing a path to a future that looks quite different from the status quo.

[PODCAST] NACA’s 212°F Series: Campus Activities in the Age of President Trump

In addition to my cohosting duties with the ladies of The Imposters podcast, I am also the host of the National Association for Campus Activities‘ 212°F: Hot Topics on Campus series. This initiative was developed to create a space for discussing and dissecting current events that impact the work of campus activities professionals. After several outings as an online webcast, we’ve adapted to a podcast format- and our first edition in the new medium surrounded “Campus Activities in the Age of President Trump.”

Join me, along with panelists Randy Flowers (Baker University), Katie Winstead Reichner (Christopher Newport University), and James Thomas (DePaul University) as we explore how the recent change in power has affected our interactions with students, the nature of programming, and the policies that impact our offices and institutions.

Thanks, as always, to Telesia Davis and Kayla Brennan at NACA, who tapped me for this always fun and insightful role.