Each year EVERFI gathers a group of professionals who seek to become leaders on their campus or at their organization at our Professional Development Institute (PDI). We meet for two days and over that time attendees learn to lead organizational change, articulate a personal vision for their work, and build partnerships with campus colleagues.
One of the first steps in becoming a leader is to evaluate your own actions, including strengths and opportunities. In addition to self-evaluation, leadership is largely defined by relationships with other people. Therefore, one of the most valuable components of PDI is when participants receive feedback about their leadership from colleagues. This feedback is gathered through an instrument called the Leadership Practices Inventory (LPI) that measures five practices of exemplary leadership. Participants complete a self-assessment, then ask others they work with on their campus or organization (e.g., manager, peers, direct reports, and others who have a sense of their ability as a leader) to complete the same questionnaire as “Observers.”
Let’s explore the meaning of these five practices:
- Model the Way: leaders who model the way express their personal values, create shared values with others, and practice what they preach by following through on promise and do what they say they will do.
- Inspire a Shared Vision: leaders imagine the possibilities and believe they can turn those possibilities into reality. Leaders must help others see themselves in the future that they are trying to create.
- Challenge the Process: leaders possess the ability to guide others through disruption and transformation. Leaders also stimulate change when an environment becomes stagnant.
- Enable Others to Act: leaders are masters at building relationships. They know how to build effective collaborations by listening, learning from others, and being open to new suggestions. This category also encompasses empowering others to actively share the vision you are trying to create.
- Encourage the Heart: leaders create enthusiasm and a sense of community by building opportunities for people to do what they are passionate about, showing appreciation and recognizing people for their contributions, and healing people get through tough times.
Year after year, Student Affairs professionals who attend PDI give themselves the highest scores in the pillar of Enabling Others to Act. And rightly so! As professionals in Student Affairs, we often work in groups and it is part of our job to be good at building relationship, so it is not surprising that we do well in this area of leadership. The following three components of Enabling Others to Act consistently rise to the top five of Observer ratings: treating others with dignity and respect, developing cooperative relationships, and actively listening to diverse points of view.
Other components of Enabling Others to Act that rank in the top ten for Student Affairs staff are: supporting the decisions that people make on their own and giving people a great deal of freedom and choice in deciding how to do their work. Even though we are naturally inclined to support our students and colleagues and empower them to make decisions, the one component of Enabling Others to Act that falls outside of the top ten is ensuring that people grow in their jobs by learning new skills and developing themselves. We need to be mindful of opportunities to help others grow in their jobs and support their professional development.
The leadership practice that consistently falls to the bottom of the list for Student Affairs staff is the ability to Inspire a Shared Vision. The components of Inspiring a Shared Vision that rank the lowest include: envisioning the future by imagining exciting possibilities of what we can accomplish together and enlisting others in a common vision by appealing to shared aspirations. Inspiring a Shared Vision is not an easy task, but as Student Affairs staff who have taken part in the LPI have demonstrated, they excel at speaking with a genuine conviction about the higher meaning and purpose of their work. This behavior is a strong starting point to begin imagining the possibilities of what you can accomplish and believing that you can turn those possibilities into reality.
Even though much has changed and priorities have shifted over the past five years in the field of prevention, the fundamental behaviors, actions, and practices of leaders in this space have remained fairly steady. As we can see above, another constant is that our Observers score us about 10% higher than we score ourselves in nearly all of the different leadership areas. Sometimes people fear direct and honest feedback; however, the best leaders are those who are willing to get comfortable with candid feedback (and even seek it out!). We might just find that feedback from those we work with, manage, and report to can improve and bolster our own performance as a leader.
We encourage new and aspiring leaders to pass along this blog to your colleagues and share with them your own vision of the future and what inspires you to do this important work.