Being a new administrator in a new system is an interesting process of learning: about the institution, about my colleagues, about my community, and perhaps, most interestingly, about myself. My newest lesson is about editing self.
I have long prided myself in being open and honest. That isn’t because it comes naturally. I grew up lying a good bit as a kid. At some point in my teens, though, I started to think about integrity and needing to be consistent in my presentation and my actions. I wanted to be someone with integrity, someone who was respected, and lying just didn’t fit into that vision.
That said, I have learned that being in the leadership position means sharing information thoughtfully and sometimes editing my real opinions and reactions. I have had a couple of times in meetings where I nodded my head while I thought, “Seriously?” Or I have had people ask me what I think of something, and I have to fob it off with a comment about how I am still learning about the school/culture/program/community, etc. Even questions about how I am doing need to be answered more diplomatically, especially if I am having a bad day, because people who work with me seem to want to read into my answers. If I am stressed out, perhaps I am thinking of leaving. If I respond too positively to one idea, maybe that means I will invest in it rather than some other idea.
I don’t want to become some namby-pamby administrative type who never takes a position, but I know that isn’t likely. I tend to err on the side of being overly honest and expressive. So, I am working to reel it in.
My second way of editing myself is to try to slow down a little. When I come into a situation where there is a problem, I immediately want to go into assessing and addressing mode. I want to talk about the problem with people who are affected by it, get people involved in working on the problem, and move forward on a solution. Yet, I know that most organizational problems are many years in the making, many people have gotten used to the problem, someone is often benefiting from the problem, and fixing the problem may have unintended consequences, including creating new and different problems. I know the challenges of making changes quickly, but I still find it difficult to act more slowly.
Going slow is especially difficult when people in my unit come to me asking for me to fix the problem. It is even harder when the administration supports the idea of quick changes, as the problems are longstanding and annoying to them.The pressure is there to do it all, right now!
My approach right now is to triage, identifying the most pressing problems, the ones that are easiest to address, and the ones that are least upsetting to people in my unit. I am reaching for the low-hanging fruit, and occasionally dealing with something more complicated if the negative effects are just too glaring. I am dividing these issues as I identify them, putting them into categories of immediate, mid-range, and long-term. Then, I am trying to address them more-or-less methodically.
I keep a list of my projects and where they are in process. It is nice to review, sometimes, as it reminds me (a) why I feel so busy and (b) what I have already accomplished. I *am* seeing some positive results. Of course, they are accompanied by negative responses from some folks in my unit. Change is hard, and I knew people would react to any changes I put in place. I am keeping my eyes on the long term, though, and encouraging others to do the same. Because while I am editing self, I am keeping my sense of hope and excitement. Sometimes, I think that is all an administrator can do.