Readers will remember a story I shared in my first post about a younger colleague, elevated to a leadership role during the height of the pandemic, who had begun to feel a sense of disconnection and invisibility. The lack of in-person interactions – those casual hallway conversations before and after meetings – had exposed a void in shared experiences.  

I and our leadership team quickly realized we had missed the opportunity to acclimatize our onboarding, communication, and mentoring approaches to the evolving expectations and priorities felt by our staff. 

The revelation prompted us to examine the unseen framework of our working relationships, which had fundamentally shifted beneath our feet. While our focus had been centered on weathering the immediate and existential storm – keeping our schools operating was an obvious priority – our long-held assumptions of collaboration and communication had already been transformed.  

In short, we had been laboring under a model of trust, experience, and past relationships that was no longer relevant, especially if we hoped to compete for and retain the best and the brightest going forward. 

We found ourselves woefully playing catch up.  

The ‘Great Resignation’ only exacerbated our task. As our staff reevaluated their personal and professional priorities and sought more meaningful, flexible work arrangements, we faced an exodus of talent. Loyalty and stability became secondary considerations, forcing us to adapt to a workforce no longer tethered to a “before-time” social contract between themselves and their institutions. 

In a hybrid remote/on-premises environment, teams forged in physical proximity demand intentional effort to establish an esprit de corps. They must evolve beyond traditional hierarchical structures and accommodate a more flexible and inclusive model of operation. One that values diverse perspectives and embraces the reality of remote collaboration, giving them the tools and support they need to be engaged, empowered, and successful. 

How did we begin to chip away at these challenges? Our leadership team changed our “relationship leadership DNA” and established a vocabulary relevant to the conversations we previously had not been having. 

For my part, I shifted the focus of each of my weekly one-on-one meetings with my direct reports from being institutionally biased to being individually biased. I went into each meeting with a written agenda that began with a top bullet point of “Jane’s Items” or “Sam’s Topics”, clearly emphasizing that I wanted to hear from them, first, the things that were keeping them up nights or blocking their way in achieving their goals.  

From there, we could launch into institutional issues with a frame of reference informed and shaped by their perspectives, where tasks were less dictated than shared as a conversation, and not a prescribed set of mandates. This approach created an ordered environment where honesty was valued and respected, and listening was the feature. 

This is also how I conduct all my meetings with the leadership I report to on every campus where I am engaged. 

Second, regardless of our staff’s progress on their respective professional journeys, open discussion about their personal goals isn’t restricted to formal reviews, nor relegated beneath other “task-today” priorities. Professional achievements – whether they be certifications attained, awards accepted, or continuing education efforts ongoing – are actively woven into our weekly staff meetings.  

These are given visible exposure across campus leadership, so that our staff explicitly know that their efforts are seen, that they themselves are valued, and that their growth is important to the growth of our campus. 

The third significant change I made was more actively creating spaces for agency, self-advocacy, and leadership opportunities for my staff. How will they learn to lead if I don’t provide them with leadership opportunities where stakes and success are important, but not crippling if they fail? How will they know when it’s time to “raise their hand” unless I encourage them to raise them?  

Campuses are awash in examples of such opportunities – search committees, software migration projects, product research, presentations and panels, and proposals. Teaching staff how and when to exercise these leadership muscles and supporting them to do so with budgets and sufficient soak time to succeed, gives them “skin in the game”, agency, and institutional visibility and value.  

This isn’t busy work – it is consequential and necessary to create a resilient, sustainable supply of engaged future leaders. 

The evolving nature of work and leadership requires a redefinition of success – both personal and professional. Metrics for success in the New Now must go beyond mere productivity and encompass employee well-being, satisfaction, and engagement. Leaders must prioritize empathy and actively seek to understand the unique challenges faced by each team member.  

The transformation we now find ourselves in within higher education’s working landscape necessitates a comprehensive reevaluation of our leadership paradigms, our onboarding processes, our systems of accountability, our mentoring programs, and our understanding of our working relationships – within our teams, and with trusted third-party providers.  

Teamwork Makes the Dream Work – but only if we enable and empower the dreamers to dream. 

In our next post in this series, I’ll explore practical strategies for adapting to the contemporary perceptions, practices, and methods required to successfully manage higher education IT departments in the New Now.  

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By: David Hinson

David Hinson is the Apogee Campus Chief Information Officer[...]

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