Category Archives: Personal Thoughts

Feedback: The Motivation Behind Them Matters

There are a couple of mentors I have come to trust in my career. That I trust them is based on the many interactions when they’ve shown me that when they provide me feedback, they come from a right place.  What I mean by “a right place” is that the feedback are genuine and they are to help me become a better professional and as a person. My mentors are honest with me and they can offer their observations about myself I may not want to hear, but nevertheless I readily accept them.  What I’ve come to realize is that the intent (perceived or real) behind the feedback from others do matter in terms of how well they are accepted. If one is to be effective in providing feedback to others, we must earn the trust of those we are seeking to provide feedback to.

While feedback about my performance/behaviors sometimes do hurt, I still seek them as I think in my role as a leader, it’s important for me to understand how I am perceived by those I lead and I serve. Just recently, as a part of a departmental survey about my department’s organizational health, I included a couple of questions about my areas of strengths and improvements. I presented the result at our department meeting and I thanked my staff for providing me helpful recommendations on how I can be better.

I’ve received feedback in the past when I’ve had to question the motivations behind them. There have been times when I find out the “friendly criticisms” were based on professional jealousy and less than noble intentions on those providing them. It’s unfortunate that I became skeptical about the feedback I receive from these individuals who broke my trust. I’m still open to them and I do consider them, but not to the extent I do with my trusted mentors.

Trust is a key component that must be considered as part of an effective professional relationship. The effectiveness of the messages we provide to others and the actions we take not only depend on the manner we express them, but also on how others perceive our level of trustworthiness.

 

 

 

 

Complexity of Identity and Appearance

The saga of Rachel Dolezal and her claim to be an African American despite her upbringing reminds me of a couple of learning experience about the complex issues behind identity and appearance. Her appearance, which seems to have changed to what could be considered African American features, is one aspect that is really interesting to me. This post is not at all about Dolezal herself and neither is it an analysis of why she chose to pursue her life the way she did. But, I referenced her issue because it reminds me of two experiences related to identity and why I am now more careful to assign a person to ethnicity/race based on their appearance.

When I was a discussion leader for an international students’ First Year Experience course at UCSB a couple of years ago, I made the mistake of assuming one of my students was from Japan. In my eyes (very subjective eyes), she “looked” Japanese. So, I asked her what part of Japan she came from. Her response was, “I’m not from Japan.” From how she looked at me, she seemed offended, so I apologized to her for making that assumption. She then explained to me that she is from Chile and she considers herself Chilean. She spoke fluent Spanish and told me she doesn’t know any Japanese.

I also have friends who are South African Indians. Their families have been there for generations and they themselves grew up in the age of apartheid.  If I had not known this prior to meeting them, through my wife, I would have assumed they’re from India. Luckily, I did not make the same mistake of asking them how India was, since I think they’ve only gone their to visit.

On a related note, I wonder how the adopted children (African-Americans) of friends of ours (Whites) will identify themselves growing up.

Race, culture, and ethnicity from what I’ve learned are social and political constructs. So, who decides and defines who belongs to a certain race/ethnicity? Is it by appearance? What if that person doesn’t conform to what is generally attributed features of a certain race? Is there a formula to determine which group a person should belong to? What about a multi-racial person?

Clearly, I don’t have the answer to this, but rather more questions.

 

Head Scratching Incident at the Golf Course – Is It About Race Again?

It seems silly for me to be complaining about this given where this happened – at a golf course. It is a privilege to be playing a sport/activity that costs quite a lot of money. So, in that sense, I do recognize the socio-economic privilege I hold. But, this incident I will share below is one of those head scratchers on how I am treated in a certain way. Maybe it’s all in my head, but experience tells me, probably not.

I was playing golf with a work friend of mine. He’s one of the top administrators on campus and he’s white male. We were riding on the same golf cart. At one of the holes, one of the golf marshalls approached us from afar and asked if one of us had left a golf club. As I looked in my bag, I realized that it could have been one of mine. I responded, “yes, I think it’s mine. Does it have a blue/black grip?” He responded with “where did you leave it?” I responded with “I’m not sure. ” I also provided him with another piece of detail about the club. He still had that look like he didn’t believe me based on the look on his face and he wasn’t going to give it to me. It is that very moment when the thought of “if I’m white, would he be asking all these questions?” My friend, after noticing my reaction, immediately said something like “I wonder if you’re white, he wouldn’t have done that to you.”  Again, it could just be all in my head, but it’s these kinds of moments that trigger some thoughts about other incidents in my life when I wonder why I’m treated differently.

We actually wanted to do an experiment to see if the same marshall would react differently if my buddy had left his club and how he would act when he returns it to us. But, we continued to play on.

 

Six Ways to Build Confidence In the Workplace

I believe that as a manager/leader, one of our most important responsibilities is to build leaders and to build productive colleagues by providing them the environment to think for themselves and grow. The confidence to pursue ideas and actions beyond their comfort zones is a big part of this process towards leadership and towards our co-workers’ ability to do their job as well. I also believe having an environment where a person can confidently do their jobs is part of having an engaged staff. Engagement to me means a staff feels maximum personal satisfaction with the work they do and secondly, they are also contributing to organization to the best of their willingness and ability. From experience, here are some ways we can build the confidence of others:

  1. Communicate goals clearly but leave room for staff to find ways to accomplish them. Basically, do not micro-manage, especially when working with talented and creative folks. Unless we work in an environment where it doesn’t require much thinking, providing our co-workers room to explore ideas and come up with their own ways to accomplishing goals you’ve given them is the way to go. However, those goals and expectations must be clearly communicated to save those assigned with the tasks from having to spend emotional energy and wasted time and effort.
  2. Allow room for “failure” as it’s part of the learning/growth process. The world is changing rapidly and we encounter new experiences/ideas everyday and we may not necessarily know how to always respond to them in the right ways. Personally, the biggest moments of growth I’ve experienced have been through my mistakes. These mistakes encouraged me to re-evaluate my approach and certainly, these mistakes helped me improve the quality of my work. Luckily, I had bosses in the past who understood that making mistakes is all part of the learning process and so while they helped me understand how to eliminate those mistakes, they also did not admonish me to a point I stopped trying new ideas. Don’t rob your co-workers with these opportunities to grow by not allowing them to make mistakes.
  3. Set higher expectations and standards beyond their comfort zones and abilities. This requires that you are intimately familiar with your co-workers’ skills, knowledge, and interests. Understand their areas of strengths and weaknesses and challenge them to further utilize their strengths and improve their weaknesses. You may encounter some resistance as this will require more work from them and they may not understand why you are challenging them, but growth isn’t always comfortable.
  4. Praise in public and criticize in private. How demoralizing is it to have your ideas interrupted by your boss in public settings because he/she just happens to believe their ways are better and do it in a way you look incompetent. There are situations when a manager does need to intervene because the information is incorrect. But even then, there’s a diplomatic method to pointing out the error and/or to suggest different ideas. This point relates to point 1 above in that as leaders.managers, we need to be clear about our expectations and goals. If our colleagues don’t understand what they are, they may share their own ideas that are contrary to what we have in mind. In these cases of confusion, it’s best to speak with your colleagues behind closed doors and clarify your expectations as well as to understand their perspectives so you are both on the same page. As I wrote on this blog post, as a manager, your words matter. You can use them to “praise or curse” your colleagues.
  5. Lead via influence, not command and control. Treat your colleagues as human beings and not machines or resources. Build relationships with them so they feel they matter. While ordering your colleagues to perform tasks may yield short-term results, the command and control approach can result in a work force that will not go above and beyond what is expected of them. This type of approach could also lead to unhappy employees and worse, lead to emotional and physical ailments. However, by leading through influence, you can build a work environment that is more positive and more sustainable in the long run. You have a workforce that will go above and beyond what is asked from them because they feel a sense of autonomy, growth, and a sense that they are respected.
  6. Model confidence. As a leader/manager, your co-workers watch your actions and your words. You play the role of the victim/complainer and soon, they will adapt your attitudes and behaviors. Work is not always ideal and we are all presented with challenges from time to time. While I’m not suggesting that we always look and feel invincible, it is important that we display the attitude of solution seekers and optimism, even in the lowest moments.

What other methods have you used to build the confidence of your colleagues?

Student Affairs Conferences & Higher Ed – Some Parallels

As I sit here at home in California and participating on the twitter back channel for the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA) 2015 national conference in New Orleans, it dawned on me that this conference and like other higher ed conferences is like higher education in some ways. By no means is this post an analysis of what’s right or what’s wrong with higher education or the NASPA and other similar conferences. They’re just observations.

The purpose for attending vary. For some, it’s to get a job by interviewing with campuses at The Placement Exchange (TPE) or by making connections with potential employers at other universities during the conference itself. For some to learn new ideas via the sessions, for some to network and build their social capital, and maybe for some, they were ask to attend by their organizations, and yet for others, maybe a chance for vacation and visit a nice city.

The cost of attendance can be considered expensive. I can’t attend this year just because of the combined cost of attendance.There are no shortage of literature and stories about the rising cost of tuition and attending higher education. Also, a big portion of the cost of attendance is on travel, accommodation, and food, and clothes. Some folks paid on their own while others received assistance from their organizations or other sponsors.

The conference is bound by time and location. While there are virtual sessions offered and the availability of recorded sessions after the event, it’s not the same as being in New Orleans.The sessions are generally presentations for about 50 minutes just like lectures and the level of interaction between the speakers and the audience can be limited.Technology is used to extend the conference but as it is used, is it considered transformative when it comes to using it for learning/education?

Learning is hard to measure. If one of the goals of the conference is to learn new ideas, how does one know how much and what they have learned? What’s the proof/measure of learning? Colleges provide diplomas as proof that the students met the course requirements and while tests may provide some assessment on what they’ve learned, is there really any definitive way to measure learning? How about personal development, which is one of the goals of student affairs?

The benefits you receive is based on how much effort you put into it. I am personally guilty of having skipped sessions in past conferences (not NASPA)  because they just didn’t interest me or I had other activities planned, and I felt guilty for having done that given that my campus paid for my trip. This is not to suggest that learning doesn’t happen outside those sessions as well. For this conference, I’m taking advantage of twitter to learn and engage from those who are in attendance.

As I mentioned above, these are just observations. What do you think about the state of higher ed and how conferences are held?