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The Heart of Legacy: Creating a Lasting Impact Through People-Centric Leadership

A few weeks ago, during our stay interview at work, I was asked, “What legacy would you like to leave at UCSB?” This question resonated with me and prompted me to think about what I want my impact to be. I invite you to reflect on this question: What legacy do you envision leaving behind in your organization?

At the same time, I’m working with a team to implement a mentorship program for our IT professionals. One goal is to provide opportunities for future leaders. The question above and this mentorship program got me thinking about the most significant impact we can have in our organizations – the opportunities and interactions we share with the folks we work with and serve. How we treat them and set them up for success can affect their lives, even generations to come, and all the people they will interact with. As a wise colleague recently told me, at the end of the day, our work begins and ends with people. People will forget the systems we build and the projects we work on, but our impact on others lasts much longer. Sometimes, amid our busy work lives, we focus on what’s right before us and only think about the future within our time in our organizations. A wise student once told me, “As leaders, we are hard on ourselves, thinking our efforts don’t yield any meaningful results, but we are planting seeds today which will bloom beyond our time.” What seeds are you planting today that will contribute to the legacy you want to leave behind?

When asked about the legacy I’d like to leave, my immediate response was “Acts 13:36,” which I’ve come to translate as “he served God’s purpose in his generation.” This verse and my wife’s and I’s shared mission statement: “To make positive impacts globally through acts of compassion, inspiration, and education. In pursuit of this goal, practice an attitude of gratitude and an abundance mindset,” provides direction for our purpose in life. How do your values and beliefs shape the legacy you want to create?

As leaders and colleagues, we have a moral and ethical responsibility to ensure that those we work with and those we serve are treated with dignity and respect and given equal opportunities to succeed – not despite their differences but because of their uniqueness to our organization.

Through my experiences growing up, feeling marginalized in school and even at work when I didn’t fit the norms, I’ve come to value equal access to opportunities, inclusion, and appreciation for diversity. What values do you believe can contribute to a positive legacy? How can you invest in the people around you to help them reach their full potential?

With this in mind, our mentorship program aims to empower IT professionals and future leaders by focusing on their growth and development. By investing in people and fostering a sense of community, we can create a lasting legacy that carries on through those we’ve mentored and the people they’ll go on to mentor themselves.

Let us remember that our work and the legacy we leave in our organizations begin and end with people. People will forget the systems we build and our contributions to projects. However, our impact on others can resonate for generations to come. By focusing on developing meaningful relationships, mentoring future leaders, and living out our purpose with an attitude of gratitude and an abundance mindset, we can make an impactful difference in those around us and leave a legacy that will long outlive the systems we create. So, what legacy do you envision leaving behind?

Managing Constraints, Leading Possibilities: Principles for Leading Organizational Change

A mentor once said, “you manage constraints and lead towards possibilities.” Another colleague said, “you manage things and lead people.” When it comes to organizational change, these two principles also apply. Organizational change leadership deals with how one influences other people to buy in and commit to changes and/or new ideas. As one who is in a leadership position and also who has been fortunate to have observed other effective change leaders, here are some principles I’ve come to adopt when I am leading change.

1. Go with the willing first. Realize that different folks in the organization will not be at the same level of awareness and interest regarding new ideas. For folks to buy in, they must first be made aware of the proposed changes and commit to accepting or rejecting the idea. Some folks, given their disposition, personalities, and interests, will be more willing and able to accept the proposed changes. These are the folks who can provide initial positive momentum and interests that will not only advance the implementation of the proposed change but also demonstrate to others the values of the changes as well. I’ve seen it too often, and I’ve experienced this myself when leaders are discouraged with their efforts and lack of progress because they focus too much on those unwilling to adopt the changes and the criticisms levied by those folks. But, progress will be made in focusing on willing people, and positive energy/momentum will be sustained.

2. Engage influencers in the organization. Some individuals in organizations have the credibility and respect of their peers. These are folks who are not always in management positions; rather, these are folks who are liked socially, have a reputation for getting things done, and who management can count on to get things done. These are folks that can be very beneficial in getting the buy-in of others, so when leading change; they should be approached at the beginning and throughout the efforts, so they know what’s going on for them to develop an interest in the new idea, and spread the message with their peers.

3. Use the social network effect. Related to points 1 and 2 above, create/promote a social structure where folks can share ideas in social settings. I’ve learned that department meetings are forums for announcements/awareness, but I’m not going to convince folks in one session to develop an interest in the proposed changes. Realize that when folks go to lunches or go on breaks, that’s when they often have deeper conversations about what’s going on with the departments. For this reason, working with willing and organizational influencers who can advocate for change during these casual and social conversations is important.

Organizational change can be emotionally and psychologically hard on people because it impacts their identity, value systems, reputation, and livelihood. For these reasons, folks leading organizational changes cannot overlook the significance of the individual needs and interests of those involved. In the end, folks are asking this question regarding change: “what’s in it for me?”

What other methods and principles have you used to successfully lead organizational changes?

My Professional Reading List 2015

thumbAnother year of professional growth and learning. A significant amount of my time went to my MBA (IT Mgmt Specialization) course work in 2015; I could not devote as many hours to reading about other topics I enjoy, such as higher education and student affairs. Nevertheless, I still managed to enjoy reading the books below. As it was with my professional reading lists for 2013  and 2014, most of the books below are kindle books I read through my iPhone and iPad. The beauty of mobile learning. Please feel free to ask me for any recommendations.

Business & Productivity

Change and Innovation

Higher Education / Student Affairs

Information Technology



Student Affairs Org Technology Leadership Competencies – MindMap

What competencies are required to be an effective student affairs technology leader at an organizational level? This is a question I pondered while reviewing the Technology Competency Area within the ACPA/NASPA Professional Competency Area for Student Affairs Educators. I specifically mentioned “at an organizational level” because managing/leading the appropriate/effective use of technology at the divisional level differs from one who is leading the efforts at the national or individual levels. There are competencies required to run effective organizations and coordinating technology use at the divisional level. So, I combined the outcomes defined within the Technology Competency Area and my experience leading a student affairs IT department and produced the mind map of what I view as competencies required to be an effective student affairs technology leader at an organizational level.


What other competencies should be included? Thanks!

Assertiveness: My Leadership Challenge as an Asian American

As of yesterday, I had been in my department’s Acting Executive Director role for one year. I lead an IT organization in a higher education institution. The day before, we held our quarterly department meeting to review our accomplishments and upcoming projects. As a typical practice after events, I asked for feedback on how the meeting went and how well I did. The staff I spoke with had positive comments. One staff shared feedback that made me think about my leadership role as an Asian American and the perceptions of leadership in higher education and even in this country. The comment that made me think about these topics was this “Joe,  you were certainly much more assertive and confident yesterday. You’re a lot different from when you started last year. My initial concern was because you’re so nice, I didn’t know how well you’d be able to deal with other directors and those more senior than you when it came to conflict. You’ve adjusted well, and I see you as more confident and assertive.”

Throughout my career, one personal trait that’s been perceived as negative regarding my leadership style has been my assertiveness or lack of. From the feedback I’ve received, I’ve been seen as not direct and not confrontational when dealing with conflicts. Whether that’s because of my personality or cultural upbringing, I don’t know why I have not been seen as “assertive” as other folks would like me to be. However,  when folks assess my assertiveness, they probably compare it to other leaders from their experience or what they see in popular media.

I grew up in a Filipino household that values harmony, and conflicts are dealt with in not-so-direct ways. When it came to conflict, saving face or preserving the dignity of those involved mattered a lot in my family and the Filipino culture. In my career, these approaches have conflicted with how those I work with expected me to deal with issues. Because I have not always been direct in confronting issues, I have been seen as weak and unsure of myself. Perhaps, others have expected me to be dominant and controlling. I’ve been more inclined to use influence and persuasion to lead. The challenge for me then has been reconciling my personal tendencies with the workplace expectations when it comes to being an assertive leader. The challenge has been determining when to use the style I’m more comfortable with vs. what others may consider assertive.

As I think about this issue of assertiveness, I wonder which opportunities I missed because I was not seen as an assertive leader. Moving forward, I wonder how this perception will shape my career. I also wonder about my prospect of moving up the management hierarchy in higher education where there’s a glaring lack of Asian American leaders who can mentor me, where my qualities may not match the Western qualities associated with leaders, and perhaps bias against me because I don’t fit the prototypical leader that hiring committees are comfortable hiring.

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