The trickiest part of figuring out if you are “management material” is being honest enough with yourself to determine your readiness. I asked someone the “are you ready?” question last year at the conference and the response was “I deserve it! I’ve had this job for 11 years!” Sorry, wrong answer.
For sure, time and experience are key factors in developing good managers. More than that, however, good managers share skill-sets, attitudes, and world-views that provide them with the leadership skills necessary for success. Key among those is what I’d call “‘Big picture’ thinking.” Today’s blog post will focus on this area, along with tips for building this skill right here at the conference.
You’ve finally made it to San Diego. Do you attend the plenaries or prefer to hang out with friends? Do you think the “big picture” thinking offered by the plenary speakers might help connect the day-to-day work of a manager to the larger field? Do good managers link their work and inspire their staff with high-level thinking? You bet!
Who do you most admire and respect in our field? Take the initiative to approach a few of these people at the conference and ask for a few minutes of their time; most would be flattered to share with you their insights and advice!
Wear a different hat for a day. Think about the issues and challenges faced by your boss or another leader in your organization: budget cuts, difficult employees, new mandates from above, etc. Attend international education leadership conference sessions that relate to these issues. The insights you gain may help you to be a better resource in your organization and give you a taste of how other managers in attendance face their own professional challenges. “Managing up” is crucial at any level of an organization.
Get involved! Initiate! Good managers I know rarely say “That’s not my job, I don’t have time” or shrink from an opportunity to be engaged in new ways in their organization. If you can’t do it in your organization, do it in NAFSA! Wherever you go at the conference, you’ll hear appeals for volunteer help to engage in every dimension of our field. By all means, even if you don’t end up volunteering, ask more about positions you might be interested in. I’d count my NAFSA volunteer-leader experience as being as valuable as my “real” job experience. My first NAFSA job was the tedious chore of listing conference sessions on graph paper (long before there was an app for that!). Twenty-five years and countless NAFSA roles later, I was selected for my director position at UCLA. I couldn’t have done it without my NAFSA credentials.
Be positive! My spouse always reminds me, “Nobody likes a whiner!” And, certainly in the world of management, our best leaders are individuals who are enthusiastic, positive, and who support and mentor others. I find it easy to lead, even despite differences, when we are all on the same team.
Choose to truly shine with energy and enthusiasm at the conference. Take the risk of overhearing someone talk about you: “Wow! Who’s she/he? We’ve got to get her/him on our committee!”
Have a fabulous conference, future manager! See you at the NAFSA Career Center!
Bob Ericksen retired as director of the Dashew Center at UCLA in 2012 and was awarded Life Membership for his contributions to NAFSA and the field.