Category Archives: Leadership Theory & Practice

Some of your best students are introverts. What have you done for them lately?

Book coverI’m going to stray a bit from the mandate of this blog with this one and talk about a book that really isn’t directly about student affairs or higher education. I just finished Susan Cain’s bestseller Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World The Can’t Stop Talking. It’s a relatively deep exploration of temperament,  the dominance of “The Extrovert Ideal” in western culture, and the loss to society when those who appreciate solitude simply cannot escape, or rise above, the noise.

I didn’t choose to read this book out of professional interest. But there are some definite takeaways for student affairs practitioners, especially those working in student leadership or career development, and particularly for those who have fallen prey to the leadership = TEDTalk phenomenon. Cain is always quick to point out that many of her best friends are extroverts. Extroverts need not feel threatened by her call to recognize the needs of, and tap into the best of, the introverts in your life. But she is saying that forcing introverts to play in an environment designed for extroverts is a missed opportunity.

She uses many examples in the book — including an amusing peak inside Harvard Business School where students “practically go to the bathroom in teams” and  the relentless focus on group work causes them to constantly overlook the best ideas — to make her point that the balance has tipped, in both classrooms and workplaces, too far toward the characteristics of the extrovert.  Quick reflexes, self-promotion and public speaking are are valued above contemplation, analysis and listening.

Business is starting to catch on. A recent article in Forbes featured a study that warned employers to “be wary of the extrovert” because they talk too much, listen too little and “don’t contribute as much as people think they will.” Those of you working in career development will want to be on top of this wave, helping your students, whether extroverted or introverted, recognize and articulate the value they bring to a team. The good news is, we can all learn to adopt the traits of extroversion or introversion in a given situation. Introverts can learn to speak in public. Extroverts can learn to listen.

Case in point: ironically, Cain herself has an immensely popular TEDTalk. She taught herself, out of necessity to promote her book, how to hold a crowd’s attention and make her point, which she does very well. She ends it (spoiler alert!) with three calls to action: 1. Stop the madness for constant group work. Teach kids to work together, yes, but also teach them to work alone.  2. Go to the wilderness, unplug, and find solitude; and  3. Introverts: make your contribution to the world.

I wish I had read Cain’s book earlier. Recently, my team at OCAD University was planning a leadership development retreat for our peer mentors. We only had a day to work with. We planned some outdoor activities: low ropes, a climbing wall, etc. to build trust and teamwork skills, and some indoor activities: a role-playing leadership group simulation to teach collaboration skills. We also came up with the idea of including a reflective walk in the woods. But we couldn’t fit everything into the schedule and something had to go. Can you guess what got sacrificed?

Deanne Fisher, @deannefisher

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Why leadership in higher education is like driving a nail through blancmange

A review of:
Turnaround Leadership for Higher Education
by Michael Fullan & Geoff Scott, Jossey-Bass, 2009

I have spent the better part of the last decade trying to understand, from the inside, what makes institutions of higher education change. We all purport to be in the midst of it – change, that is – with strategic visions and plans that call for us to “build on our strengths”  or “define our dreams.”  Let me guess, your institution’s plan says something about…increasing enrolment/graduate enrolment/international enrolment, improving your profile/reputation regionally/nationally/internationally, probably talks about some “pillars” and sets a lofty goal around “improving the overall student experience”, the part that gets us student affairs types all giddy.

And yet, despite all the effort – townhall meetings and consultation sessions, green papers and white papers, beautifully designed strategic plan websites and glossy brochures ­– the returns on investment are often ambiguous, marginal or incremental, and rarely transformative. Continue reading

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Working horizontally in a vertical culture

Organizing Higher Education for Collaboration (jacket) Organizing Higher Education for Collaboration:
A guide for campus leaders
Adrianna L. Kezar & Jaime Lester
Published by Jossey-Bass: A Wiley Imprint. 2009.

If you are interested in improving student learning and engagement on your campus, then you have probably deduced that collaboration is, at least to some degree, the key to success. It inspires innovation, leads to better service, motivates staff, and can even decrease costs. So if collaboration is such a compelling solution to our woes, why, then, is it so difficult to achieve? Adrianna Kezar and Jaime Lester provide some of the answers by studying, in great depth, the organizational culture of institutions that demonstrate a high level of collaboration.

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Learning to “dance through complexity”

Opposable MindAdmittedly, I’m finding it a bit of a stretch to include The Opposable Mind: How Successful Leaders Win Through Integrative Thinking (2007, Harvard Business School Press) in a blog dedicated to recent literature in student affairs. But author Roger Martin is one of the keynote speakers at this year’s CACUSS Conference so I thought it fitting that I give his book a read in anticipation of the wisdom he might share with us in Waterloo in June. Continue reading