Lessons learned at #ACPAASSAO 2015

Am I aspiring to be a Vice-President for Student Affairs? Maybe. Will I ever be a senior student affairs officer? Who knows. Am I aspiring to make a difference in the lives of students, to help student affairs get the resources needed to make the greatest impact on a student’s university experience, and to increase retention and employment readiness? Absolutely.

I recently returned from the ACPA Aspiring Senior Student Affairs Officers Institute in beautiful Nashville, TN. My head has been spinning since the institute. I’m excited to share a brief snapshot of lessons learned from the Vice-Presidents who served as the institute’s faculty -Royster Harper, Vice President for Student Affairs, University of Michigan; Dwayne Todd, Vice President for Student Affairs, Columbus College of Art and Design; Zebulun Davenport, Vice Chancellor for Student Life, Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis; John Hernandez, Vice President for Student Services, Santiago Canyon College; Luoluo “Lo-Lo” Hong, Vice President for Student Affairs, San Francisco State; and Cissy Petty, Vice President for Student Affairs and Associate Provost of Academic Affairs, Loyola University New Orleans.

For three days, the well-versed faculty of the ACPA ASSAO Institute spoke truth to power. They shared the personal and professional experiences that took them to the executive cabinet and kept them there. They were humble, transparent, and genuine. They told us with empathy that we needed to get over our own brokenness and heal our own wounds before going into battle for our students.

We talked about successful traits of today’s leaders, change management, and technical vs. adaptive challenges. They asked us hard questions and forced us to take a long look into our underlying motivations and values. They held up the mirror. And they reminded us, this is work.

Here are 5 lessons I came away with from the ASSAO Institute:

1.  Find sponsors, mentors, and champions. Career progression requires having people who will advise you and will use their influence to advocate for you.

2.  You need gravitas. Gravitas is confidence, reputation, credibility, and the voice of authority. An effective leader is both confident and competent. It’s not enough to have only one of the two.

3. Align the external with the internal. When considering where you might serve as a senior student affairs officer, fit is essential to success and satisfaction. External factors include university size and location, scope of responsibilities, spoken and unspoken expectations, strategic initiatives, leadership, and campus climate. Internal factors include your values, personal obligations, readiness, and career goals.

4. Maintain integrity and prepare for a rainy day. You will have to make tough decisions. Know that if you are let go, you will land on your feet. You can’t do the job of a Vice-President with integrity if you need it or can’t live without it. Do not connect your livelihood to other people.

5. You will make mistakes. And not only will you make mistakes, but you will be judged on how you recover from your mistakes. You hope your mistakes will be small and inconsequential, but if they aren’t be sure to remain authentic and humble.

If you are interested in attending the ASSAO Institute visit the ACPA website!

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