Owning Your Professional Development: A Frye Class Reconnects, Reflects, and Forecasts

Key Takeaways

  • The Frye Class of 2006, whose members kept in touch over the intervening 10 years, held a summit to reconnect, reflect, and forecast their future careers with their peers.
  • The opportunity to attend formal leadership training programs doesn't happen by chance: the library or IT professional must seek them out, apply to them, and be ready to work before and after the actual events.
  • By connecting with other professionals, reflecting on your leadership journey, and forecasting your leadership legacy, you can become the owner of your professional destiny.

In the summer of 2006, we were part of a group of 45 information technology, faculty, and library leaders (see figure 1) who spent two weeks together in Atlanta at Emory University as part of the Frye Leadership Institute (now called the Leading Change Institute). Attendees came from organizations across the country and a few international locations, representing a broad spectrum of institutions, from community colleges to large research universities. For two weeks the group heard from leaders in higher education, studied together, presented together, and in the evenings ate, drank, danced, and played pool together. Ten years later, 75 percent of the participants said that the Frye experience played a "very" or "extremely" important part in advancing their careers.

Figure 1
Figure 1. The Frye Class of 2006

Many library and IT professionals have been fortunate in taking advantage of professional development activities throughout their careers designed to make them better managers and leaders. The opportunities offered by EDUCAUSE, CLIR, ARL, and other organizations, including our own institutions, motivate participants to lead from where they are and strive for advanced and executive roles such as CIOs or university librarians. Young professionals should be encouraged to take advantage of these opportunities, and professional organizations should continue to invest in them and develop inspiring new programs.

The opportunity to attend formal leadership training programs doesn't happen by chance: the library or IT professional must seek them out, apply to them, and be ready to work before and after the actual events. Co-author Diane Butler serves as a good example of a professional who has taken this advice to heart. Her first experience with a leadership program was the Frye Institute. At the time, she was transitioning from an IT organization to the library. Meeting, learning, and interacting with the other participants helped her shape her career and gave her the advice and encouragement she needed to realize her potential. She didn't stop there: she applied for and was selected to participate in the ARL (Association of Research Libraries) Leadership Fellows program. Both programs helped build her ability to interact with deans, provosts, presidents, and leaders in the higher education community, and to see the higher education landscape from various views. To build relationships with faculty and administrators at her own university, she sought involvement in the local Rice University Leaders program. She is currently participating in a CIO leadership program that exposes her to IT leaders outside of higher education. Butler advises taking ownership of your potential by seeking out and applying to leadership programs that offer the opportunity to build a network of diverse colleagues and mentors, which will be invaluable throughout your career.

While attending formal leadership programs is one significant way to grow professionally, what other ways help you continue your professional development as you progress from mid-career to final career position or (gasp!) even retired? How can you "own" your professional development during these later career stages? How do you stay engaged and challenged throughout your career? What key activities allow you to continue to grow after traditional leadership training? And finally, how can you be intentional about planning your leadership legacy? Almost a decade after our original Frye experience, these were the questions we asked.

Reconnecting

Many members of the Frye 2006 class had done one of the most important things you can do for your career: maintained the professional relationships forged throughout the Frye experience. Through e-mails, site visits to each other's institutions, social networking, and getting together at conferences, the self-appointed "social chairs" did a good job of keeping contacts current. And the group learned to love networking.

In today's world, networking is a necessity. A mountain of research shows that professional networks lead to more job and business opportunities, broader and deeper knowledge, improved capacity to innovate, faster advancement, and greater status and authority.1

Co-author Jenn Stringer has become a pro at the networking aspect of leadership development, building strong, lasting relationships with her Frye colleagues and others she meets at conferences and events. These contacts have allowed site visits to other institutions to

  • see innovative solutions to common problems,
  • implement cooperative projects,
  • find mentors and be a mentor, and
  • even take a leave to work at another institution across the country, learning new skills and techniques.

Stringer advises colleagues to be intentional about building relationships with others throughout the profession because the rewards are immeasurable.

A growing number of members wanted to do more than just have a spontaneous e-mail catch-up time, a small group visit, or an hour together at the EDUCAUSE conference. This group also realized that the mixture of IT, library, and faculty was missing. They wanted to reconnect with their Frye colleagues to do more meaningful reflecting and forecasting together.

The group quickly realized that this initiative would have to be "owned" from within if it were to happen. A small planning group committed to developing a low-cost, highly impactful, in-person event focused on professional development. After a year's worth of planning with no central support or budget, the Frye Class of 2006 Summit: Reconnect, Reflect, Forecast took place in Chicago during April 2017.2 Of the original class of 45, 17 members attended (see figure 2). Those interested but unable to attend were looped in electronically before and after the meeting.

Figure 2
Figure 2. The Frye Class of 2006 Summit attendees (minus two)

The summit program included a welcome dinner and time to discern the results of an extensive survey sent out to the 2006 cohort prior to the event. Questions touched on the Frye leadership program and its impact, career progress and growth, and advice to future leaders. Attendees also engaged in planning their own leadership legacies. For inspiration, they listened to local keynote speaker Sandee Kastrul, founder of Chicago-based i.c. stars. She shared her own mid-career inflection point, which motivated her to start an organization that provides opportunities for low-income young adults to develop advanced technical and leadership skills (see figure 3).

Figure 3
Figure 3. Sandee Kastrul, founder of i.c. stars, speaking to Frye Summit attendees

The Frye program provided a ready cohort of interested colleagues in this instance, but what leadership development groups have you been part of? Is it time to reconnect, reflect, and forecast with them? Summit attendees recommendations for creating a meaningful experience follow:

  1. Do what's doable and meaningful. Your experience doesn't need to be a full-day summit with a keynote address. It could be as simple as scheduling a regular catch-up call with colleagues from different institutions in similar roles, starting up a reading group to read and discuss leadership books together, or creating a Meetup.
  2. Build on an established community or connection. Build on an already established cohort. We built on our Frye cohort, but it could be any group that you are connected with, such as an EDUCAUSE Constituent Group, a birds-of-a-feather group at your institution, or a subgroup of people from a listserv. If you sense some mutual interest, initiate the next step.
  3. Work with a team. If you are planning something bigger, don't try to do it on your own. This is a perfect team activity. Divide up the work and have regular phone meetings to check in with each other. This both spreads the work and deepens your professional connections with the members of the team.

Reflecting

In a survey issued prior to the summit, the entire cohort was asked to reflect on their Frye experience and how it impacted their career. Eighty-two percent of the class responded to the survey. Of those, almost all (94 percent) said they had advanced in their careers, with 64 percent stating they had made significant advances in their professional journeys. Finally, a full 75 percent felt that their Frye experience had a major impact on their success. The survey findings were shared at the summit, where attendees reflected on their experiences (figure 4).

Figure 4
Figure 4. Frye Summit attendees reflecting on the survey findings

Respondents were also asked to share some "words of wisdom" for future leaders who will be attending the Leading Change Institute (or other such leadership program). Co-author David Greenfield made the point that it is important to intentionally broaden your interaction with peers and go beyond the IT or library world. One of the benefits of the Frye program was the intentional combination of library, faculty, and IT professionals. Each shares common traits within the higher education enterprise, and each also brings perspectives unique to both people and information. Because of connections made at Frye, Greenfield was able to become a partner on a million dollar grant researching student media habits.

If you don't have national contacts, advised Greenfield, reach out to those on your campus in different disciplines and with different roles. Too often we narrow our professional development to those opportunities related to our own familiar field. Greenfield once decided to attend a technical conference for small business owners. Both the sessions and the conversations around the event helped him look at entrepreneurship, fiscal management, and technology implementation in an environment without the support structures of a higher education institution, causing him to find innovative ways to apply those concepts within his current setting.

Some leadership development programs require the completion of an individual or group thesis or project. Co-author Janet Scannell believes that her career advancement is a result of the Frye project she completed. Her topic was inter-college computing collaborations. In 2006, she was part of a merged library/IT department. She saw how fruitful library collaborations were and wondered why there weren't as many successful and deep examples between IT departments in liberal arts colleges. She visited several consortiums, read papers, and networked with many people who had various successes and failures in doing IT projects with partner schools. She found it fascinating. Scannell said that her experience with — and commitment to — collaboration was a big part of her resume when she applied for CIO positions.

Several themes emerged from these reflections and discussions that might be useful when looking for meaningful professional development experiences.

  1. Time. Look for programs that enable you to interact with others from diverse organizations and that take place over a longer time. Programs that are at least a week long enable you to immerse yourself in the content and make meaningful connections with the other participants. "The two-week immersion was fantastic — it was wonderful to spend all day every day (we did have a weekend off) with other up-and-coming professionals talking about issues we were all dealing with." ~ Pat Tully, Director, Ketchikan Public Library
  2. Focus. When you go to a professional development meeting or event, leave your day job at the door. You won't get the most out of your experience if you are answering e-mail or focusing on the daily work crisis. "Try and let go of your current personal and job worries and really be present for a week. It's a unique opportunity." ~Mark Dahl, Director of the Aubrey Watzek Library, Lewis and Clark
  3. People. Spend time getting to know the others in the program. This is your chance to build connections at national and even international levels. Introverts, we know this is hard, but you will find it worth the effort! "Use this as a launching pad to 'get in the door' and forge relationships with those who you might not otherwise: executives on your own campus, peers at other campuses, professional organizations' leadership, etc." ~David Greenfield, Director of Student Tech Support Services, Illinois State University
  4. Fun. Programs that include social activities that are not work related really help with bonding, as well as with applying the skills you are learning. "The whitewater rafting between weeks was a great opportunity to observe leadership and good teamwork — which reinforced the Frye curriculum." ~Roxanne Sellberg, Associate University Librarian for Research and Administrative Strategies, Northwestern University

Forecasting

One realization in planning for the summit was that an increasing number of the Frye 2006 cohort were in mid-career or final career positions — or even retired. This prompted a number of questions: How do we intentionally forecast as we plan out this stage of our lives? How will we be remembered? Will our impact be lasting? Will we work in retirement, and if so, will it be in the same field or something different?

An encore career is defined as work in the second half of life that combines continued income, greater personal meaning, and social impact. Planning your leadership legacy is a way to ensure you maximize your impact on the world. Research also shows that when we know we have benefitted from the legacy of the prior generation, that gets us thinking about the positive legacy we want to leave for future generations, and we tend to make better long-term decisions for our organizations and for ourselves.3

For example, co-author Merri Beth Lavagnino has determined that she would like her encore career to be in nonprofit humanitarian aid of some kind. She created a nonprofit resume, met with a local nonprofit leader to get advice, re-branded her LinkedIn profile to allow others to see her in that new role, and will earn her certificate in fundraising management this year. While she may have many years left in her higher education career, she is purposefully making choices today that will allow her to leave a leadership legacy even in retirement.

Because she learned many of these methods during workshops and coaching available from her alma mater's Alumni Association, at the Frye Class of 2006 Summit Lavagnino led her classmates through exercises to begin forecasting their legacies. Following are some ways you can do this, either on your own or in a group:

  1. Recall the legacy of your predecessors. What resources did they leave behind for you and your contemporaries? How did they change the organization to provide you with opportunities? How did they shape your organization's culture?
  2. Consider your own legacy. What are some ways you have already left legacies in your workplaces? What projects or mentorship efforts will be most lasting?
  3. Do a personal assessment. Assess your values, strengths, passions and interests, and personality, and decide what meaningful work means to you.
  4. Write a press release about yourself — or your obituary. Write either a press release about yourself X years from today, or write your obituary. This help you reflect on what you've accomplished and hope still to accomplish in your lifetime.
  5. Create your brand statement. Using what you know about the legacy you want to leave, create a "brand statement" to replace what we used to call your "elevator speech," so others can start to see you for what you want to become or be remembered for rather than the job you have right now (see figure 5).
    Figure 5
    Figure 5. Summit attendees Mara Hancock and Mike Richichi sharing and refining their branding statements

Summary

While formal leadership development programs are ideal ways to grow and develop leadership skills, they should be considered the start of a journey. There are many other ways an individual can take control of his or her professional and personal growth and leave an impactful leadership legacy. By bringing together a group of peers, either from one of those programs or by creating a group of your own, you can share and grow together. Each person's leadership journey is unique, but one thing we know is that by reconnecting with other professionals, reflecting on our leadership journeys, and forecasting our leadership legacies, we have become owners of our destinies. We are making purposeful, impactful decisions not only for the near-term, but also for the long-term, making us valuable employees for our organizations and more fulfilled individuals in our societies. We hope you will do the same.

Notes

  1. Tiziana Casciaro, Francesca Gino, and Maryam Kouchaki, "Learn to Love Networking," Harvard Business Review, May 15, 2016.
  2. See the website and program for the Frye Class of 2006 Summit: Reconnect, Reflect, Forecast, Chicago, April 2017.
  3. Kimberly Wade-Benzoni, "How to Think About Building Your Legacy," Harvard Business Review, December 15, 2016.

Jenn Stringer is chief academic technology officer and assistant vice chancellor, Teaching & Learning, University of California, Berkeley.

Merri Beth Lavagnino is chief risk officer, Office of the Executive Vice President for University Academic Affairs, Indiana University.

Diane Butler is associate vice president, Office of Information Technology, Rice University.

David Greenfield is director of Student Technology Support Services, Illinois State University.

Janet Scannell is chief technology officer, Carleton College.

© 2017 Jenn Stringer, Merri Beth Lavagnino, Diane Butler, David Greenfield, and Janet Scannell. The text of this article is licensed under Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 4.0.