The EDUCAUSE New Managers Institute provided new higher education IT managers with a robust and flexible online training program through which to advance a variety of leadership skills.
For many people, 2020 was a tragic year of loss and sorrow, but in the world of higher education IT, last year also opened up some incredible opportunities, particularly in regard to remote work and collaboration. One such opportunity came my way when I received a scholarship to attend the online version of the EDUCAUSE New Managers Institute. I felt incredibly honored and grateful to receive this unique professional development opportunity, and I was ready to learn. The robust seven-week online training course consisted of five competencies: (1) interpersonal communication; (2) project methods, best practices, and stakeholders; (3) cost management; (4) human resources (HR) performance and motivation; and (5) leadership practices for new managers. The combination of asynchronous and synchronous content allowed me to seamlessly navigate the self-paced reading materials and videos, live sessions, and interactions with tutors and provided balance and flexibility for all participants. Through the New Managers Institute, I was able to grow my skills in several crucial areas.
The first competency that I feel particularly benefitted me is interpersonal communication. Although interpersonal communication is not a new concept to me, as I often apply the principles to my daily work, I gained new perspectives during the New Managers Institute program. I took (for the very first time) the Communicating Styles Survey designed by psychologist Paul Mok. The survey results help to identify a person's communication style (intuitor, thinker, feeler, or sensor) in stress conditions and in favorable conditions. I was pleasantly surprised with the results of my assessment. For example, the results indicated that I take a predominantly intuitive approach to communication. I thought that I would have scored higher as an empathetic communicator. The group discussion of interpersonal communication helped me learn more about leveraging my communication style to lead a collaborative assessment project. This activity taught me that I need to pace myself in collaborative projects. More specifically, though, I learned about different communication styles and how to respect them.
The second leadership skill that I learned more about is project management. I used to think that only large, university-wide projects would benefit from external project management. I seldom use project-management processes at my institution, and therefore I am not familiar with the benefits of doing so. Through the New Managers Institute, I learned about the benefits of using various project-management approaches to clarify each stakeholder's efforts, support process transparency, use resources efficiently, and deliver consistent results.
In addition to highlighting the content knowledge I learned, I also want to call attention to the supplemental support provided by the Institute faculty. One of the faculty members, for example, used the Oregon Trail game to simulate project-management concepts. The simulation really helped me and other learners grasp the ideas. I also truly appreciated the small-group breakout discussions during the live sessions. I vividly remember one instance in which we broke into groups of three to discuss any management challenges we were encountering at the time. One of my cohort members shared how he motivated the twenty to thirty students he works with to focus on both work and their studies. I ran across a similar situation when I was supervising five students for faculty research projects. It is hard to keep student assistants accountable when they must juggle school and work. When I learned that other people in my breakout group might be experiencing similar challenges, we started to brainstorm ideas about how to motivate our students. I was able to apply the new management skills I learned immediately. I motivated the student assistants by talking with each of them to better understand their interests, strengths, and goals and then using that information to support their work on research and other projects (my supervisor and I got consent from the faculty to add the students who were involved in the project as co-authors of the research once it was published, for example). I apply the management theories and techniques I learned at the New Managers Institute every day to increase collaboration within and the efficiency of my team.
The third leadership skill that benefitted me, in particular, is cost management. Like project management, cost management is not something I am involved in as a part of my daily work. The closest occasion I have to use cost-management skills is when I go through the annual evaluation and compensation-increase process. I know that cost management is crucial for any industry, especially public education. As part of our cost-management work during the New Managers Institute, we reviewed our institutions' websites to identify key revenue and funding sources for the 2020 fiscal year. The budget information can be found by searching on the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) or accessing the institution's budget report. I learned that in 2020, my institution received funding from federal stimulus funds, tuition payments, sponsorship funding, and donor contributions. Perhaps more importantly, I was intrigued to learn more about how funding sources might fluctuate based on the economy.
This incredible opportunity to attend the online EDUCAUSE New Managers Institute came to me at the perfect time. Raising a newborn baby while working from home requires excellent time-management skills, and this virtual institute provided the flexibility I need to fit professional development into my chaotic schedule. I was able to go through the reading material when my little one was sleeping. In addition to the flexibility of the learning modality and schedule, I also appreciated the seamless organization orchestrated by the EDUCAUSE team. Ryan MacTaggart facilitated peer interactions that otherwise may not have been possible outside of the program. The design and length of the course permitted me to apply what I learned to my work immediately. I also received instant feedback when I had questions. I have already persuaded one of my friends to attend the next virtual training. I truly appreciated this opportunity and cannot wait to collaborate with future cohorts.
For more information about enhancing your skills as a higher education IT manager and leader, please visit the EDUCAUSE Review Leadership & Professional Learning topic channel, as well as the EDUCAUSE Career Development page and the EDUCAUSE Institutes page. If you are interested in contributing, please read our Contributor Guidelines.
Yanju Li is Lead Data Administrator at Georgia State University.
© 2021 Yanju Li.