The Start of a Professional Development Journey

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In life, sometimes the smallest nudge can avalanche into a major change. This was the case for me in August 2013 as I began reviewing my professional development plans for the year with my supervisor. Each event I thought about attending was technical. My supervisor, Andrew White, asked me if I had ever considered taking any type of professional development that was more about developing myself as a manager and a leader, rather than working on technical skills. My exact response was likely a blank stare: I had not even been aware that this was a possibility. I had been led to believe that all those leadership books were New Age self-help and that real leaders were born, not made. I clearly recall the conversation because it was the start of a professional development journey that has not yet ended. I want to share my experience in this blog because I believe there are many others who are also unaware of all the possibilities and resources that exist for them.

In the weeks following this meeting with Andrew, each of us engaged in some research on different leadership and management training opportunities. Together, we decided that the EDUCAUSE Institute Management Program would be the most appropriate at that point in my career. I was very excited to attend. When I did my research on the Institute, I discovered that I could choose between Tempe, Arizona, in January, or . . . well, I did not read any further. Living in Maine made my decision easy: Tempe in January.

The EDUCAUSE Institute Management Program was a watershed event in my career. I had the experience of meeting a group of diverse and thoughtful people. The cohort was broken down into teams of six people, and this gave me the opportunity to make some close connections. It was an excellent opportunity to learn from other people. We were led by faculty who were experienced, thoughtful, and powerful leaders from various institutions around the country. I can name each of the faculty members to this day and have had the opportunity to interact with a couple of them since the program ended. However, the most significant change that this opportunity made in my professional life was the idea that I had to work to improve myself as a leader. As I reflect on this today, it sounds like common sense, but I had never explored the idea of working on myself as a leader. During my time at Bates College, I had learned about management issues, such as dealing with the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) or with a troublesome employee, but I had never experienced the idea that the only way to be a better leader, and therefore a better manager, was to work on myself.

At the EDUCAUSE Institute Management Program we learned about important management issues (e.g., budgets, administrative structure), but we also delved into leadership issues such as developing emotional intelligence, finding your strengths, and building a workplace culture. All of these issues pointed to the one topic that I most needed to work on to develop into a leader: me. With this insight into what it means to be a leader, my entire view of my future and what I could do to make a difference began to change. My interests in different aspects of administration began to deepen and my ability to interact with various constituents across campus grew. Not only did I personally grow from this development opportunity; Bates also benefitted from my new skills and knowledge.

Alumni of the program know that during the week, wooden blocks are tossed out for various reasons. You can trade those blocks in for books that the faculty have chosen. I was fortunate enough to get two blocks and just about ran for the book table each time I got one. The two books I went home with—Strengths Based Leadership and Good to Great—are always being pulled off my bookshelf and are well dog-eared. Additionally, the faculty provided us with a reading list that had all the books they were offering as rewards for the blocks. Several of those books have also become favorites on my bookshelf.

That fall I had become so interested in working on improving myself as a leader that I applied and was accepted to the Executive MBA program at the University of New Hampshire. As always, the people I work for at Bates College were incredibly supportive of this new endeavor. Interestingly enough, one of the classes in our first semester was Organizational Behavior. Suddenly, my path of personal development began to grow longer. Currently for the program, I am working on an independent study about leadership. This study has given me the opportunity to speak with several of the leading CIOs in the country, along with leaders in different organizational structures. Discussing professional development, each of these leaders had a comment that was very similar: when you feel like you no longer need to develop yourself, it is probably time for you to look for a new job. The only way for you and your organization to grow is constant development. It was another one of those small nudges that continue to drive me toward additional growth.

Sometime around October 2014, Andrew made another swing by my office. A few years prior, he had attended the Leading Change Institute (LCI), a partnership between EDUCAUSE and the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR), and he thought it was time that I think about applying to the program. Luckily, I was accepted into the LCI class of 2015. LCI was a significant moment in my career in a completely different way. By this point I had begun to develop as a leader and had resources to continue that growth. LCI was not so much about developing leadership skills as it was about developing personal visions and goals as a leader. We focused on the landscape of higher education today and on the place of information technology in that landscape. I made very strong connections with people in the cohort, particularly because we were together just about every minute of every day. LCI gave me a new perspective and another group of people with whom I can discuss the big-picture issues.

If you are at a point in your career where you think you have a vision for what information technology can be, or if you care about the value of higher education, then start thinking about the various programs that are available for you to get started on that path. If your supervisor has never given you the initial nudge, take these words as that nudge. I took a deep interest in learning more about leadership, but all of the programs exposed participants to various issues. Budgeting and the cost of higher education is a significant issue in today’s higher education landscape. Maybe that is the issue that resonates with you and will drive you to continued development. Or, if you are a current leader who has already experienced these things, please take the extra step, as Andrew did with me, and reach out in your organization to someone who is ready to grow and learn. The opportunities exist for growth and development, and once you start, it is too fun to stop.

Scott Tiner is Assistant Director of User Services for Digital Media, Classroom Technologies and Event Support, at Bates College.

© 2015 Scott Tiner