Reality, Reflection, and Resilience

min read

The 2019 EDUCAUSE Institute Management Program provided a deep dive into management and leadership competencies and greater insight into the higher education IT landscape and the challenges faced by IT leaders.

man in suit and tie looking in a full-length mirror and seeing his image wearing a red cape
Credit: FGC / © 2019

I've worked at EDUCAUSE for more than six years as the senior manager of IT services, and earlier this year, I had the opportunity to attend the EDUCAUSE Institute Management Program in New Orleans. I was thrilled to get the chance to take a deeper dive into the management and leadership competencies that are the bedrock of my position. By attending, I also gained greater insight into and a better understanding of the higher education IT landscape and the mutual challenges all IT leaders face.

After attending such an inspirational event, I was faced with the challenge of how to actualize the energy and mindset at home. I started by presenting key concepts to my IT department as well as the larger organization, but the real implementation came incrementally. The following represents a discussion I had with my CIO, Mairéad Martin, in which we identified three Rs of management—reality, reflection, and resilience—and talked about what actualizing the lessons from the EDUCAUSE Institute Management Program has meant for me.


Johnny: We're all pulled in a lot of directions, and it can be challenging to square the best practices we learn with the frank realities we sometimes face. For example, toward the end of the EDUCAUSE Institute Management Program, there was a major service outage at the home office that pit my intention to learn against my habit of "swarming around the problem until it's resolved." Mairéad, you told me that yes, my colleagues appreciate and need my assistance, but that there are boundaries, and it's important not to lose sight of the present moment. Letting go requires some mental recalibration, but it makes you available to learn new things.

Mairéad: The fact that you were committed to going to the EDUCAUSE Institute Management Program and that everyone in the IT department did our best to keep your attention there during a major service outage is illustrative of the cultural shift that is happening in our IT department. It signaled that our operations cannot be dependent on the heroic actions of a single individual and that our professional development is something that we invest in wholeheartedly. That said, you did get on the phone at critical junctures, and we wouldn't have resolved the issue without your contributions to our team effort.

Johnny: It can be daunting, but I realized that if my response to every issue is "I'll just do it," my team members won't learn new things, and I won't have the bandwidth to complete new tasks and focus on the bigger picture. Shifting from one subject to another all the time and running from meeting to meeting can make everything feel urgent. However, I'm learning to accept and believe that while fast responses are great, taking the time to show others how to find a resolution pays more dividends in the long run. When I delegate, trust, and let go, I'm empowering myself and the people around me to take on new challenges and grow.


Johnny: The EDUCAUSE Institute Management Program also provided me with a great opportunity to step away from the day-to-day and take a closer look at some of the fundamentals of my role. I really connected with the "start, stop, continue" technique, which forced me to slow down and think about what's working and where to put more energy. It is a luxury to be introspective and think about ways to infuse some of those observations into a typical workday.

Mairéad: Being able to immerse oneself in an experience like the EDUCAUSE Institute Management Program is so valuable, and I absolutely agree that you have to step away from the daily demands to get the most out of it. We have had a lot on our plates over the last year as we work on modernizing IT services at EDUCAUSE. It would be tempting—but a mistake—to wait until we have our house in order before we dedicate time to leadership development. What you learned during the Management Program and the relationships you made there have helped you and us be more successful as we implement our modernization agenda.

Johnny: Along those lines, another concept that resonated with me at the EDUCAUSE Institute Management Program—and one that I continue to work on implementing—was thinking about how much time I spend in four quadrants: crises (Q1); planning (Q2); interruptions (Q3); and time wasters (Q4). For example, the more time you spend in Q2, the less time you'll spend in Q1. Being conscious about what quadrant something falls into and how much of your day you devote to each can help you to rebalance your time portfolio. Defensive calendaring1 is another way to realign your day and tip more of your efforts into the strategic/proactive quadrant (Q2). Fires will still occur, but they may not take as long to put out.

Mairéad: I think this was one of the most valuable lessons that you shared with the rest of the team. When you're trying to change the engines while flying the plane, it can be hard to see progress or the value of having a process in place. As a manager, you've learned how to get your team into the planning quadrant and use that as your map to move us forward. I've seen that work particularly well for you.


Johnny: It was very inspiring to be in a room full of peers who know the challenges of an ever-shifting landscape like technology. Giving presentations to small groups and participating in roleplaying activities pushed me out of my comfort zone, and that opened the door to being part of a cohort that I could learn from and lead with. Gaining this shared perspective fortified me and helped me to build resilience. When you know that others are facing the same challenges that you are—and that you can even be a resource for others—you don't feel like you are going it alone.

Mairéad: Managing—and surviving—a major change initiative such as the one we're undertaking right now is demanding, needless to say. Resilience is a particularly important strength to have and be intentional about. And resilience doesn't mean being stoic but rather keeping a sense of perspective and taking time to recognize that progress is being made incrementally and that some things take longer to change than others. Technology is often the easiest part.

Johnny: Being intentional is something all IT leaders should strive for because intentionality leads to resilience. The faculty brought great enthusiasm to the concepts they unpacked, but they underscored their discussions with the reality that one size does not fit all and that the real work begins back home. Also, modeling happens in both directions. For example, I learn from how I see you handle a situation, and then, because I know my employees are watching, I try to model how I want them to navigate circumstances. As a result, we're all hitting the same tone, tenor, and expectations.

Mairéad: A big part of our follow up was refining your professional development plan based on what you had learned about yourself at the EDUCAUSE Institute Management Program. You identified two particular competencies that you wanted to develop further, and then we both agreed on ways you could do that, and we have been tracking your progress. And I love the point you made about setting the same "tone, tenor, and expectations" because it reminds me that as a leader, you need to remember that you are being watched for the small things as much as the big things.


My time at the EDUCAUSE Institute Management Program was transformational because it helped me to identify and work toward establishing new habits in my workplace at EDUCAUSE. During the Management Program, I got a "behind the scenes" look at the realities of management and leadership and was able to reflect that same lens on myself. Thinking about the three Rs that Mairéad and I discussed has helped me continue to implement the lessons that I learned during the program.

For more information about enhancing your skills as a higher education IT manager and leader, please visit the EDUCAUSE Review Professional Development Commons blog as well as the EDUCAUSE Career Development page.


  1. Defensive calendaring is the act of scheduling meetings with yourself with a specific goal in mind. For example, if you need to be heads down to work on a task, block out a meeting time for just you on your calendar, and use the task or project as the subject of the meeting. If you don't have a dedicated office space, you can go to a conference room or just be at your desk, but that time is spoken for, so you'll likely be uninterrupted and able to focus on the task at hand. Otherwise, your open calendar slot might get filled with other commitments. Block yourself off so you can be singularly focused and committed to your task.

Johnny Lasker is Senior Manager, IT Services, at EDUCAUSE.

Mairéad Martin is Chief Information Officer at EDUCAUSE.

© 2019 Johnny Lasker and Mairéad Martin. The text of this work is licensed under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 4.0 International License.