Fostering Leadership: How EDUCAUSE Provides Me with the Perspectives Essential for Leadership Success

min read

Professional development experiences provided by a professional association can be invaluable to pursuing and realizing one's career goals.

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Credit: Lightspring / Shutterstock, Inc. © 2019

Spending my undergraduate, graduate, and entire professional career at Baylor University has not provided the rich diversity of experience traditionally desired for IT leadership roles in higher education. As a student network assistant and then a full-time networking technician, I realized that working in higher education offered unique collaboration and learning opportunities not afforded in most industries.

I embraced the higher education environment and began attending conferences including the EDUCAUSE Annual Conference and, when my career path turned toward information security, the EDUCAUSE Security Professionals conference. While these experiences expanded my professional knowledge and skills, they did not provide the resources to strengthen my weakest skillsets—management and leadership. I am blessed to be able to speak to an audience, but when faced with one-on-one interaction involving tough conversations, I struggle to find the right path. I was able to gain respect through my knowledge and ideas as Baylor University's CISO, but I needed to develop my capacities as a leader to achieve my goal of being a higher education CIO.

In the winter of 2016, I identified the EDUCAUSE Institute Leadership Program as the training I needed to chart my course. I took my time completing the application, knowing there were many deserving candidates for this workshop. A few months later, I was excited to learn that my application was accepted. Unlike many of my cohort who traveled long distances, I only had to drive one hundred miles south to Austin!

That first morning of conversations between the institute faculty and my cohort confirmed that I selected the right program. The diversity of experiences, personalities, and professional journeys laid the foundation for the next four days of skill building. The participants ranged from new managers in higher education to long-tenured staff recently moved to management and in some cases long-time managers looking to expand their skills. Attendees represented all areas of technology at an institution, from centralized infrastructure managers to distributed client support leaders. Identifying our personal strengths and personality traits provided the self-reflection essential for interacting with and managing others.

We learned that every person has a personal currency that drives them. For some, it's financial; for others, it's a personal thank you; for others, it's simply knowing they made a significant contribution. Understanding how to identify each person's gratitude needs is crucial to positive management interaction. We learned how to have difficult interactions that are respectful and constructive and result in positive outcomes. We engaged in role-playing scenarios that taught us how to interact effectively with a board of trustees and senior institution leadership, as well as peers. We created elevator pitches and received the kind of candid feedback from peers that we rarely received in our normal jobs.

Looking back on these few days in Austin, I see my incredible growth as a manager. I noticed changes in how I approached individual and group interactions that resulted from the experience and allowed for better outcomes in those challenging conversations.

Fast forward two years to January 2017. I had heard about a unique leadership growth opportunity co-produced by CLIR and EDUCAUSE—the Leading Change Institute (LCI). As with the Leadership Program, I diligently completed the application and hoped the timing was right for this next step. A few months later I learned that I was accepted to the institute. I traveled to Washington, DC, that summer for six days that strengthened my resolve as a leader and further shaped the type of leader I wanted to become.

Similar to my previous experience, the cohort was diverse but even more accomplished. From the first day, it was clear the LCI deans would stretch us by demanding interaction and openness that permeated the experience. The agenda left little downtime and routinely impressed with sessions featuring thought leaders from across higher education who spoke from personal experience and brought deep insight. The LCI website talks about how the institute faculty "discuss numerous approaches to addressing these issues, including ideas for collaboration, collective creativity, and innovation within and across departments, institutions, and local or regional boundaries; the conceptualization of blended positions and organizations; and the importance of community mentorship and advocacy. Speakers from a wide range of backgrounds share real-life problems across the higher education landscape for which, over the course of the Institute, participants are challenged to devise and propose solutions." I was not disappointed—LCI lived up to this billing and much more.

These EDUCAUSE Institute programs could be understood as skill-building opportunities, but they were much more. Those days served to challenge, strengthen, and in some cases change my beliefs on management and leadership. The access to leaders and the wisdom they shared created an inflection point in my professional journey. The lasting relationships from the cohort provide a professional network that I can turn to as I continue to develop as a leader. While I began with a personal goal in mind, I learned that true leadership is enabling those around you to exceed their own expectations.

In the summer of 2018, I was blessed to take the next step in my journey as I accepted the Interim CIO role at Baylor University. As I realize my path from student worker to network technician to CISO and Interim CIO, I know the story would not be possible without my experiences from EDUCAUSE and the Leading Change Institute.

Jon Allen is Chief Information Security Officer and Interim Chief Information Officer at Baylor University.

© 2019 Jon Allen. The text of this work is licensed under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 4.0 International License.