Step into Your Greatness

What will it take for you to step into your greatness? Or let me rephrase the question… what is standing in your way from doing what you really want to do?

I started asking myself these same questions a few years ago and came up with two answers. These two answers took me over a year to really process and fully understand.

Answer one was: Fear. Not shocking. Fear is what holds most human beings back from going after their dreams.

The second answer and reason for not doing what I really wanted to do was that I was waiting for others to pave the road for me. I was also waiting for others to see my value and capabilities.

Looking at both these obstacles, it’s fairly easy to see that they are most likely intersected. I can also tell that they are both deeply rooted in wanting to be seen, but not in an EGO type of way. Without going too far into my childhood (I’ll save that for my book) these blocks are the result of the needs of my younger self, which only increased as I entered into the professional world and experienced the hard reality of racism, gender discrimination, the glass ceiling, and sexism.

I found myself trying to navigate a system where the rules seemed to change all the time. One strategy I took to “succeed” was to work, work, work and work even harder. Because I thought, “Well, if I work hard enough I will be rewarded for my effort.” I was certain that being a team player and giving my all would result in me being seen as an asset. Hard work would get me a seat at the table. My opinions and expertise would finally matter. I would be valued and respected.

In many instances, many leaders did take me under their wing, or at least that’s what my younger self named it. I had seen how great mentorship worked for others and I also wanted to be mentored. I wanted guidance, I wanted to be groomed for my next position, whatever that was going to be.

The problem with mentorship is, you are often left waiting for others to open the door for you instead of opening it yourself. You also wait for your mentor to decide what you are capable of, instead of deciding for yourself.

So, in waiting for others to pave the way for me, what I was REALLY doing was failing to listen to my inner voice and trust my own abilities. I was essentially giving my power away to others and letting them dictate my career trajectory.

Race and gender played a major role into this repeated cycle because I really didn’t fully believe I was enough. When I finally reached a certain level and salary, I found myself the unhappiest I have ever been. I realized that I was chasing something that wasn’t what I truly wanted. What I truly wanted was to serve students and help them become the kind of adults who wouldn’t even dream of letting their dreams go unrealized. But instead of going after my own dream, I got caught up “in the game”.

The moral of this story? Do not let fear hold you back from chasing after your dreams. And do not wait until someone else deems you “good enough” to achieve your greatness. Your greatness is inside of you RIGHT NOW. You are the sole owner of that greatness. While seeking some guidance from others who have the knowledge and skills you require to advance can benefit you, be sure you never give your power away to them.

“Never underestimate the power of dreams and the influence of the human spirit. We are all the same in this notion: The potential for greatness lives within each of us.”

~ Wilma Rudolph

Debra Y. Griffith

Dean of Student Equity and Success at West Valley Community College

Consultant | Speaker | Coach |Strategist |Trainer

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A Kick in the Shin

“I was never formally taught how to supervise. I learned from the supervisors I had in the past.”

I have heard this from many clients, friends, and colleagues. I’ve even said it myself a few times. I actually used to say that ‘I try to be the supervisor I wish I had.’

But winging it and trying to be a patchwork supervisor, I found over the years, isn’t good enough. Supervising with blinders on does not allow me to meet my employees where they are and give them what they need to be the best in their roles.

Here’s a quick story that illustrates my point. This experience kicked me right in the shin and made me open my eyes and see that HOW I supervise CANNOT be about me.

Years ago, I had an employee that told me she needed to be praised when she did a good job on a major project. I was like huh? I was dumbfounded, and to be honest, slightly annoyed.

So, I started to reflect on why I wasn’t the type of supervisor that gave out praise easily and why it annoyed me when employees needed it. I had taught myself over the years that doing a good job was enough and that I didn’t need to hear I was doing a good job. If I gave my best effort – that was enough. And I projected this attitude onto others, even though they needed a pat on the back or a thumbs up.

The root of my attitude was that I never received much praise growing up and my coping mechanism had spilled over into my adult life and work life. Ugh, why did this employee have to bring this up?

While I didn’t appreciate it at the time, I am forever grateful to that employee for kicking me in the shin, okay and kicking me in the ego, and letting me see that my own personal baggage has NO PLACE in the workplace. I’m human, you’re human, and we’re going to make mistakes. That’s not the real problem. The problem is refusing to LEARN from those mistakes.

So here’s what I’ve learned about supervising others:

It’s not about me. It’s about their needs and motivation. As supervisors we’ve got to keep ourselves in check and not let our personal problems, issues, old wounds, opinions, etc. get in the way of supporting staff.

Even though this incident occurred almost 10 years ago, it still stands as a big lesson for me and one that forced me to change how I give positive feedback and growth feedback. I don’t know where that employee is today, but thank you for that kick in the shin!

“A wise person knows there is something to be learned from every day.”

~ Unknown

Debra Y. Griffith

Dean of Student Equity and Success at West Valley Community College

Consultant | Speaker | Coach |Strategist |Trainer

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WARNING: Hiring Friends You Know Doesn’t Always Work

The two biggest barriers to good decision making are your ego and blind spots”

-Ray Dailo, Author of Principles

Hiring the right people to fill a position is a difficult enough job, but when you blur the lines by having someone you know in your search process, your blind spots can increase.

In a discussion with a client last month, she revealed she had made a mistake by hiring her friend for a job. Long story short – the friend was not very qualified for the position and my client regretted her decision almost immediately.

When I asked my client what she had missed, she sighed and simply said that she had her blinders on and she let her ego get the best of her. I asked her to tell me more.

My client stated that she and her friend/new hire had gone to grad school together, were friends, but had never worked together before. They often talked about the trials and tribulations of women leadership over the years, and that really helped them strengthen their bond.

My client’s friend/new hire had been going through an awful job experience for over a year, so my client encouraged her to apply for a Director position that had just come open. The friend/new hire was delighted that my client would think of her for the position and quickly applied.

Ok, so let’s peel the layers of this story back a little bit more…

My client’s position was a Director for Admissions, but her friend/new hire’s background was in Residence Housing. The friend/new hire had little direct experience with Admissions except in working with Admissions, serving on committees to ensure that students had housing when they applied to the campus.

I know, it seems crazy that my client would possibly think her friend would be qualified for a job she had NO EXPERIENCE in. But don’t most of us have stories like this, when we just assume that a person can do the job because of how they have presented themselves to us, even though they don’t have the demonstrated work experience?

Get Thee Behind Me, Ego

Yes, I am comparing the human ego to Satan because let’s face it, sometimes our egos do some very bad things. How often do we allow our ego to get in the way of sound decision making, even when others tell us that the candidate is not the right one? Our ego tells us that we can support this person and we see something in the person that others don’t.

Eventually, we must admit we made a mistake. But this puts us and our friend/new hire in an impossibly awkward position. How do you face the fallout and tell your friend and your staff that you made a BIG mistake? There is an impact either way.

If you don’t remove your friend, they will continue to struggle, endure stress and continue to chip away at your reputation as a leader, and, worst of all, fail to meet the needs of the staff. In the end, your ego has allowed you to make a bad decision that has jeopardized your staff and hampered their ability to provide students with high-level services.

The moral of the story? Hire the candidate who is a value add!

Debra Y. Griffith

Dean of Student Equity and Success at West Valley Community College

Consultant | Speaker | Coach |Strategist |Trainer

Supervision Bootcamps

Leadership Advice I found disappointing

“Conform! Is that what you expect me to do to?”

When I became an Associate Vice President, I was given some unsolicited advice that was shocking to me. I have sat with this advice for a few years and I’m finally ready to share my thoughts with you on how it negatively impacted my esteem and my performance as a leader.

Ok, let me give you some context. I’m a black woman, and after 20 years in higher education, I have finally found my voice, my strength, my purpose and myself.

I have always wanted to be myself as a leader, not a watered-down version of myself. So when I was basically told to conform, be the status quo, and not be myself… well, I can’t tell you how disappointed I was by the advice.

And the advice came from more than one person. A typical conversation during that time would start off with “I’m so happy for you but……. I’m going to need you to fix your face.”

Other advice that was reiterated:

  • You know you can’t be yourself
  • You know you can’t say everything you think, now that you’re an AVP you have to act like an AVP!
  • You have to be “professional”!
  • Watch your facial expressions!

There were other “words of wisdom” but I think you get the idea. The general message was, “Congratulations on your promotion. If you want to keep it, become someone else.”

I have taken my time to dissect the impact of this advice over the years. First, I was disappointed by my colleagues that they felt that I had to change now that I had a new title. What would be the gain for me if I did change? Let me flip this, what would I lose if I did change? I would lose me.

“Fix my face”… what does this even mean? Look, I am not a person who walks around with a smile on my face, that’s just not me. If people want to judge me because I’m not all smiles all of the time or they want to assume something and paint me in a negative light… that’s nothing I can change. Nor do I want to. And if I’m being honest, I actually don’t think I can. That just wouldn’t be me.

“You have to professional.” Just what is the definition of professional? Who dictates what professional is? I’m professional, real and authentic. Yes, it’s true I don’t sugarcoat things because I want and expect people to give their best because students need that from all of us. So, I’m professional, I just don’t feel like I have to do it the way others do. That’s not a judgment, that’s just who I am. And I’m ok with that. Being myself allows me to do my best work and focus on the work. As a woman of color, these words of advice are offensive and disappointing.

Do we need to conform to how the world has defined “the model leader” from the beginning of time? I’m not a white male so the words “professional, watch your face” lets me know my colleagues believe there is only one way for me to be effective, successful and accepted, and that’s for me to be more like the “model leader” than my version of being a leader.

Well, I chose not to listen to any of this advice and be myself instead. I don’t think I’ve ruffled too many feathers and I think my staff and students know I am on their side, fighting the good fight on their behalf.

I’ll leave you with this thought:

“Unsolicited advice is usually more about the needs of the giver than the receiver.”

  • Charles F. Glassman

Debra Y. Griffith

Dean of Student Equity and Success at West Valley Community College

Consultant | Speaker | Coach |Strategist |Trainer

Supervision Bootcamps

Moving Past the NO to Find Real Solutions

Sometimes hearing the word “NO” is awesome, as in “This hotel has NO bedbugs,” and “I see NO reason why we can’t offer you a 25% discount,” or  “NO way you’re that old, you look 15 years younger!”

But more often than not, the word NO is a barrier to real solutions that real people need. And I hear the word on an almost-daily-basis and wonder to myself, “Why don’t more people want to figure out a way to improve the processes and services we offer students?”

Have college administrations gotten complacent and downright lazy? Why don’t want we want to give the students the best experience we can? Don’t we want to make a difference in their lives? Don’t we want them to achieve their goals and dreams? Don’t’ we want them to grow, stretch and develop?

Why is providing basic, limited, half-assed or no services okay these days? Why is giving students the runaround or confusing messages commonplace? Isn’t it our job to remove barriers? So why is it so many administrators and staff are building barriers instead, creating mazes that are way too hard to navigate?

I have been thinking very seriously about this idea for a while now, trying to figure out what has changed over the past 10 or so years. Are we too far from understanding what students need today? Or are we too busy working on our own careers? What is the reason behind all of the “NOs” we offer students?

What’s Within Our Control?

I think many of us have simply gotten into the habit of saying NO instead of taking the time to find a solution. The word is out of our mouths before we even recognize the question posed to us.

Since this is a brand new year, I invite you to replace the word NO with action, and that action is to exhaust all possible avenues.

When a question or issue comes up that needs addressing, consider these points:

  • What is the issue – spell it out
  • Who does it impact?
  • What happens if you do nothing?
  • If you keep doing the same thing, you get the same results. Do students need a different result? If yes, you must try something different.
  • What is the gain of the change? Who is the change for?
  • What avenues have you exhausted to make this happen?
  • Who do you need to involve – who has the capital you need to make the change?
  • Who are the champions needed to make this change?

You may think as you read this that I’m talking about big changes but I’m not. Generally speaking, the changes that will have big impacts are small changes. It’s just that so many of us can come up with myriad reasons why we can’t make changes when sometimes all that’s needed is a small tweak.

Problem Solved

Almost 9 years ago, I was in a meeting discussing food insecurity and we kept going around and around about building a food pantry. The issue was where would the pantry go and who would pay for it? Who would manage it?

Eventually someone threw out the idea that we should do a survey. I thought to myself, “Why do we need to conduct yet another survey, we know the problem and we know we needed a solution. An immediate solution.” Heck, I was happy to even find a short-term solution, if you will.

My colleague, who was the executive director of food services at the time, said “This is not that hard,” and then donated swipes into the cafeteria for students who were in need. This was a short-term solution until the food pantry was put in place. This is an example of moving past the “NO we can’t do this” to “We can do something for the time being until we completely solve the issue.”

What avenues do you need to exhaust this semester to find solutions that will help your students to receive the best services and education?

I will leave you with this quote:

“The problem is not the problem; the problem is your attitude about the problem.”

~ Captain Jack Sparrow

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Lessons from 2018

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“Study the past if you would define the future.”  ― Confucius

We all seem to be living busier and busier lives with each passing year. But if we don’t take the time to reflect on the events of our lives and the lessons learned, all of that busy doesn’t get us very far or help us improve ourselves.

I spent the past week taking stock of the events in my life in 2018, to glean any bits of wisdom I could. This was a big year for me personally and professionally. I left a university I had worked at for 18 years to pursue a new position, relaunched my consulting business, was invited to deliver several keynotes, facilitate trainings, launched tip Tuesdays (my weekly blog). And finally completed the creation of my in-person supervision bootcamps which will launch in January 2019

Throughout it all were lessons learned; some lessons I learned the easy way and some the not-so-easy way. I thought I’d share those lessons with you today in the hopes that they may help you in the coming year become the best version of yourself.

Lesson #1: Change is Hard but Necessary for Growth

Maya Angelou said: “If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.”

 Whether we’re trying to change something about ourselves or something about a course or curriculum, it is never an easy process. Change is creation and creation takes time, effort, and a willingness to see the change through to the end.

Recognize the value in change and commit to making positive changes in the coming year.

Lesson #2: Always Have a Plan

Change is not possible without goals, and goals can’t be reached without a plan, so always have one. Your plan should include the tools and resources you’ll need that will enable you to do your best work or find the next position for you.

Lesson #3: Trust Goes Both Ways

Many leaders focus on whether or not their staff and employees are loyal and trustworthy, giving little thought to whether they themselves are perceived as trustworthy by those they lead. Building trust takes time. You can’t force it and it goes both ways. Employee to Supervisor and Supervisor to Employee.

Lesson #4: Make Hard Decisions and Take Swift Action

Sometimes people are in positions that do not allow them to do their best despite good intentions and the support of the team and supervisor. Keeping someone in a position after you’ve come to this realization will have negative ripple effects to the employee, team and will prevent you from fully meeting student’s needs.

Lesson #5: Know Thyself

If your position does not provide you joy, or you find you’re constantly questioning your purpose, then be aware that your team, students and colleagues will all notice the change in you and will be negatively impacted.

Lesson #6: Don’t Leave Your Staff Hanging

When you realize it is time to leave a position, it is important to prepare your employees and staff for the transition. Also, recognize that leadership transition is difficult. Give yourself some time to adapt to the change and be open to new knowledge and experiences.

Lesson #7: Work Relationships are Complex

You are in a relationship with the people you work with. Therefore, sometimes you will be hurt and disappointed, but you have to navigate those feelings and determine how you will mend the relationship and still collaborate.

And speaking of collaborating…

Lesson #8: Collaborative Leadership is More Effective

Not everyone is going to buy into your ideas, but having the input of different opinions is necessary. Always invite a diverse group of staff into the conversation to help solve problems and create new opportunities.

I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday season and I look forward to connecting in the new year. Thank you for reading the blogs this year!! We will begin again in January!

Debra Y. Griffith

Dean of Student Equity and Success at West Valley Community College

Consultant | Speaker | Coach |Strategist |Trainer

Don’t be a Supervisor – be a Human Being

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Do you see me? Do you hear me? Do you know my needs? Are you interested in learning how to motivate me or are you going to continue to supervise me from your one-size-fits-all approach? Your one-size-fits-all approach keeps me in a box, oppresses me, negatively impacts me and demotivates me. I want to give my best to this role. I want to grow as a person and a professional but it’s a constant fight and struggle. I often contemplate should I stay in this profession because I don’t feel like my opinion, perspective, expertise and voice matters.

Time and time again I hear these sentiments and so many more from my clients, and colleagues. So, whenever I get the opportunity to present to leaders, I share

An important lesson I have learned about leadership: leaders must do their self-work around power and privilege, gender, social justice, diversity and inclusion, and leadership. Self-work goes well beyond reading books and articles.

Doing your self-work pushes you to challenge yourself and deconstruct and re-exam your beliefs. This is necessary if you want to be able to call yourself an effective supervisor and leader who has the ability to meet the needs of team members.

I won’t lie to you. This isn’t supervision training – it’s human being training, but it will help you to stretch and grow and become a better listener, so you are able to hear individual needs and gain insight into how you can use your power effectively and how it impacts others.

Human being training isn’t a one and done kind of training. This is an ongoing journey of awareness and growth. It is critical that, as a leader, you recognize you have a tremendous say in how your organization views current reality as well as any potential for the future.

When I think back on all the leaders I have worked with in the past, I realize the ones who were the most effective, and the ones I admired greatly, were the quiet leaders – the ones who didn’t have to huff and puff to get their ideas across, but rather the ones who genuinely cared about their team and did whatever it took to support them and raise them up to be leaders themselves.

I was going to end this week’s blog by saying make this a new resolution but why do always wait? Make the changes now! Commit to improving how you serve and support and uplift others today!

Debra Y. Griffith

Dean of Student Equity and Success at West Valley Community College

Consultant | Speaker | Coach |Strategist |Trainer