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

In-Person Supervision Training

Three Supervision Training Options For Professionals and Organizations. Below are the 3 options to improve your effectiveness, vulnerability and generosity as a Supervisor. All classes are taught at West Valley Community College  14000 Fruitvale Ave, Saratoga, California 95070.


I will work with you to bring one of our boot camps to your organization or custom fit a program for your team at no cost. I will work with you to make sure the training is exactly what you and your team need.

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

Fostering a Culture of Collaborative Leadership

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I was recently in a meeting and I asked someone for their opinion on the topic we were discussing. The next day that individual reached out to thank me. They told me it was the first time anyone had asked for their input during a meeting. I was absolutely stunned to hear this and it got me to thinking how powerful it is to include others in the conversation.

The Case for Inclusion

Organizations need to move past the one-person leadership idea and toward a framework that allows for inclusion and groupthink. In order to serve student bodies to the best of our ability, leaders must rely on the intelligence, experience, and diversity of staff.

I believe collaborative leadership is the real key to the health and success of all university campuses. To this end, here are some ways leaders can begin inviting others into the conversation:

1. Change Your Attitude

No one can force you to share your leadership, you’ve got to actually see the value in collaboration. A change in attitude is the first step toward leveraging the skills of your entire workforce.

2. Bring Others on Board from the Beginning

Effective collaboration will no doubt call for new processes and workflows to be put in place. Use this as a first step to get staff on board. Ask for input and suggestions for these new processes. The more you make your staff feel a part of things, the more skin they have in the game, the more they care and show up 100% each day.

3. Share Your Purpose and Vision\

Trying to “guide” your staff through command and control is about as easy as trying to get your dog to wash your car. You’ll have a much easier time if you instead clearly communicate your purpose and vision. Once you share, it becomes everyone’s purpose and vision, and your team now has a reason to be self-motivated.

The colleague I mentioned in the beginning, who was stunned to have me invite her into the conversation, was, from that day forward, much more eager to be involved in all aspects of day-to-day administrative activities. A fire had been lit within her and she became motivated to give her all.

Isn’t that interesting, when we ask employees for their all, their real all – as in their intelligence and experience and opinions – they tend to want to give their all.

4. Leverage Team Diversity in Problem Solving

Studies have shown that when groups are diverse in backgrounds and skillsets, they are far more able to solve problems. Diversity in thought and experience means having access to a greater pool of perspectives and possibilities. Use your people to solve your greatest challenges!!

5. Build Trust

Trust is the glue that holds all groups together. Do you trust your staff? Do they trust you? To build trust, always invite open communication and be honest and candid.

Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”

– Helen Keller

It’s lonely at the top. And much harder to get things accomplished all by yourself. Commit to cultivating a culture of collaborative leadership within your organization and watch amazing things begin to happen!

Debra Y. Griffith

Dean of Student Equity and Success at West Valley Community College

Consultant | Speaker | Coach |Strategist |Trainer

How to Supervise 101

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I realized the other day that being a supervisor is a lot like being a parent. No one really trains you how to be either, but both roles are really important to the health and wellbeing of your family or organization.

Most parents and supervisors simply learned the ropes by repeating what their parents/former supervisor did. But this can really backfire if your parents (who also had no formal training) and former supervisor weren’t very good in their roles.

I often would say I learned how to supervise by how I was supervised. I had a number of supervisors who failed to meet my needs and led from the power perspective. So, when I became a supervisor, I did the opposite of whatever they did.

However, doing the opposite is not learning how to supervise, or being able to effectively meet all the needs of my staff.

I have spoken to so many leaders who have admitted they have never been formally taught how to supervise. They have learned by trial and error and the mistakes they made along the way. The problem with this method is the mistakes impact people.

My supervisory experience has taught me that the key to providing high level and effective services is having a strong team. The question is, how can you have a strong team if you haven’t been trained to develop, import, support, intercultural dynamics, unreality, motivation and self-awareness?

Why do we require degrees, disciplines and terminal degrees for leadership positions but there is no requirement to demonstrate effective supervision competency? The only evidence required is that the candidate has supervised. We don’t ask if they were effective, supportive, or culturally competent.

Sharing Some Lessons

In my coaching sessions and trainings I always like to share some lessons I’ve learned along the way about how to supervise effectively. I offer up some of those lessons to you now.

 Don’t try to be Everyone’s Friend

Being friendly and being a friend are two different things. While I encourage you to be a warm, caring person, the goal is not to be popular and have everyone like you. Supervisors have to sometimes be the bad guy or gal that disciplines and shares bad news.

Ask for Feedback

When you become a supervisor, you don’t instantly have all of the answers. Being omniscient is not your responsibility. Your responsibility is to leverage the resources, human and otherwise, at your disposal for the greater good of the organization. If you don’t have information you need, ask for it.

Keep Learning and Improving

Becoming a leader does not mean you’ve “made it” and can now stop learning. On the contrary, now is the time to continue growing and acquiring necessary skills, like people and communication skills.

Get Comfortable Saying “No”

You cannot possibly say yes to everyone, so start getting very comfortable saying no. Trust me – it gets easier.

Learn How to Manage Change

Change is inevitable. You will find you and your team all get on the same page and get into a rhythm and suddenly…. CHANGE happens… and you’ve got to start all over again. One of your biggest roles will be as a change manager. Agility is important in business.

Learn to Delegate

Get over the idea that supervisors have to be superheroes! The idea is not for you to do everything by yourself but to delegate tasks to responsible team members.

Becoming an effective supervisor is about developing your team. When your team is able to do the work that needs to get done, then you are able to attend trainings and go to important meetings.

If you would like one-on-one leadership coaching, get in touch with me. I help supervisors become the best version of themselves, so they can help others do the same.

 In-person supervision bootcamps coming in January 2019.

Debra Y. Griffith

Dean of Student Equity and Success at West Valley Community College

Consultant | Speaker | Coach |Strategist |Trainer

Why Big Egos are Toxic to Leadership

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I’m reading a fascinating book called Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday. While we all know the human psyche is equipped with an ego, not all of us keep our own ego in check.

The ego is that part of our identity that allows us to be self-aware. This self-awareness is supposed to help us find a balance between our base, primal urges and our more evolved moral and idealistic standards. In a perfect world, our ego would help us to NOT become an overbearing egomaniac. Oh the irony.

I like holiday’s definition of ego:

“The ego we see most commonly goes by a more casual definition: an unhealthy belief in our own importance. Arrogance. Self-centered ambition… It’s that petulant child inside every person, the one that chooses getting his or her way over anything or anyone else. The need to be better than, more than, recognized for, far past any reasonable utilitythats ego. Its the sense of superiority and certainty that exceeds the bounds of confidence and talent.

I don’t know about you, but this description fits A LOT of leaders I’ve had the displeasure of working with/under. Egomaniacs tend to be out of touch with reality, feel entitled, create unrealistic expectations, and are almost addicted to outside validation. They’re so busy taking care of themselves they don’t have much time to lead!

Unpacking Leadership EGO

Okay, linguistically-speaking, yes, there is an “I” in the word leadership, but there shouldn’t be. How does this big ol’ I, I, I, me, me, me attitude even show up? I think so many people strive to climb that ladder and become an important title (CEO, President, Chairwoman.) that they lose all sight to what the point was for their climb.

Have you ever taken the time to unpack your leadership EGO?

Some very good, qualified and caring individuals can start out with the best of leadership intentions and yet STILL end up with an ego the size of Texas. We’re human, and even when we are trying to do good, we can often screw things up.

That’s why it’s important to check yourself and your ego every once in a while. To unpack your leadership EGO, ask yourself the following questions (and BE HONEST!!):

1.    How does your EGO show up in your role?

2.    How would you rate your level of humility on a scale of 1-10?

3.    Do you feel you have room to grow as a leader?

4.    How would your employees rate your ability to listen and collaborate?

5.    Would your employees say you are able to be vulnerable?

6.    Do you seek accolades and want everyone to know your results?

7.    Do people see you the same way you see yourself?

8.    Do you bully others into doing things the way you want?

9.    Do you care about your employees?

10. Are you open to learning?

11. How do you empower others?

12. Do others understand your Why?

13. Are other inspired by your Why?

Beyond asking yourself questions, invite team members to give you feedback on your leaderships skills. A real leader wants to hear from the people they are leading.

Leaders aren’t perfect. The point of leadership isn’t about inspiring others to see your greatness, it’s about inspiring greatness in others.

Debra Y. Griffith

Dean of Student Equity and Success at West Valley Community College

Consultant | Speaker | Coach |Strategist |Trainer