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

The Cycle of Supervision Oppression

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Most people leave positions because of their supervisors. A Gallup poll of more than 1 million employed U.S. workers concluded that the number 1 reason people quit their job is a bad boss or immediate supervisor.

Now, I know a lot has been written about bad bosses and the different types of tyrannical supervisors, but this week’s blog post is not about that. It’s about the psychological games that are sometimes played as a result of an unhealthy ego and the need for hierarchy to be the common dominator in nurturing healthy relationships.

I am hearing more and more from clients and colleagues that they are feeling burnt out from having to continuously deal with an egomaniacal supervisor who seems hellbent on destroying the morale and passion of the entire team.  These clients and colleagues are having to pick themselves up every day and figure out how to make it through another week, month and semester because they need the money to pay bills. Yes, they care about the work and students, but the work environment is often unsafe, oppressive and mentally unhealthy.

Supervision = POWER for many supervisors. I’m the one in control. But why are you using force to control others?

Common uses of unhealthy supervision approach:

  1. Changing the rules of the game.
  2. Sending the message that it is a game.
  3. Getting defensive and angry when your employees challenge you.
  4. Telling your employees they are there to make you look good.
  5. Feeling threatened by good employees.
  6. Using the phrase, “Because I said so.”
  7. Not listening.
  8. Using the phrase, “If you don’t like it you can leave.”
  9. Talking badly behind your employees’ back to the upper administration.
  10. Not creating a path for your employees to shine, grow and move up.
  11. Never making your employees professional growth a priority.
  12. Breaking promises.
  13. Acting like you know it all and that your employees are dispensable.
  14. Not seeing your employees as people, but just as workers.

 Supervision as POWER

·      Causes Pain

·      Uses Oppression to control others

·      Weakens the team

·      Uses the Ego to guide decision-making

·      Often makes Rash decisions aimed at making the supervisor  stand out

What is Your Why?

Supervising others is a privilege and comes with a great responsibility. Supervision is not about power, it’s about being in a position to support and inspire those who report to you so they can grow and become possible leaders themselves.

Have you asked yourself what your why is? What is the why to the area you overseeing? Not the people but the area. Are you clear on that why?

Are you clear on why you want to be a supervisor? What is your purpose and why do you believe this to be?

Are you in the role because it is part of your climb in the hierarchy ladder of leadership? How many people will you have mistreated when you get to the top?

The harm of a “bad” supervisor can leave a lasting negative impact on someone. The relationship of manager/employee is one you are in for 8hrs a day, 5 days a week, 40 hours a week. Understand this amount of time can cause your negativity to seep into a valuable employee’s psyche and have them question if they are enough.

Great leaders do not oppress their employees. They inspire them to become the best versions of themselves they can be.

When the best leader’s work is done the people say, ‘We did it ourselves.’

~ Lao Tzu

Debra Y. Griffith

Dean of Student Equity and Success at West Valley Community College

Consultant | Speaker | Coach |Strategist |Trainer

The F word – No, Not That One

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“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”

~ Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom


Just hearing the word can send a shiver down most people’s backs. We all want to avoid fear and spend much of our lives doing whatever necessary to ensure we never face it. But this is generally a recipe for disaster.

Having to have difficult conversations with staff members can cause leaders to feel a lot of fear. In fact, letting go of a staff member is probably the most difficult of supervisor responsibilities.

I remember the first time I had to let a resident go due to poor grades when I was a Resident Director. I felt so nervous to engage in the conversation with this staff member. My inner dialogue didn’t help as it had its own story going on: “Where would this student live? How will they eat? How will they pay for housing? How are they going to take the news? How do I do this quickly? What if they get upset? and on and on…

Twenty plus years later, letting go, professional staff, has not gotten one bit easier. But let me share with you the lessons I have learned about facing difficult challenges:

You’ve Got to Pay Close Attention

Your staff knows before you when this conversation needs to happen with a specific staff member, but many (most) won’t tell you what they see because they are afraid to get involved, and so you don’t have all the intel you need. You will have to step up your game when it comes to observing and paying attention to staff dynamics and output.

Listen to Your Gut

Sometimes your eyes won’t see it at first, but your gut will keep whispering to you to “pay attention… pay attention.” If you have a gut feeling that something is festering behind the scenes, listen to your gut and pay extra attention.

Get Help

Get Human Resources involved as soon as you realize there is a problem.

Document, Document, Document

You will need a record that shows the staff member as well as Human Resources that there is a history of a problem, which is why the person is being let go.

Do NOT Avoid

Don’t ignore the issue.  Trust me, things don’t get better when you pretend they aren’t happening. They are happening, so face your fears, be a leader, and handle the situation as best you can.

Don’t Let Your Heart Speak Louder Than Your Head

One challenge I have often faced is letting someone go who has a high level of passion for working with students but whose skill set is not what the department needs it to be.  Usually, there is an initial conversations about the lacking skills. The person often tries their hardest to obtain the skillset but often, despite all efforts, it’s still not enough.

The pain that I have seen on the faces of these staff members when they realize that today is their last day is heartbreaking. Leading up to that moment I still have the inner dialogue: “Will they be ok? Will they find another job? How will this impact their life?

Over the last 10 years, I have often been left with this question: What red flags did I miss during the interview process that led to these types of uncomfortable moments?

No leader is perfect. We get up each day with a renewed commitment to do better. In the interim, the lessons we learn along the way allow us to make better decisions that will positively impact our team and the student body.

Debra Y. Griffith

Dean of Student Equity and Success at West Valley Community College

Consultant | Speaker | Coach |Strategist |Trainer