Is Your Team Being Destroyed by These Four Things?

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I have been fascinated with how the dynamics of a team can change so quickly. One day you feel like everyone is working well together, on the same page, in sync, goal orientated and, most important, everyone’s work is guided by the desire to improve processes and services to help students succeed.

And then… poof … it all goes up in smoke, and suddenly you don’t recognize the people you are working with anymore. Negativity, jealousy, cynicism and gossip have infiltrated the team and destroyed the beautiful cohesion you worked so hard to achieve.

When this happens, you are left with two questions: What happened and how can I fix it?

Negativity, jealousy, cynicism and gossip are all team destroyers that feed off of each other. If not nipped in the bud quickly, this negativity can continue to fester. Naturally when this happens, everyone looks to leadership to fix the problem. But the reality is that it is impossible for leadership to fix things by themselves, and in reality, it is not their sole responsibility to do so.

The Impact of NJCG

Your first reaction may be to ignore that anything unseemly may be going on, but that is a HUGE mistake. NJCG can have a significant impact on team morale, focus, and success.

Negativity can quickly sap everyone’s energy, including leadership. With no energy, it is impossible to turn the ship around.

Jealousy creates negative relationships that are based on assumptions.

Cynicism prevents the team from thinking outside of the box, creative problem solving, and moving forward. It is also a huge drain on positivity.

Gossip always gets back to the person and hurts feelings and relationships, and sometimes, beyond repair.

So what is the solution?

Well, it’s about unpacking the issues, taking a harsh look at yourself and admitting the role you have played.

Tips to Get Your Team Back on Track

1. Trace the crumbs you missed along the way and didn’t act on. This new normal didn’t just happen overnight, it happened gradually and right in front of you.

2. Admit to yourself why you ignored the bread crumbs. Why didn’t you take action sooner?

3. Contact Human Resources and ask for their advice in developing an action plan.

4. Consult a trusted seasoned colleague. Trust me, at some point in their career they have learned that avoidance is a big mistake. If you won’t take my advice, take theirs.

5. Stop avoiding and have the tough conversations. Create a culture of open communication so individuals can have tough conversations with one another. Have the courage to make the difficult decisions (sometimes that means letting people go) so your individuals can heal and you can begin to rebuild your team.

6. Continue to learn, grow and increase your skillset in leadership and supervision.

How have you dealt with NJCG in the past? Did you ignore it or did you use certain techniques to nip it in the bud? Tell us in the comments. I’d love to hear your experiences.

Debra Y. Griffith

Dean of Student Equity and Success at West Valley Community College

Consultant | Speaker | Coach |Strategist |Trainer

Landing a Job You Love – It’s Not Impossible

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Job searching in today’s climate is hard. If you are geographically-bound, it becomes even more challenging to land that dream job, or any job for that matter.

Moving beyond the defeat of not getting the job. This seems to be a theme of many of my clients lately. They keep applying, prepping for the job interview, interviewing and then… nothing happens. And they are left feeling defeated, hopeless, stuck, angry, wondering what went wrong, why didn’t they like me, why am I not good enough, etc.

I remember when I started my career in higher education and having a work history that included working in university housing served as a gateway to various positions in student affairs. What happened? When did it all change? Why is it so hard to obtain that next level position or the “dream job.”

How do you keep going when you keep hearing NO?!

Life is not for the faint of heart. Very few of us get through it without experiencing our fair share of disappointment, frustration and heartache.

When things get rough and you feel like giving up on landing that dream job, ask yourself a few important questions (jot down these answers):

·      Why are you applying for the specific job you are applying for?

·      Do you meet the qualifications? Or are you trying to stretch your experience and gain more skills?

·      Are you running from your current position? Or have you done everything you could do at the institution?

·      Have you written down your preferred work environment that would allow you to thrive?

Don’t ignore this exercise. Your list matters!!!!!!!!!!!! It’s like dating. You wouldn’t just date the first person you meet. You would have a list of characteristics your ideal mate would have. And the list gets longer after every failed relationship because you learned just a little bit more about what will and won’t cut it.

So, you should have a list for your job search. At the end of the day, you don’t want a career that you love. Just as you don’t want any ol’ partner, you want someone you can grow old with.

Have you ever been set up on a blind date and wondered what your friends were thinking? The moment you sat down across from the other person, you knew instantly that the date was going to be a long one and you would have to really fake it to make it look like you were interested.

This happens in interviews, too. You know right away whether or not this is the right job for you. So, your list matters.

Job hunting takes patience, but it’s okay to be picky. Don’t just apply to any ol’ job because you liked the title and the salary because if that’s why you are applying you may wind up with a job that seems impressive to your loved ones, but leaves you feeling bored and empty. And then you are like everyone else stuck in the rat race stuck in a job you hate for 8hrs a day, 40hrs a week, 180hrs a month and 2000hrs a year. That is a very long time to be bored and unfulfilled.

Debra Y. Griffith

Dean of Student Equity and Success at West Valley Community College

Consultant | Speaker | Coach |Strategist |Trainer

“Students First”

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When did this turn into “Students First” with quotes? Who decided that when we make decisions on the students’ behalf, we let the data guide what we do?

Do the students feel what we are doing is for them? Do they feel that they come first? Or, are we so busy trying to get them out the door in 4 years or 2 years (transfer students), they feel more like a piece of dry cleaning?

Yes, I know we have goals that we must make: enrollment, retention, persistence, graduation rates, strategic plan, external funding etc.… but we need to take a step back and ask ourselves, while we are focused on achieving our many markers of what we deem as success, how we can make our students feel that they come first. This has to go beyond just orientation and weeks of welcome, speaker series, concerts, games etc.

Does each division, department, and program have a strategic plan to make sure that students feel they come first? Do the services they receive, the messaging, the décor of the space, the interactions, and the ongoing programs meet their individual needs? Or are we just going to say the buzz words “students first”, “student centered”, “students matter” while taking the same old actions?

I recently did an informal survey and asked 50 students from various institutions to define “students first.” For the majority of them it’s simple: to feel that they matter for the entire time they are enrolled. Not just when the institution is trying to woo them and convince them that they are best institution during a tour or orientation. We get students in the door… we get their tuition money, and so the job is complete and we don’t have to work for them anymore? That bait and switch tactic leaves a majority of students feeling left out in the cold.

Here are my two cents: It takes only a few minutes to make students feel like they matter and an even shorter amount of time to make them feel like they don’t.

A few months ago a student found his way to my office after visiting five other offices where no one could answer his question. Well, I wasn’t the right office, but the student deserved better than being passed from one office to another so I picked up the phone and found the right person who had that answer. My colleague then came to my office to meet with the student. That student’s experience went from not feeling like he mattered to making him feel like his needs were a priority.

We need to do our best so students can do their best.

Debra Y. Griffith

Dean of Student Equity and Success at West Valley Community College

Consultant | Speaker | Coach |Strategist |Trainer




Promises, Promises, Promises

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I remember watching episodes of “Sex in the City” years ago and always wondering why Carrie, who was an intelligent, strong and independent woman, allowed herself to be played by Mr. Big? Sure he was attractive, fun and charismatic, but he just kept stringing her along. Carrie wanted a commitment, he wanted no strings attached.

I would think to myself, “I would never let that happen to me!”

But it’s not only in romantic relationships that we can be strung along.

Are You Stringing Along Your Employees?

Making promises (advancement, more responsibility, growth, development and salary) that will never come to fruition or that you’re sure you can never pull off is not a way to motivate or retain staff. The action is akin to Lucy holding the ball for Charlie Brown and then yanking it away just as he’s about to kick it. This fake promise approach to employee motivation and morale is a dangerous one and can often backfire, leaving the employee distrustful of you as a leader.

Advancementthe action of advancing the state of being advanced:

a: promotion or elevation to a higher rank or position b: progression to a higher stage of development.

Early on in my career I was promised advancement but I was asked to be patient. There weren’t a lot of details because things needed to be “put into place” before my advancement could happen.

So, like Carrie Bradshaw, I waited, and waited, and waited… and it NEVER HAPPENED. However, the promises went on for months.

And then one day I decided that I needed to STOP waiting and decide what I was in control of.  I promised myself after that experience that I would never let the Mr. Bigs or Lucys of the world trick me.

I also decided to never use this tactic with my own staff members. I believe in empowering and developing staff with the goal of advancing, whether that means within or outside of the organization.

An Alternative Approach

  • Ask the following questions:
    • What is the employees long term plan?
    • What do they hope their current position is a stepping stone towards?
    • What is in their control?
    • Who is their support network?
    • The WHY? Why are they are not working work towards their long-term plan?

Making false promises can cause your employees to lose faith in you as a leader. This often leaves them feeling very negative about their work environment and many times, they end up leaving for another institution or for another industry all together.

You are not responsible for advancing all of your employees. You are simply responsible for providing guidance and an honest and supportive environment where they can thrive.

Debra Y. Griffith 
Dean of Student Equity and Success at West Valley Community College 
Consultant|  Speaker | Coach |Strategist |Trainer

Feedback… with a purpose.

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I have often heard from clients and colleagues that they hate giving feedback to employees. Many have told me they would rather get a root canal or sing naked in the middle of Times Square than have to have this conversation.

While that reaction may seem a bit extreme, I must confess, I totally get it. You see, I used to be ‘An Avoider.’ I was one of those leaders who always tried to see the best in people and if I happened to see something less than the best, I simply hoped the issue would resolve itself.

Bad idea!

Not addressing issues as soon as you notice them can cause those issues to fester. And then other members of your staff are affected, and eventually whatever dysfunction is going on can affect the well-being of the entire student body.

Why do so many of us fall into the avoider category? Why does giving and receiving feedback feel like a death sentence?

A Fate Worse Than Death?

For the person giving the feedback, there is always anxiety because no one wants to hurt someone else’s feelings. How will they react? How can I make sure my tone isn’t too harsh?  What do I do if they become argumentative? All of these unanswered questions can make a person incredibly uneasy.

People receiving feedback are instantly put on the defensive. We all want to feel we are valued. We all want people to appreciate us. So when we hear there is any kind of room for improvement, well, it doesn’t feel great.

If you are the one receiving feedback, understand that no one is perfect and there is always room for growth. Embrace your full potential and try to hear the feedback as a path to reaching that potential.

If you are the one giving the feedback, there are some things you can do to ensure the conversation is fruitful and effective:

  • Reflect back on feedback you have received and the manner in which it was given. How did it impact you?
  • Where did you learn to give feedback and what did you adopt into your own style of feedback?
  • What have you tracked in terms of the impact of the feedback you have given in the past? How do your employees react? Do your employees leave empowered, seen, heard, valued and supported?
  • How do you listen?
  • What is your over-all GOAL?

The FRAMEWORK of FEEDBACK Conversations

What if before you met with each of your employees, you determined the desired outcome for the conversation? Your goal would then be to take out any potential negativity and to start focusing on that desired outcome. How can you use this initial feedback conversation as a way to strengthen the relationship? What can you do to ensure honest communication, motivation, improving job tactics, teaching what you know, and assisting your employees to get to where they need and want to go professionally?

It is an academic new year so why not try a new approach. This semester, focus on creating a positive space within these feedback conversations. Make them productive and a launching pad for growth and success.

Debra Y. Griffith 
Dean of Student Equity and Success at West Valley Community College 
Consultant|  Speaker | Coach |Strategist |Trainer

Welcome Back to Burn Out

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It’s another school year!

Time to take all of that energy you saved up over your summer break and focus it in productive ways. Maybe this year you’ll implement those programs you’ve had in the back of your mind. Maybe you’ll organize team bonding events or adopt the new software solution you researched over your vacation. Whatever you decide to do, it’s gonna be the best year ever!!

This is how the new academic year starts for most of us. We’re well-rested, focused, energized, giddy even with anticipation of what we can accomplish on behalf of the students in this brand new shiny year.

Then about six weeks into the school year, we unexpectedly get hit in the face with those old feelings creeping back in… the exhaustion, the frustration, the dreaded burnout. We swore this year it wouldn’t happen. We made sure to get a ton of massages on vacation. We slept in. Heck, some of us even took naps in hammocks!

So how is it that we can, so quickly, find ourselves going through the motions, looking at our calendars and counting down the days until Winter break?

The even bigger questions to ask are how will this burnout show up in your work, work output, and interaction with colleagues and students? Burnout changes how you approach your work. It’s a significant blind spot that affects everyone starting with you, the staff you manage and most of all, the student you serve.

Burnout is like a disease, and as with other diseases, there are signs and symptoms to watch out for.


  • Complete exhaustion. No matter how much sleep you get you are physically and emotional exhausted.
  • You have become a cynic and often negative and defensive.
  • Lack of concentration.
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Anger
  • Loss of enjoyment for the many aspects of your job.
  • Isolation

The Prescription for Burnout Relief

Burnout is caused by a lack of awareness about ourselves. What makes us tick, what motivates us, what do we need to feel excited?

The old saying goes, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” Well I have a new saying, “Asking yourself questions every day keeps the burnout away.”

The questions to consider?

  • How is the burnout affecting your well-being?
  • How long have you been feeling this way?
  • What needs to change? What’s in your control?
  • Have you voiced that you are burnt out?
  • Have others noticed?
  • Are you being the higher education professional you want to be?

Tips for Keeping Burnout at Bay

  • Be honest with what you’re feeling – Ignoring your feelings will only make matters worse. You owe it to yourself, your staff, and all of the students counting on you to face the issues.
  • Seek assistance – Processing your feelings can be challenging and confusing. While you are 100% responsible for how you deal with them, you don’t have to go it alone. Get some help from a mentor or counselor who should be able to help you develop a coping plan moving forward.
  • Take action – If your doctor tells you to take a multivitamin and stop smoking in order to become healthier, you’re going to do it. Well, once you realize you have a mental and emotional issue (burnout) and you get a plan together to manage it, PUT THAT PLAN INTO ACTION.

Burnout happens. But you don’t have to let it completely shadow your academic life. Take the necessary steps, keep checking in with yourself, and get the support you need so that you can show up each day offering your best self.

Debra Y. Griffith 
Dean of Student Equity and Success at West Valley Community College 
Consultant|  Speaker | Coach |Strategist |Trainer

Do You Have OK-Ray Vision?

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Throughout my career, I have had so many iterations and teams and, to be honest, not all have worked well together. Trust me, I wanted them to. I did everything but pull out my own eye teeth to get them to work sometimes, but many of them just… didn’t. Wouldn’t. Couldn’t?

The truth is, even as a leader, I can’t force it to happen. Kind of like how you can’t force yourself to fall in love with someone, even though they look like “the one” on paper. The magic is either there or it isn’t.

While I can’t force teams to work well (or play nice) together, it is my responsibility to pay attention to what is going on and to listen and act appropriately. That, however, doesn’t mean I should believe I have superpowers that can fix people and situations.

I used to believe I had superpowers and could fix just about anything. I really believed if I gave a team my all… if I made sure everyone had proper training and opportunities to grow, I could change negative attitudes and build up deficiencies and skillsets.

Sometimes all of this “fixing” and hoping would work, but more often than not, the whole situation would blow up in my face like a bag of cartoon dynamite.

Here’s a great example:

I had an employee who handed in her resignation and I refused to accept the fact. Why did I refuse to accept reality? Because my ego convinced me that I could fix what was impacting her performance level, low contribution to the team, and what she was able to give to students. I let my ego guide my leadership and the cost was huge. The employee left anyway, other team members resented the effort I had put into her needs and attitude, and overall morale took a hit.

I learned a very important lesson: I have no superpowers, I can simply bring out and enhance what is already there if the employee has the motivation to learn, grow and contribute.

From then on my very human superpower was going to be OK-Ray Vision. You know, instead of super powerful X-Ray vision that can see through solid steel, my OK-Ray vision would allow me to see any cracks starting to form in my team’s foundation so I could address them. My OK-Ray vision would help me identify programs that needed improvement and employees that needed guidance, encouragement and honest feedback.

How to Develop Your Own OK-Ray Vision

So, it’s now mid-June, and the focus for this week 3 of summer vacation is to begin to develop your own OK-Ray vision. I’ll let you in on a little secret: the quickest and most effective way to develop OK-Ray Vision is to honestly answer a few questions:

  • What’s working and what’s been holding your team back?
  • What are the internal things that have been festering and causing decay to your foundation? These could be things like ineffective processes or bad communication.
  • What were the signals (that something not-so-great was going on) that you chose to ignore?
  • What signals were kept from you, by whom and why?
  • In what ways can you motivate and inspire your team to repair these cracks for themselves moving forward?

Developing your OK-Ray Vision is an important first step to addressing any lingering issues before the start of the new semester. Of course, you’ll absolutely need to follow through and have those tough conversations and make some tough decisions because it will be better for individual employees, the team as a whole, and most importantly, the students.

Having OK-Ray Vision will help you identify and assess cracks in your foundation, and that is critical to your ability to lead effectively.

Debra Griffith is an Associate Vice President at San Jose State University 
Consultant|  Speaker | Coach |Strategist |Trainer