Home Career How administrators find more satisfaction in work and life (opinion)

How administrators find more satisfaction in work and life (opinion)

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Did you just laugh when you read the words “administration” and “joy” together? Roll your eyes? Much oxymoron? When we mentioned joy to higher education leaders last year, one provost echoed the sentiment of many when he responded, “Do you think joy is too high a bar?” The idea of ​​happily working as a senior administrator seems impossible or a privilege for very, very few.

People who work in higher education experience staggering levels of burnout and low morale. With a global pandemic still active, racial strife, political polarization and turmoil, and a host of national and international crises, people are simply done. Even tenure, one of the last vestiges of job security in the working world, does not keep people down bowing.

Much attention has rightly been given burnout and workplace dissatisfaction of faculty, staff, and students rather than administrators. “Smokni, buttercup” is a frequent administrative refrain. We voluntarily signed up for these senior management positions and are compensated at a higher level accordingly. We are encouraged to never complain about being overworked or express concern about our mental health. As “servant leaders,” our job is to make sure everyone else is okay; our appeal is to remember that this is “not about us”.

But we cannot ignore this fact challenges at the senior management level are causing record turnover. This outflow destabilizes colleges and their surrounding communities. Requests for empathy because administrators cannot fix morality alone. A senior coach in higher education shared with us that many clients cry regularly at the time of layoff and reconsideration of their calling. In the midst of all the current crises besetting colleges and universities—political, economic, demographic, and cultural—who will lead?

People often cite the importance of maintaining a sense of calling, purpose, and personal fulfillment to overcome difficult times when it comes to teaching. However, such advice does not apply to administrators. The “vocation to teach” is cherished; turning to the administration is called “going to the dark side.” Listen to Darth Vader jokes. But joy is not a privilege that some people get and others have to learn to live without. We all need to feel joy to do our jobs well.

How do we overcome the tension between managing under high stress and simultaneously needing to work and live sustainably? Can we lead with joy?

In calling for administrative glee, we want to be clear: we know we don’t get it. This is not a “5 Simple Things You Can Do Today To Cure Burnout” bait article – no one-size-fits-all methods will solve everyone’s problems. But we’ve found that those of us in senior management positions can actually take a few small steps to cultivate joy in our lives.

Recognize what joy is not. In some of our conversations on this topic with other senior administration leaders, we were struck by several common reactions. One goes something like, “Well, it’s good that you’re leading the way, but that’s just not me,” or “There’s no way I could do that in my role or on my campus.” But joy is not something you have or don’t have. This is not a leadership style. Although some techniques work for us, there is no universal way to practice them. Joy can be loud. Joy can be quiet. Joy can be serious. Joy can be funny. The only aspect that is required is to be true to yourself and your leadership.

Some leaders consider the whole idea of ​​administrative joy a Pollyanna fantasy. For them, the work is too hard and serious for some utopian vision of days filled with wheels, bubbles and rainbows. However, joy is not a permanent state – it is not about walking in constant bliss. It’s about moments. In sports psychology, the well-known idea of ​​a flow or zone is a temporary state; athletes recognize that they can’t be in it all the time. The key is to identify what elements and aspects help create flow, and then purposefully design training and preparation for entering the flow state when relevant. Joy seems similar to us.

See joy as practice. Rather than a leadership style or a permanent state of being, we think of joy as about practice. Seeing it as such gives us permission to play with it. Joy can be induced and cultivated.

It exists independent of context and independent of the modernity or challenges of our institutions, and whether the last email we received was unpleasant. This is something we can consciously influence and create in our work lives, recognizing that such work can be exhausting, difficult and even brutal.

Administrative joy is a form of mindfulness and awareness. And by calling joy a practice, we purposefully link it to other practices that have been shown to be effective in human fulfillment: spiritual and religious practices, mindfulness practices, health practices, and creative practices. If you are new to these types of practices, you may want to explore the work of forming habits James Clear or an introduction to meditation Tara Brach. Meditation for CEOs is normalized, even applauded; it is a tool that is best used by higher education leaders. Instead of asking yourself, “Why am I not getting joy from my work?” we can rephrase the question as, “Where can I find satisfaction in my work?”

Review the dream. Doug Newberg, a sports psychologist, coined the phrase “the return of the dream” as a way to encourage leaders to remember why they came into the field in the first place. For example, a surgeon who has just lost a patient on the operating table and must immediately return to work must find a way to reset and move forward. While senior leaders in higher education are unlikely to encounter anything this dramatic, we are constantly faced with challenges, difficulties and annoyances in a normal working day. The accumulation of such negativity can become difficult and even chronic.

Revising the dream for us might mean ignoring pings and slacks to walk around campus and see students doing student affairs—presentations, athletics, musical performances, and the like. This might mean keeping a happy file or a collection of gratitude and affirmation notes to re-read when we’re feeling particularly down or down. Or it might even mean setting aside time, however precious, to work on an essay, read the latest article or book in our field, or maybe even take a class.

As chancellors, we both teach a course at various institutions called The Future of the College to better understand how students and faculty feel. For both of us, being able to build relationships with students on a regular basis was worth the time we spent preparing in the classroom. It brings us joy. We did this work because being around students—their energy, their curiosity, their challenges, their desires—reminds us of why we do what we do every day.

Find your people. Senior management can be lonely. We encourage leaders to find their people and any structures that work to create communities of existence. When you feel isolated at work, it’s hard to keep things in perspective.

The two of us started the Deans Club, a weekly Saturday morning support call. We have come to honor and hope for this ritualized hour. When we talk about the Dean’s Club to other senior executives, we’ve been surprised how many people say, “Oh, I want a Dean’s Club!”

Ron Heifetz and Marty Lipsky to remind leaders that “great athletes must simultaneously play the game and watch the game as a whole.” We call this skill getting off the dance floor and onto the balcony, an image that captures the mental activity of stepping away from the action and asking, “What’s really going on here?” Your co-workers can not only be with you through your challenges, but they can also provide essential perspective to help you get back in the game.

Take care of your spirit. Daily forms of contemplative practice have been shown to improve mood and self-efficacy. For some people, this may be morning prayer or meditation. For others, it may be deliberate “forest bathing” (yes, it’s a thing), taking a 10-minute walk through the wooded part of campus. It doesn’t have to be high-profile or time-consuming – it can be a one-time statement of gratitude to yourself when you enter campus, and a ritual around a landmark or building. When work is at its hardest and our spirits are down, we’ve found that conjuring up a positive image of a specific person, place, or moment from our campus can be uplifting. Whatever you like, regular contemplative practices keep you focused, calm, and even joyful—no matter the circumstances—so you can bring that spirit to your team and community.

Learn humor. Higher education can be humorless. We are in a serious Academy (with a capital letter). Reason, evidence, data, arguments and logic are the currency of exchange and promotion. We need to examine where these norms and values ​​came from. Who has historically held leadership positions in higher education? Many women and people of color share that traditional or normative expressions of leadership in higher education are alienating. What if emotions, spirituality, intuition, joy, and relationships were at the fore as essential elements of leadership?

.As researchers Jennifer Acker and Naomi Bagdonas state in a TED talk and article, “How to be funny at work“, evidence shows that humor in the workplace promotes trust and brings work teams closer together. They argue that humor can be found out; it is not an innate skill. They suggest finding tiny opportunities to nurture humor and building on them; according to their research, small interventions create a more pleasant workplace.

Cultivate a culture of gratitude. Too often, we complete a project only to move on to the next job in the never-ending list of tasks and problems to solve. How to bring up enjoyment? Taking even a little time to pause and celebrate victories, big and small, can go a long way in bringing joy back to work. For example, we start some meetings with gratitude. It’s a simple structure that brings triple joy: joy for the person who mentions the name, joy for the person who writes the thank you note, and joy for the person who receives personal recognition. People are simply not valued enough. And it only takes a few minutes.

Arthur C. Brooks has is written that “two key aspects of meaningful work are meritorious success and service to others. Earned success involves a sense of accomplishment and recognition for a job well done, while service to others requires knowledge of the real people who benefit from your work.” We have the opportunity to create happier teams by recognizing their earned success and recognizing the impact of their services.

Choosing joy is a risk – the easier way is cynicism and doubt. Historian Howard Zinn, c You can’t be neutral on a moving train, lobbies for hope against the odds: “Being hopeful in hard times isn’t just stupidly romantic. It is based on the fact that the history of mankind is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, and kindness. What we choose to highlight in this complex story will define our lives. When we see only the worst, it destroys our ability to do something… The future is an endless series of present times, and to live now as we think people should live, in spite of all the bad things around us, is in itself a wonderful victory.’

Is it possible that by actively calibrating the ratio of joy to frustration in our work, we can gain more joy? The point is that if we want to sustainably manage our volatile higher education sector, we must manage differently. What if we choose joy?

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