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Tip of the Week: Leaders are Learners

Recently, while attending a training, I heard a community college President say something that has stuck with me: “Leaders are Learners.” I love this idea because it challenges us to look around and see what else we can learn and how we can grow ourselves and the systems around us. Higher education leaders must be knowledgeable about the technology, policies, and standards that govern their work, yet they must also understand the needs of their students, faculty, and staff. Balancing all of that requires an ability to learn and adapt.

If you haven’t learned anything recently during this digital transformation of higher education and you are hoping to return to your “familiar” and “comfortable” role at your institution, I doubt you’d be reading this Tip. The fact that you are reading this shows you are investing in your own professional development, one article and resource at a time. First, congratulations – you are a leader. You are the type of administrator that will help transform your institution. You are the type of leader who is always looking for continuous improvement, striving to never settle. Our students deserve the best. They deserve colleagues like you who continually seek out knowledge to improve what has already been built or even to build what doesn’t yet exist.

During this year’s 2021 NABITA conference my colleagues and I presented a session titled, “Garret Lee Smith Campus Suicide Prevention Grant: Beginning to End.” During this important and meaningful session, we presented on new strategies which included our Online CARE team and Online Wellness Resources like Silver Cloud and the Concern Center. We also discussed our Online Case Manager position, a new role made possible by funding provided by a SAMHSA grant. Our goals were driven by passion and a heart to better serve some of our most vulnerable students, who navigate life’s more challenging obstacles. We shared these goals because we set out knowing what we wanted to accomplish. Along the journey, it required us to learn and adapt as we found new information, resources, technology, and standards of care. It is this internal drive to learn, read, study, and understand new and innovative tools in this online world that made the program successful. I could not be more proud of Dr. J.B. Robinson and Ashley Maakestad who impressed me with the amount of reading and studying required to not only embrace the new technology, but to fully understand its capabilities. When we lead we choose to do so for many reasons, but hopefully, it is with an eye towards serving others and improving the world around us. Since rolling out this grant, my colleagues have been able to share what they have learned, which from my perspective, places them in a leadership role. When you become the expert in a specific area, especially an area your organization needs an expert in, you will find that you become that leader.   Leaders who are willing to continue to learn and apply that knowledge to their professional roles are the same data-driven individuals who transform their institution and better serve their students. This is not easy work, and finding a balance to prevent burnout should also be considered. As your colleague, I want to thank you for your investment in reading and learning about new technologies. It is your knowledge and understanding of these technologies that will transform your institution. I want to encourage you to never stop integrating effective innovations into your practices. The way we work, connect, and learn is certainly evolving faster than our accreditation review cycles. Never settle for what has already been created! Always explore what needs to be created and seek out like-minded colleagues who bring their expertise together to solve problems with innovative, scalable, and effective tools.  Stay connected to thought leaders like NABITA and seek out thought leaders who work behind the limelight, building the tools we need. To quote a popular 80’s film, “Life moves pretty fast, if you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” So, keep looking and learning. Stay curious. Continue doing great work. I look forward to meeting you one day and hearing how you transformed your institution because you never stopped learning.

Joseph Allen, Ed.D.