Mentoring Mondays


Permanent link for Mentoring Mondays - September 28, 2020 on September 28, 2020

Let me take a moment to refresh our memories about why we are reviewing the book “How Women Rise” by Sally Helgensen and Marshall Goldsmith. This book focuses on “breaking the 12 habits holding you back from your next raise, promotion, or job.” So, as you review these excerpts, begin to build your strategy for breaking these habits. Today, we examine habit #5.

Habit 5: Failing to Enlist Allies from Day One

“Allies are the heart and soul of a successful career.” Although this quote is well into the chapter under review today, I wanted to begin with it to stress its significance. In most articles or books on leadership, you will find a passage somewhere about the “old boys’ network” and how they move up as a result of their connections and/or mentorship. The authors tell us that “Women who assume new positions resolve to keep their heads down until they’ve mastered the details and are confident they can perform to a certain standard. They want to feel fully prepared before they start reaching out. . . .” By contrast, men in new positions often start with the question: ‘Who should I connect with to make this job a success?’ They view the path to success not as a matter of what or how, but who. They see connections as the most important part of their job and want to start building them on day one.

“Allies are peers, colleagues, higher-ups, sponsors, direct-reports, internal and external fans who support your efforts to get where you want to go.” I am reminded of a conversation with the Chancellor at WCCCD early in his tenure. We were sitting around the conference table having lunch and the cleaning lady came around doing her job. He asked her name and engaged her in our conversation. When she left, he indicated to the staff that it is always a good practice to know and respect the people who enter your space because someday, they may be the only person able to support you in a crisis. Building relationships at all levels has its rewards for everyone. Just think about how the cleaning lady felt to be in conversation with the person holding “positional power.”

Let’s take a look at the roles of allies, mentors and sponsors. “In the 1990s and early 2000s, women were exhorted to find mentors, experienced higher-ups who could offer guidance and advice. The idea became institutionalized in many organizations, with HR setting up mentoring circles or even hiring professional mentors to work with groups of women. But in 2011, the research organization Catalyst published a study that found, while mentorship could be helpful, sponsorship was the key success factor in women’s careers. . . .  A mentor offers advice and serves as a sounding board. . . a sponsor, usually a senior leader in your organization, serves as your advocate, puts your name forward for assignments, introduces you to important colleagues and helps remove structural road-blocks that could keep you stuck.” 

Because there are so few women at the top in organizations, sponsors may be difficult to find.  “So, if you are struggling to find one, your best response might be to pour that energy into building a broad ally network instead. In its original report, Catalyst also noted that sponsorship is most effective when it’s been earned. As the authors observed: “To attract sponsors, employees need to make their skills, strengths, and work known to colleagues as well as to senior leaders.  They must build reputations as flexible, collegial professionals who are consistently committed to their own career development. How do you do this? By actively engaging allies. Preferably from the day you start a new job.”

There is much more on this topic and you will want to read about the individual success stories from women in leadership positions. To secure your copy of “How Women Rise” visit

Permanent link for Mentoring Mondays - September 21, 2020 on September 21, 2020

Greetings everyone. As we continue our review of “How Women Rise” co-authored by Sally Helgensen and Marshall Goldsmith, our entry this week covers “Habit 4: Building Rather Than Leveraging Relationships.” 

Habit 4: Building Rather Than Leveraging Relationships

When surveyed, senior leaders rank female employees very high in the areas of motivating and engaging others, building strong teams, negotiating win-win situations, empathic listening and building morale. These are all vital leadership skills. The authors ask the question: “Why don’t women benefit more from this strength?” “Experience suggests an answer. Over the years, we’ve noticed that, while women are often stellar relationship builders, they tend to be less skilled at leveraging relationships . . . or noticeably reluctant to do so.” 

Perhaps not true for all women. “They’ll gladly spend time and energy getting to know people, offering them help, listening to their problems, giving advice, and drawing them close. But they shrink at the prospect of engaging them in a way that furthers their own ambitions.” Below are some frequent responses from women about the practice of leveraging:

  • “I don’t want others to think I’m using them.”
  • “I want people to know I value them for themselves, not for what they can do for me.”
  • “I don’t like self-serving people and I don’t want to be one.”
  • “Political games are really not my thing.”

“These statements make clear the underlying belief that exercising leverage translates as not being a very nice person. This is problematic because leveraging relationships is key for achieving professional success. Most great careers are built not just on talent or hard work, but on the mutual exchange of benefits, something men are often more comfortable with than women.”

Let’s look at the basics of leverage. It is a key career skill – a strategic way of operating that pays big rewards. “Even if you are uncomfortable or skeptical with the subject of leverage, you can benefit by understanding the basics of how it works.  It differs from building relationships in four ways:

  1.  Leverage is always reciprocal, based on a quid pro quo –“You help me and I’ll help you.”
  2. Leverage is used to achieve both tactical and strategic goals –“You initiate leverage when you make a request.” Example: “I’m representing an artist whose prints are perfect for hotel lobbies. Do you know anyone in the hotel business who could introduce me to dealers who acquire work for their properties?”
  3. Leverage is highly intentional –“You establish a leveraged relationship with a specific purpose in mind, which means you use different criteria than when you establish a friendship.”
  4. Leverage brings distinctive rewards –“The rewards are extrinsic, which means they are measurable and concrete.”

“In establishing leverage, your purpose is always front and center. This doesn’t mean you don’t respect or enjoy spending time with the other person. But the intrinsic rewards are a bonus instead of the point.”

Examine your thoughts on the value of using leverage in your relationships. Act on your strength and make better use of leverage as you seek to rise. 

To secure a copy of “How Women Rise,” visit

Permanent link for Mentoring Mondays - September 14, 2021 on September 14, 2020

This week, our review will focus on Habit #3 from the book “How Women Rise” co-authored by Sally Helgensen, women’s leadership expert, and Marshall Goldsmith, renowned business coach and bestselling author. 

Habit 3:  Overvaluing Expertise

The authors tell us that mastering every detail of our jobs in order to become an expert is a great strategy for keeping you in that job. However, if your goal is to move up in the organization, your expertise won’t get you there. Always seeking to go the extra mile in your job to gain acceptance and recognition will keep you on a treadmill. “Meanwhile, your male colleagues are taking a different route, trying to do the job well enough while focusing their time on building the relationships and visibility that will get them to the next level.” This does not negate the fact that skill and knowledge are required for success. “Top jobs always require managing and leading people who have expertise, not providing expertise yourself.” 

Since women have earned their spot at the table by becoming experts at what they do, it’s only natural to believe that expertise is the key element to success. This mindset could lead you to thinking about only you and overlooking the big picture. See the excerpt below and begin to re-think your strategy. 

“In Necessary Dreams , Anna Fels notes that feeling fulfilled at work requires two things:  mastery and recognition. Mastery is the expertise part, the sheer enjoyment you feel when you do something you value really well. Mastery provides what psychologists call an intrinsic reward, meaning you take satisfaction from it. The effort and the reward are both internal. Recognition is an extrinsic reward because it comes from the outside: you need someone else to recognize you.  It’s not surprising, then, that women tend to overvalue expertise, since women often have a rougher time being recognized for their achievements. . . .  Mastery is the one source of satisfaction that you can control. It is a good thing, and can be deeply rewarding. But it’s insufficient if you want to move ahead.”

When Ashley’s boss told her that the internal recruiter was looking at her for a higher position in the company, she was surprised to hear him say, “He couldn’t afford to lose me.” Ashley says, “It’s amazing he didn’t think telling me this would be a problem. But even more amazing is that I saw nothing wrong with it. I actually felt flattered that he needed me so much. It was the validation I’d been looking for since joining the company.” This encounter stayed with her and after seeing two less qualified colleagues get promotions, she realized her mastery mind-set approach to her current role was keeping her stuck.

Ashley further realized that she was telling her boss that she was content to remain where she was. She followed-up with an email to her boss that laid out all the reasons she was right for a new position. “Composing the email required her to think deep and hard about her strengths.  Looking beneath the surface, I saw that my skill at managing relationships was actually my biggest asset. This was a big aha for me. It gave me confidence and a way to tell my new boss I was ready for even bigger things.”

As Sally was researching for an earlier book, The Web of Inclusion, she spent a half day with Ted Jenkins, the fourth executive hired with Intel, one of the tech giants of Silicon Valley. “In Ted’s view, those who thrive understand that there are four kinds of power in organizations.”

“The first kind of power is the power of expertise . . . reliant on human talent to create.  Expertise is required for success . . . but cultivating expertise at the expense of other kinds of power will not position you as a leader.” 

“The second kind of power is the power of connections, or the power of whom you know.  Connections are usually built as you move around in the company, holding different jobs, finding allies – getting to know the people in your industry is important. Connections serve as a kind of currency you can use to get resources moving and assure your contributions get noticed. Your relationships comprise an even greater part of your value as you rise.” 

“The third kind of power is the power of personal authority or charisma, which is rooted in the confidence you inspire in others. You rarely start your career with much personal authority; it builds as your reputation develops over time. Expertise and connections can help establish personal authority, but there’s always another element: a strong presence, a distinctive way of speaking and listening that inspires loyalty and trust.” 

“The fourth kind of power is the power of position, or where you stand in the organization.  Marshall likes to quote Peter Drucker, who famously observed that ‘the decision is always made by the person with the power to make the decision.’ In other words, the person who holds positional power gets to make the key decisions.” 

“Ted Jenkins noted that organizations are most healthy when all four types of power are in balance. When positional power overrides all else, decisions tend to get made arbitrarily, with insufficient information and without much support.”

The take-away from this excerpt is: by placing less value on expertise and getting comfortable using other kinds of power, you may be able to move into senior management positions or harness the power required to rise. 

If you are interested in securing your own copy of the book “How Women Rise” visit

Coming next week, Habit #4 and how to break it.

Permanent link for Mentoring Mondays - September 7, 2020 on September 7, 2020

To continue our review of “How Women Rise” by Sally Helgensen and Marshall Goldsmith, today we will examine Habit #2 of “break the 12 habits holding you back from your next raise, promotion, or job.”

Habit 2:  Expecting Others to Spontaneously Notice and Reward Your Contributions

If advocating for yourself makes you feel awkward, then get ready to see how this can sabotage your best efforts and result in your hard work being overlooked. Expecting others to notice – and champion – your contributions, or believing that they should is not only a good way to keep yourself stuck, it can also diminish the satisfaction you feel in a job you would otherwise enjoy.  This type of thinking might get you to start believing you don’t really belong in your job. After all, if people around you can’t see the amazing job you are doing, perhaps you would be better off somewhere else. Taking this approach is self-defeating.

Let’s look at Maureen’s story. She was a senior partner in a law firm. “Despite her stellar early performance, she made partner later than a number of men who joined the firm the same year she did. This made her feel so undervalued that, at the start of her fifth year as an associate, she decided the firm wasn’t a good fit for her. When a client approached her about a position in his company’s general counsel’s office, she met with him several times. Then with great trepidation, she let her practice head know she was looking around. ‘Would you consider staying if you were made partner?’ he asked. Without hesitation, she said yes. ‘Assume it’s going to happen,’ he told her. ‘Don’t make any move till it does. I don’t think the members of our partnership committee realized you were set on it (being a partner).’ How could they not know she thought; hadn’t anyone noticed that she had been working her tail off since the day she arrived? Why on earth would they not assume partnership was her goal? Two months later she was made partner.”

The lesson in this story is that you have to let the decision-makers know your goals and expectations, and be enthusiastic about where you want to go in the company. This story goes on further and Maureen’s experiences taught her to “become passionate about letting women entering the firm know how important it is to take responsibility for getting noticed. ‘If you want to make partner, you need to say so, over and over.’ Just working hard won’t get you where you want to go.”

Here is another example of advocating for yourself – the elevator speech – an approach favored by Dong, who is an executive sponsor for the women’s initiative at a London-based global financial institution. “During a recent conference at an off-site, a participant asked him during the large plenary session what one thing he thought women should do to better position themselves for leadership in the organization. He responded with a story about finding himself in the elevator at the bank’s London headquarters. . . . A young male analyst who had recently joined the organization was standing next to him when a high-profile senior official stepped inside. The young man was from the Middle East, very polished, obviously confident, but also polite. Not swaggering or arrogant. . . . The official had no idea who the young analyst was. As the elevator started to move, the executive asked the young man what he did at the bank.  Without hesitation, he responded with three clear and succinct sentences. He mentioned his present job, said his goal was to lead a telecom investment team to south Asia, and noted ties between his country of origin and the region he hoped to work in as well as two key relationships that would be useful. The little speech took less than a minute but was packed with information.  He had clearly given thought to every word and thoroughly rehearsed it.

“When the spiel was finished, the analyst stopped speaking and handed his card to the official, who then held the elevator door open as he got off.  ‘I’m going to pass this along to the head of our subcontinent investment team,’ he said. ‘If you don’t hear from him, let his office know I personally told you to call.”

The lesson in this example is: “Having a clear, concise statement ready to deliver at any moment, one that says what you do now but emphasizes what you want to do in the future and why you’re qualified to do it, gives you a huge advantage in terms of visibility and positioning.”

This is truly an exciting read. If you are interested in securing your own copy of the book “How Women Rise,” I encourage you to visit

Stay tuned next week and learn about Habit #3 and how to break it.

Permanent link for Mentoring Mondays - August 31, 2020 on August 31, 2020

The leading question in a recent book authored by leadership expert Sally Helgensen and leadership coach and bestselling author Marshall Goldsmith is “You want to take the next step in your career . . . but you’re not sure what’s holding you back?” Well, it could be you!

Today, we will start a series of Mentoring Mondays articles that feature excerpts from Sally and Marshall’s book entitled “How Women Rise : Break the 12 Habits Holding You Back From Your Next Raise, Promotion, or Job.” These habits or behaviors develop over time and you may not even be aware of what is standing in the way of your success. These excerpts are the result of actual case studies from interviews with top women executives. 

Habit #1:  Reluctance to Claim Your Achievements

“When asked about the greatest strengths of the younger women in their firms, the female partners almost unanimously cited their ability to deliver high quality work. ‘The Women go the extra mile when you give them assignments;’ ‘They are extremely conscientious, crossing every t and dotting every i.’ They are meticulous. You can count on them to get the job done.

When asked to reflect on why they struggle with claiming their achievements, two responses surfaced nearly every time: ‘If I have to act like that obnoxious blow-head down the hall to get noticed around here, I’d prefer to be ignored, and I have no desire to behave like that jerk;’ or ‘I believe great work speaks for itself. If I do an outstanding job, people should notice.’ There is a problem with these two approaches. If you feel uncomfortable drawing attention to your achievements, it’s often because your reference group – other women, a former boss, a repressive culture, etc. expects you to be modest and self-effacing.”

A bit of advice, “don’t become invisible.” Who can tell your story better than you? This may be the time to put ‘I’ in ‘team.’ Learning how to market oneself is not boasting and it could lead to bigger and better things.

If you are interested in securing your own copy of the book “How Women Rise,” I encourage you to visit

Permanent link for Mentoring Mondays - August 24, 2020 on August 24, 2020

You Were Just Named Interim. Now What?

August 5, 2020

Being named the interim leader in your unit or department can be both exciting and scary.  Unfortunately, there are not many road maps out there to guide you. Here is some guidance from others who've been there.

By Ashlyn W. Sowell, Associate Vice President for Campaign Operations and Engagement, Johns Hopkins University


In this time of a global pandemic, high unemployment, and financial pressures, it is likely that more people in advancement will be named to interim roles and likely for longer time periods.  Perhaps some guidance would be useful from a few of us who have been there:

  • Ashlyn W. Sowell - I had the honor of serving as interim vice president for development and alumni relations at Gettysburg College about ten years ago. I have had time to reflect on that growth experience, and I can share some of the opportunities and challenges that I faced.
  • Rachel Hitchcock - More recently, my colleague at Johns Hopkins University, Rachel Hitchcock, served as the interim associate dean of our School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), and I’ll share some of her tips, as well.
  • Aristide J. Collins - Also, I was lucky enough to talk with Aristide J. Collins, Jr., vice president, chief of staff to the president, and secretary of George Washington University, who gave some great advice.

Here is what we have to share.

Accepting and Adapting to the Role

You might have a range of emotions when asked to take on a new interim role – surprised, flattered, and maybe a bit nervous. The first piece of advice Rachel gave was to say yes! A leader in your institution has asked you to step up, and they probably vetted your name well in advance. This could be a great opportunity for you to learn, lead, and grow. Aristide agreed, saying, “Never turn down an assignment.” Think about the portfolio of work and where this might lead you in your career in the future.

Now, in most cases when you take on an interim role, you also get to keep your current role. (Lucky you!) Therefore, prioritizing and delegating are essential skills. You will need to quickly identify trusted allies, both internal and external. In some cases you may overlap with the person leaving, but in other cases you may be on your own to figure out the job. In that event, where can you turn for advice and information? Rachel mentioned the advisory board members and high level volunteers who helped her get up to speed. Aristide had the advantage of having worked in the development office at George Washington previously; when he was pulled back in to be the interim VP, he was able to reconnect with key staff who had experience and history at the institution and who supported him well. Establishing relationships with the lead donors was another top priority.

Asking for Help

In some cases, you will have entirely new responsibilities. At Gettysburg, I was suddenly in charge of the budget and found myself working with the board of trustees. Rachel picked up a 75th anniversary event that was only a few short months away. Aristide was given the charge to continue fundraising for a historic campaign (and to finish it early and above goal if possible). This requires quick learning on the job and also the willingness to ask for help when you need it. Aristide emphasizes the importance of asking for advice; one benefit of being in an interim role is that people understand that you have jumped in to help. They know that you are doing the best you can; they will want to support your success in achieving your goals.

Are the expectations clear? Rachel gave credit to her manager, who suggested a one page written agreement with all parties that laid out the expectations and the time frame. The manager to which she was now reporting in her new role also identified clear expectations about what success looked like in this role and included that in the agreement, as well. The document served as an excellent guidepost, and it also helped the staff in her regular, full-time role in principal gifts know how long she would be assisting SAIS and how they could best support her.


Communication is critical. For some of my colleagues, I went from being their peer to their supervisor overnight. I had to think about broad communication to the whole department, as well as individual meetings with those most directly impacted. And remember, depending on the circumstances, some of your staff might be feeling a bit uncertain and fearful about the future. Aristide started by inviting a few new people to his leadership team, including HR and finance reps. He also did a lot of management by walking around, engaging people, and listening to their concerns and ideas. He even launched a survey on staff morale and culture.

Other Key Considerations

These next items may seem small in the scope of things, but are pretty important.

Who will provide you with administrative support? Where will you actually work? Your calendar is getting ready to blow up, I promise you. In some cases, you can bring along your current assistant, but in others you might need to use the staff member who is already in place. Either way, spend some time with that person, look at the priorities, and get in sync on your working style. You will rely on this person to be a good gatekeeper and to help you through some long days. Rachel was able to use a hybrid model in which a few people kept things running smoothly. When we spoke, she emphasized being direct. That was especially important as she was navigating between two offices in Baltimore and Washington, D.C.; sometimes, she was communicating from the train. In today’s remote work environment, this might be a bit easier, but you will still have to balance your days and workload carefully in order to keep up your own energy and proceed with clear thinking.


Compensation is an area to consider as well. In this sample size of three, we were all compensated for our additional work. However, in today’s financial climate, you might be asked to take on more responsibility without pay. If that is the case, what else can you negotiate for? Extra time off after the assignment is over, bonus pay at the end, or additional training and development out of the office might be good rewards to seek. Aristide hopes that leaders will see the work as vital and make that offer, but even if they don’t, he still advises you take on the interim role and see how you can challenge yourself and take some risks.

Closing Thoughts

Looking back ten years ago, I can see some of the hardest days of my career, but also ones that I am grateful for and which led me to other opportunities at Gettysburg and Hopkins. I think in the most trying of times, you are learning and growing at a rapid pace, and much of it is self-guided. Rachel reports that she would not have been in a position to take on her current role (associate dean of the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences at Johns Hopkins) without the visibility that she received at SAIS and the confidence that she gained in that interim role. Similarly, Aristide was able to continue in the VP role and then was recognized for his talent by a new president, who invited him to take on the role of chief of staff. Aristide also values the relationships that he has built and even friendships he has made.

One final bit of advice, especially in this uncertain time – respect people and treat them well. We work with so many others, and people sit in the chairs before us and after us. Never criticize your predecessor and try to leave things better than you found them. Best of luck!

P.S. Are you interested in the job? Take some time to actually do the job and then decide. If you choose to move ahead, list the pros and cons and think through the impact of each one. You are in a unique position to talk with the decision-makers about the candidate pool and how you might stack up. If you decide not to move ahead, how can you influence the search process for the new hire and be most helpful in onboarding that person? At the end of the day, you have been given a great career opportunity, so be sure to capitalize on it while you can!

Image Credit: Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Permanent link for Mentoring Mondays - August 17, 2020 on August 17, 2020

We are Outside the Box – Now is the Time to Think Like It

June 4, 2020

What does the future of higher education hold? How will our sector emerge from this crisis? To answer these questions well, we need to think bigger and bolder, with all the creativity at our disposal.

By W. Kent Barnds, Executive Vice President for External Relations,  Augustana College


I once had a boss I called “the king of cliché.” I often found myself struck by the ease with which he would rattle off a cliché perfect for the moment. I’ve been thinking about him in recent weeks as the higher education community has resorted to management by cliché. Everywhere I turn right now, I hear “Don’t waste a good crisis” or “We are all in this together.”

Unfortunately, these sentiments seem to me to result in doing either the wrong thing or nothing at all.

In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis in this country, we are seeing so-called decisive actions from those higher education institutions that want to take advantage. They are cutting programs and people and executing pet plans behind the scenes. Many of these changes do damage to the mission and will ultimately result in weaker rather than stronger colleges.

Others have already cut to the bone and have nothing left to do other than wait around for a painful closing. Sadly, many smaller communities, especially in rural areas, will be devastated by these closures.

These may not be the only options for higher education, though. With imaginative, creative and courageous leadership, this can be a time for institutions to distinguish themselves.

All who have calling for a more entrepreneurial approach to higher education - including boards of trustees - can step forward with the resources to help higher education leadership think differently. Many of us, just a few short months ago, thought that delivering our academic programs entirely through distance education was impossible. But when really smart, creative people collectively go into problem-solving mode, amazing things can happen.

One of the most tired clichés we all know is, ironically, “Think outside the box.” Well, now we truly are outside the box. Now is the time to think differently about leading in higher education.

Now might be the time to:

  • Take what you are learning now by experimenting with distance education - and integrate that into your everyday delivery. Many of us are making distance learning work with virtual duct tape because we haven't had a choice. So, maybe we should be using this time to identify and maintain the most successful components of this experiment as part of what we do.
  • Get serious about that merger or acquisition you’d been thinking about. I heard recently that Apple quietly acquired three companies in the month of March and spent about as much on acquisitions in the first quarter of this year as they did all of last year. Now, I get that none of us is Apple (except maybe Arizona State or Purdue Global), but there’s still something here worth thinking about. This crisis could open avenues to new academic competencies or a new geographic footprint or even an expansion of institutional expertise and thought leadership.
  • Approach that stronger institution you’ve admired over the years, to keep the legacy of your endangered college alive. Do this for your alumni, current students, and community. A partner might share geography or religious affiliation. Think creatively about how you can keep your legacy and mission alive on another campus, and give your alumni a place they can continue to love and feel is their own.
  • Find a partner who can help you maintain your physical campus in a beloved hometown at a lower cost. The current crisis has resulted in everyone transitioning to distance learning, regardless of mission. What if a partner college could deliver some or all of your general education curriculum through distance learning, allowing you to reduce costs? How might this layered approach affect on-campus teaching and learning, or career preparation within students’ major fields? One might imagine Boston College creating a Jesuit-ideal-driven general education program that they could deliver via distance education to Spring Hill College. Or my own institution, Augustana College, could develop a foundational general education program (maybe called “The Augustana,” in a nod to Luther) and deliver it to interested colleges.
  • Consider shared senior administrative positions among colleges. It’s hard to attract and keep talent; in some cases there is not a sufficient supply of talent, and that talent comes at a cost. Maybe it’s time to think about some shared leadership, especially if partnering institutions are not competing for the same students. What about a community college and a local four-year college sharing a CFO or vice presidents in student life, ITS, advancement, admissions, or human resources?

Some of these ideas may sound crazy. But remember back when delivering everything via distance learning sounded crazy? Maybe some of this is worth thinking about.

My greatest fear in the aftermath of COVID-19 is that our beautiful, diverse, complex higher education system could be left gutted, leaving empty campuses, diminished missions, and a stripped-down version of what has been the United States’ most important and influential contribution to the world.

Perhaps one of the phrases I am hearing so frequently right now, “we are all in this together,” is the key. Maybe we need to embrace that sense and ask each other for help. Let’s work together to continue doing what we are able to do so brilliantly.

Image Credit: Photo by Tomasz Frankowski on Unsplash

Permanent link for Mentoring Mondays - August 10, 2020 on August 10, 2020

POCKET WORTHY - Stories to fuel your mind.

End of the Office: The Quiet, Grinding Loneliness of Working from Home

Before Covid-19, many of us thought remote working sounded blissful. Now, employees across the world long for chats by the coffee machine and the whirr of printers.

The Guardian    Simon Usborne

Dahlia Francis is sitting on a small couch at the foot of her bed, in her shared flat, on a housing estate in south London. She wears her new uniform of pyjama bottoms and a Zoom-ready plain T-shirt. Her room used to be a living room. Now the only communal space is the kitchen, where Francis’s three flatmates occupy a small dining table. They, like almost half of Britain’s workforce, are also working from home.

Francis, who is 29, is a credit controller for a charity in central London. She commuted there, by bus and tube, for a little more than a year. There were baking competitions and quizzes and a kitchenette, where gossip and tea flowed freely. Now the kettle is silent and the cubicles are empty. They are likely to remain so for the rest of the year.

For the first few weeks after her office closed in late March, Francis was too busy to consider her new circumstances. Then they hit her – and got her down. Days spent in her bedroom hunched over a laptop, centimetres from where she slept, blurred into endless weeks. She has become lonely.

Francis has worked for a tool hire firm and a betting chain, as well as for charities. The offices she remembers have taken on a different shape in her mind. “I used to think of a desk as like a kind of prison cell, where I was chained for eight hours a day,” she tells me over the phone. “It was always like serving time. But, at this point, my desk would be my saviour.”

Lockdown has not so much redrawn the workplace of millions as it has chewed it up like a broken printer. Working from home, a mode traditionally viewed with suspicion by bosses and with envy by commuting bureausceptics, has become the norm for those whose livings are tied to computer screens.

As weeks become months and offices remain closed, many are predicting their permanent decline. Buildings that for decades have defined urban geography, diurnal rhythms and the meaning of work may never hum in the same way to the sounds of keyboards and fluorescent lighting.

“I’ve spoken to about eight startups that have already got rid of their office,” says Matt Bradburn, the co-founder of London-based People Collective, which advises companies on human resources. “And we’re talking companies of 50 to 100 people.” Elsewhere, firms including Twitter and Facebook have said they will allow employees to work from home for ever.

The potential demise of commutes and the soul-sapping trappings of office life is a cause of celebration for many among the 49% of workers now toiling at home. But for people such as Francis, whose flat is unsuited to work, offices provide space to share ideas, socialise and maintain a work-life divide that has become hopelessly blurred.

According to a survey by the global financial services company Jefferies, 61% of more than 1,500 UK respondents said they would return to work immediately if they could. Facebook says half of its employees will work from home by 2030, but Mark Zuckerberg said only one in five were enthusiastic about doing so. More than half “really want to get back to the office as soon as possible”, he told the Wall Street Journal.

When Bradburn polled his network of more than 5,000 HR bosses, he asked for the biggest reasons their teams had shared for wanting to go back to the office. Seventy per cent cited social and mental health issues, including feelings of loneliness. “I think young people in particular really need that connection,” Bradburn says.

The effects of working from home have been little studied, partly because remote working was pretty rare until this spring. The proportion of the UK workforce who worked “mainly” at home went from 4% to 5% in the UK between 2015 and 2019, according to the Office for National Statistics. Permanent home working was vanishingly rare.

“It’s always been a pretty backwater topic,” says Nick Bloom, a British economics professor at Stanford University in California and an expert in home working. The last time Bloom’s phone rang so much was 2013, he says, when Marissa Mayer, then the chief executive of Yahoo, banned remote working. “Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home,” read a leaked memo to staff.

The assumption has been that remote workers slack without direct supervision. But do they? In 2010, a Chinese travel agency with 16,000 employees came to Bloom in search of evidence. Ctrip, which assumed workers would prefer being at home, was spending big money on offices in Shanghai. It wanted to know what remote work might do for the bottom line. “Their proposition was that they’d save on rent, but lose on productivity,” Bloom says.

Bloom devised a trial – the first of its kind – involving 250 members of a Ctrip call centre. Half of the group were selected at random to work from home for nine months. The other half would continue to work in the office and the productivity of both teams would be measured.

None of Ctrip’s assumptions were right. Productivity in the home group went up by 13%. Without the distractions of the office, agents were making more calls and taking fewer breaks and sick days. “They were truly stunned by the results,” Bloom says of Ctrip. Its executives calculated not only that they could save millions in rent, but also that they could make $2,000 (then about £1,300) more in profit annually per employee.

But the experiment also measured happiness. When Ctrip polled staff, half of the home-based group wanted to go back to the office. “Loneliness was the single biggest reason,” Bloom says. Plus, they were not in lockdown conditions: only people with a spare room took part; none had children at home or flatmates; and they still worked one day a week in the office.

Bloom is now constantly fielding calls from anxious executives. “They have said productivity has been great and they’re thinking of abandoning the office,” he says. “I’m counselling that it’s shortsighted and high-risk.” Bloom had always been supportive of remote working, if not full-time, even after the Ctrip experiment. “Now I feel like I’ve gone from being an evangelist for working from home to an evangelist for the office,” he says.

Erin Mackenzie, 23, knows what it can be like to work remotely full-time without the stresses of lockdown. In the summer of 2019, she got a junior marketing job with an online education company based in the Middle East. Mackenzie, who lives in a small house in a small town 50 miles north of New York City, thought working from home would be great.

After four months of long days alone at the tiny desk in her bedroom, Mackenzie had a panic attack. She had lost weight and become depressed. “At first, I thought it was because the job was demanding, but I realised it was more the isolation and not being able to interact with people,” she says. “I hadn’t realised I’d relied on that so heavily for my mental health.”

Mackenzie also felt suffocated by the digital monitoring, which was already becoming standard in big firms. Hers was relatively light. An agenda app would track tasks and alert faceless bosses when they were done. Response times to chats were noted. “It definitely added to me feeling like I didn’t have set hours and the anxiety of it all,” she says.

If offices were to evolve to extract as much as possible from human resources, there are concerns that firms would use technology to tighten the screws further in our homes. Interest in the software offered by Teramind, a Florida-based employee monitoring and analytics firm with more than 2,000 clients, has tripled in lockdown. When downloaded to employees’ computers, Teramind’s “agent” can measure time spent on different windows. It can play back or live-stream a view of an employee’s screen and record his or her every keystroke. It can also raise a flag if certain predetermined words are typed.

Before lockdown, 70% of Teramind’s clients were concerned about security – leaks of sensitive information, for example – while 30% saw productivity as the priority. “Now, it’s flipped,” says Eli Sutton, the firm’s head of operations. But he rejects the suggestion of Orwellian overtones. “I can say first-hand that employers have better things to do than to spy on you all day,” he says. “Teramind is an extra set of eyes to make sure distractions aren’t causing issues.”

Will Gosling, who leads Deloitte’s consulting on “human capital” in the UK, says: “We’re at the beginning of a very big ethical debate about this. We were already seeing businesses wanting to get more data on employees and the pandemic has brought it into sharp focus … but they need to support and build health and wellbeing.”

Trade unions worry that working from home will challenge privacy and rights, making it harder for employees to organise or be aware of how colleagues are being treated, particularly in the most onerous fields of white-collar work. There are questions about liability. Mental health is part of the picture. “Employers have a responsibility to ensure worker wellbeing and that doesn’t end just because people are not in the office,” says Tim Sharp, the senior policy officer for employment rights at the Trades Union Congress.

Mackenzie quit after the panic attack and got a job with an insurer. She immediately felt better, even while enduring a two-hour commute to Manhattan for her training. She now works in a smaller office a short drive from home – or, rather, she did until the pandemic. It helps that she now works for a better, kinder company. Her fiance is working at home, too. “Without him here, I probably would have crumbled,” she says.

At their best, offices are crucibles for ideas and lifelong friendships, particularly among younger workers with small homes but big social circles. The Office was not just a comic study of business park malaise – it was a love story. Working from home may boost productivity for a while, “but it’s so costly in terms of creativity and inspiration”, Bloom says. “We’re all suffering from Zoom overload and feeling worn down.”

Flick Adkins, who is 28, counts some of her colleagues as her best friends. For three months, she has been cut off from them while working from the flat she shares with five other people in north London. She works for LRWTonic, a market research company, and takes a lot of private calls. She has to sit cross-legged on her bed, stacking her laptop on part of her vinyl collection. She has settled on 20 records as the optimal height.

Adkins’s now empty office has a ping pong table and a coffee machine, where she would chat with friends before starting her day. On Fridays, she and her 20 mostly young colleagues would go out for lunch and have drinks after work.

Like Francis, Adkins feels lonely, down and unmotivated. “Having an office was symbolic of normality,” she says. “I loved just being at my desk and hearing the buzz and all the conversations … I can count on two hands the number of times I’ve said: ‘I don’t know much longer I can do this.’”

Last month, Adkins’s boss, Anna Dunn, floated with her team the idea of ditching the office for good and saving £200,000 a year in rent. “I said that the money would be distributed to them in a bonus, to some degree,” Dunn, 40, says from her kitchen. She, too, misses the office. “I thought there might be this desire to stay remote, but not one person does. They all want to go back.”

The sounds of the office have a new resonance. More than half a million people have tuned into The Sound of Colleagues, a web page and Spotify playlist of workplace sounds, including keyboards, printers, chatter and coffee machines. Red Pipe, a Swedish music and sound studio, created it in April as a joke, but its data suggests that people keep it on in the background.

Progressive employers are racing to find ways to recreate the joys and perks of office life. Google is laying on cookery classes and mindfulness sessions, as well as offering $1,000 (£780) to each employee for equipment. Lauren Whitt, Google’s wellness manager and resilience lead, says demand has grown for her team’s services, which include video counselling and therapy by text for people who lack privacy. “We’re also seeing more families having more access [to these services],” she adds.

If reports of the death of the office have been exaggerated, everyone agrees it won’t look the same. Bloom envisages a new landscape of smaller offices, with employees alternately working at home for half the week to bring down costs and make physical distancing more viable. Budgets for nice interiors will fall. “I think the office will be more suburban, more spacious and nastier-looking,” he says.

Francis would not care. When I speak to her, she has taken a week of holiday. She had anxiety before the pandemic, which partly expressed itself in a need to be busy all the time. But, after three months of sometimes 12-hour days and a deepening sense of unease, burnout has become a worrying prospect. Not that she can really escape her place of work. “I’m just sort of winging it this week and not planning too much,” she says from her bedroom couch. “I just need a bit of time to gather myself.”

Simon Usborne is a freelance feature writer and reporter based in London. He was previously a feature writer and an editor at The Independent.

Photo by Dan Douglas

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Why Professional Development is a Strategic Priority During a Time of Rapid Change

May 22, 2020

During a crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic, in which the academic workforce is distributed and opportunities for collaborative learning, networking, and sharing of ideas and successes are more limited, leadership support for professional development in higher education is more critical than ever. To come out of the crisis thriving, colleges and universities have to invest in their people.

Research Report | Academic Impressions, May 2020

Historically, institutions have often frozen or cut professional development (PD) budgets during periods of financial distress, limiting their capacity for learning and identifying solutions at the very moment that capacity is most needed. Today, more than ever, institutions need to take the opposite course. Investing in PD—in your people, in their capacity and their growth—also sends a powerful leadership message. This message provides stability amid uncertainty; offers a way to move forward, keep connected and engaged, and take action; and encourages a growth mindset, even and especially in the midst of crisis.

The institutions that will emerge from a time of crisis in a position to thrive will be those whose leaders and staff are empowered and equipped to think opportunistically, creatively, and with a growth mindset. During such a time, existing mindsets and approaches to the work need to be challenged. Creative solutions need to be sought, identified, piloted, and shared. Systemic, enterprise-wide support for professional development—in a structured, intentional way—cultivates a growth mindset in the academic workforce, communicates a powerful and necessary message to the institution’s employees about their leadership’s confidence and investment in their people, and strengthens the institution’s capacity and resilience in the face of change.

Academic Impressions recently surveyed 2,452 higher-ed professionals from 642 post-secondary institutions in the U.S. and Canada. The findings from this third iteration of the survey confirm and augment previous findings (from surveys conducted at the end of calendar years 2015 and 2017) and support a strong case for leaders at institutions of higher education to provide department-wide or enterprise-wide support for the professional development of their faculty and staff.

The findings also suggest that professional development is important to employees and their institutions for reasons other than what traditionally has been believed. The survey data allow for the deconstruction of several longstanding myths about professional development in higher ed. We encourage you to review the findings and share the report with the leadership at your institution.


About Academic Impressions

At Academic Impressions, we are focused solely on providing leadership, personal development, and skills-based training opportunities to faculty and staff in higher ed. We help individuals, teams, and institutions across the US and Canada build upon their knowledge and expertise to reach new levels and find practical solutions to the challenges they are facing. Learn more about our organization here. You can also sign up to get future reports like this one and daily updates on how higher education is adapting, by subscribing to our complimentary Daily Pulse.


Why Professional Development is a Strategic Priority During a Time of Rapid Change

Research Report | Academic Impressions, May 2020

Contributors : Amit Mrig, Academic Impressions; Beth Rotach, Academic Impressions; Daniel Fusch, Academic Impressions; Kevin Kientz, Academic Impressions; Paul Cook, University of Colorado Denver - Anschutz Medical Campus.

Historically, institutions have often frozen or cut professional development (PD) budgets during periods of financial distress, limiting their capacity for learning and identifying solutions at the very moment that capacity is most needed. Today, more than ever, institutions need to take the opposite course. Investing in PD—in your people, in their capacity and their growth—also sends a powerful leadership message. This message provides stability amid uncertainty; offers a way to move forward, keep connected and engaged, and take action; and encourages a growth mindset, even and especially in the midst of crisis. As Melissa Morriss-Olson, provost at Bay Path University, puts it:

“We’re leading in tough times. I think that boards and their presidents often clench when things get tough, and the innate instinct is to cut back and go into the bunker until things get better. That is exactly the wrong response. It is virtually impossible to cut one’s way to greatness. Leaders need to fight this natural instinct and find the courage to pull up and go to the balcony in the midst of daily pressures that are extraordinary and unprecedented. This is a time to be reaching outward rather than inward – gathering new ideas, connecting people who can surface and implement creative solutions, and investing in the professional development and leadership capacity of our people.”

As the sector reels from unprecedented challenges, leaders can respond with either a “scarcity mindset”—reacting passively to factors outside their control, such as state budgets, demographic shifts, or a pandemic—or a “growth mindset,” focusing on those factors within their control, leveraging the full skills and capacity of their academic workforce to find new solutions, networking and engaging actively across the sector to identify and share strategies for confronting both persistent and new challenges, and investing and reinvesting in their people. In a sector dedicated to producing learning, the academic workforce itself is the institution’s key strategic resource, and adopting a systemic and intentional approach to developing the capacity of that workforce is a strategy for strengthening the institution’s capacity and resilience both during and after a crisis.

It is with this philosophy and optimism that Academic Impressions wishes to share key findings from its third continentwide survey of attitudes and implementation of professional development in higher education.

The Research


In December 2019, Academic Impressions surveyed 2,452 higher-ed professionals from 642 post-secondary institutions in the U.S. and Canada. About half of the total respondents (1140 or 46%) said that they control or influence spending on PD for faculty or staff other than just themselves. More than half of respondents (1303 or 53%) were full-time administrative staff; 18% (451) were non-academic managers or directors; 13% (320) were faculty (mostly full-time); 9% (215) were mid-level academic administrators such as chairs or directors; and 6% (156) were deans, vice presidents, cabinet members, or worked in the President’s office. As shown in the following demographics table, respondents were diverse in terms of age, race/ethnicity, and gender:


The findings from this third iteration of the survey confirm and augment previous findings (from surveys conducted at the end of calendar years 2015 and 2017) and support a strong case for leaders at institutions of higher education to provide department-wide or enterprise-wide support for the professional development of their faculty and staff. The findings also suggest that professional development is important to employees and their institutions for reasons other than what traditionally has been believed. The survey data allow for the deconstruction of several longstanding myths about professional development in higher ed.

This report will share eight key findings that, collectively, can have a significant impact on how higher-ed leaders understand and utilize professional development in building the capacity both of their faculty and staff and of their departments as a whole. These findings are as follows:

  1. Faculty and staff want PD to improve their effectiveness—not simply to secure a promotion or pay raise.
  2. For many faculty and staff, dialogue with their department heads about PD is more important than funding for PD.
  3. Dialogue about PD between department heads and employees contributes directly to job satisfaction and employee retention.
  4. Faculty and staff perceive many barriers to asking for PD.
  5. Proactive outreach from leadership is especially critical to support PD for women and under-represented groups.
  6. Faculty and staff commonly believe that there are “no funds for PD,” even when funds are available.
  7. Practices such as individualized PD plans and integration of PD into the performance review cycle make a significant difference in job satisfaction.
  8. Even incremental progress toward systemic support for PD makes a measurable, significant difference.

Finding #1. Faculty and staff want PD to improve their effectiveness— not simply to secure a promotion or pay raise.

Higher-ed leaders frequently subscribe to a number of myths about what motivates their faculty and staff to seek PD. For example, 37% of department heads report that they refrain from conversations with their faculty and staff about PD because their department lacks opportunities for upward mobility, and 14% express concern that their vocal support of PD could lead to the expectation of a promotion or a raise.

But when faculty and staff are asked what motivates them to ask for PD, career advancement is not their primary objective:

While career advancement is certainly one motivator, it matters less than the desire to learn and improve the effectiveness of their work. The majority of the academic workforce does not perceive PD as primarily an avenue to career advancement but as a means to improve their work and advance their unit. Even in units that lack strong vertical career ladders, faculty and staff report that PD remains of critical importance to them. Notably:

  • 84% of higher-ed employees say that access to new learning and professional development opportunities is either “very” or “extremely” important to them.
  • 73% of faculty and staff say that more access to professional development and learning opportunities would increase their likelihood of staying at the institution. 43% say that increased access to PD would be “very” or “extremely” likely to increase that likelihood of retention.

Even if resources are tight and even if there isn’t an immediately apparent vertical mobility within the organization, higher-ed employees still see dialogue with leadership about their PD as crucial and beneficial to their work and to their personal and professional growth.

Finding #2. For many faculty and staff, dialogue with their department heads about PD is more important than funding for PD.

Not only do employees desire PD strongly, but they desire dialogue with their department heads about their professional development. In fact, this dialogue is even more important to them than the degree of access to PD funds. Consider how they responded to a choice between these two scenarios:

More than half (51%) preferred the first scenario; they would rather have the regular conversations with their supervisor or department head, even if PD funds are limited.

Yet only one-third (33%) of faculty and staff confirmed that their supervisor frequently or always engages them in conversation about their professional development. Clearly there is a significant gap between the support that faculty and staff desire in order to improve the effectiveness of their work and the support that is being provided. Importantly, the key to that support is not funding for PD but ongoing dialogue with leadership about professional development opportunities, plans, and objectives.

Finding #3. Dialogue about PD between department heads and faculty and staff contributes directly to job satisfaction and employee retention.

Reviewing findings that have proven consistent across three iterations of the survey, Academic Impressions was able to construct a structural model with six subscales to explore the survey data more deeply. Using this model, we confirmed that leadership support for PD (comprising three variables: regular dialogue with employees about their PD; provision of ongoing support after pursuing PD; and employees perception of whether their supervisor or department head models their own PD) is not only predictive of job satisfaction; among all the items we researched, it was the most predictive factor. Leadership support for PD is more predictive of job satisfaction than:

  • Perceived access to PD.
  • Perceived barriers to PD.
  • Whether employees perceived alignment between their professional development and departmental objectives.
  • Whether employees believed their department had a learning culture that is open to new ideas and supportive of challenging “the way we do things.”

Despite the often-quoted maxim that “culture eats strategy for lunch,” we found that the impact of departmental culture on job satisfaction was more indirect. The employee’s perception of the departmental culture, the degree to which PD and departmental objectives are aligned, and the extent to which there are barriers are PD are all mediated through employees’ perception of the quality and extent of the dialogue they have with their supervisor about PD.

Job satisfaction (comprised of three variables: overall satisfaction with their job; meaningfulness of their work; and perceived opportunities for growth at their institution) was in turn highly predictive of whether employees found themselves likely to seek work at other institutions. 73% of higher-ed employees report that greater leadership support for their PD would make them more likely to stay at the institution. Accordingly:

Leadership support -> Job satisfaction -> Employee retention

To grasp the full impact of leadership support and dialogue around PD, consider three groups of faculty and staff in higher education, occupying a spectrum from little to no leadership support to full support. Each group consists of one-third of higher-ed faculty and staff. We will refer to the groups on the two ends of this spectrum as Group Red and Group Green.

The employees in Group Red say that their department head or supervisor rarely or never engages them in dialogue about PD (29%), that they rarely or never receive ongoing support from their leadership (32%) to follow through on what they’ve learned—such as time to reflect, encouragement to share what they’ve learned, or support in trying new things. And they say that their unit heads or supervisors rarely or never model investment in their own professional development (16%).

Group Green tells the opposite story: their supervisors engage them in regular dialogue about PD (33%), provide ongoing support in implementing what they’ve learned (35%), and frequently or always model investment in their own PD (47%).

We found:

  • Group Green is three times as likely to report that they are “very” or “extremely” satisfied with their jobs (74% in Group Green, compared to 24% in Group Red).
  • Group Green is ten times less likely to report extreme job dissatisfaction (3% in Group Green, compared to 31.5% in Group Red).
  • Group Green is roughly three times less likely to report a high likelihood of seeking a job outside their current institution (16% in Group Green, compared to 44% in Group Red).

Across all three metrics—whether supervisors or department heads engage faculty and staff in regular dialogue, whether they provide support for implementing what’s learned, and whether they model investment in their own PD—the numbers tallied consistently, and all three were statistically correlated with each other.

This tells a compelling story that every supervisor and department head in higher education needs to hear. Even when there is limited funding for professional development, dialogue and support for faculty and staff professional development is the lever higher-ed leaders can pull to keep their people engaged, improving their effectiveness, and satisfied with their jobs.

And because the primary motivators for seeking PD are improving one’s work and advancing the work of the unit or department, support for PD is also a key opportunity to leverage the brainpower and learning potential of the academic workforce—that is, to gather the knowledge, strategies, contacts, and practices needed to navigate a stressful “new normal” and ensure that the institution not only survives but thrives in the months and years ahead. During a crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic, in which the academic workforce is distributed and opportunities for collaborative learning, networking, and sharing of ideas and successes are more limited, leadership support for PD is more critical than ever.

Finding #4. Faculty and staff perceive many barriers to asking for PD.

While dialogue between leadership and employees about professional development and growth is predictive of job satisfaction, the data also suggests that supervisors would be ill-advised to simply wait for faculty and staff to approach them to initiate this dialogue. Higher-ed employees perceive many barriers to asking for PD. For example:

  • 62% of faculty and staff say they would be reluctant to seek PD because they believe leadership will simply say “no.”
  • 86.7% say they would be reluctant to seek PD because they believe resources are too constrained or “tight.”
  • 28.6% say they would be reluctant to seek PD because they fear leadership would see them as “inadequate” due to asking for support.
  • 62.8% say that clear expectations for PD are not set during their first year on the job.
  • 44.8% say they do not know the steps to take to get access to PD.

We also discovered that 52.1% of all higher-ed faculty and staff would assign their departmental leadership a letter grade of C, D, or a failing grade at building faculty and staff capacity and expertise. Only 47.4% say that their leaders regularly model investment in their own PD. Almost half of all faculty and staff say they do not know what steps to take to get PD, and almost two thirds believe their supervisors will just say no; over 1 in 4 think they’ll be judged as inadequate if they ask.

These are not signs of a working environment in which faculty and staff feel safe and empowered to engage their leadership in discussions around their professional development and growth. Therefore, it is critical that leadership model investment in PD, demonstrate that PD is valued and key to the growth of both individual employees and of their units, educate units about what PD is available and how to seek access to it, deconstruct or dispel common myths about the likelihood of approval for PD, and engage faculty and staff proactively in ongoing dialogue about their objectives, plans, and opportunities for professional development and professional growth.

Finding #5. Proactive outreach from leadership is especially critical to support PD for women and under-represented groups.

Understanding the PD gender gap

Among survey respondents, women were even more likely than men to report that PD is highly important to them— but were also less likely than men to report high rates of job satisfaction:

These findings suggest that higher-ed leaders searching for ways to support and empower women in the higher-ed workforce would do well to close the gender gap in support for professional development. Crucially, not only do women report less access to PD, they are more likely than their male colleagues to refrain from asking for PD. 65% of women believe their supervisor will just say no (whereas only 50% of men hold that same belief).

Rather than waiting for women in their department to ask for PD, department leaders need to provide access to professional development proactively and initiate the dialogue about professional development objectives and opportunities. The leader’s role in closing the gender gap is to take action to create the space where employees of all genders can learn and grow professionally—and to communicate by action that this is the kind of learning culture departmental leaders desire and support.

It is also critical that leaders ask their faculty and staff what support they need and make it clear that seeking support and dialogue around PD won’t entail appearing “inadequate.” Leaders need to take steps to address the perceived risk for all employees (but particularly women) of seeking PD. The data reveals a wide gap between the support leaders believe they are providing and the support faculty and staff are actually receiving. To cite just one example, only 23.3% of supervisors think their faculty and staff don’t know the steps to get access to PD, but among faculty and staff, 28.4% of men and 36.5% of women report that they don’t know the steps to take. The findings in this report suggest that department leaders frequently hold unfounded assumptions about the motivations of their faculty and staff in seeking PD, perception of the risk in seeking PD, perception of the support available, and knowledge about the steps to take.

Understanding the PD gap between white employees and employees of color

There is also a gap in the likelihood of seeking out PD, between white employees and their non-white colleagues. The barriers here are distinct from those involved in the gender gap. Employees of color report similar job satisfaction and levels of engagement with their supervisors when compared with their white peers, and are actually slightly less likely to believe that there are no funds available for their PD. However, POC still report feeling discouraged from asking for PD.

For women, one of the most significant barriers to seeking PD was the belief that their supervisors would simply say “no”; for POC, the far more significant barrier was the belief that their supervisors will see them as inadequate if they ask for support. Both groups are less likely than their peers to be aware of the steps to take in seeking PD:

If supervisors are committed to building the capacity of women and employees from under-represented groups, they need to be proactive in dismantling these two myths: the myth that they’ll simply say no when asked for PD, and the myth that asking for support and learning opportunities will be interpreted an indicator of inadequate performance.

Finding #6. Faculty and staff commonly believe that there are “no funds for PD,” even when funds are available.

The even more prevalent myth—among faculty and staff of all demographics—is that there simply are no funds available for their PD. A staggering 86.7% of faculty and staff report that resource constraints discourage them from asking for PD. Yet, only 9% of supervisors and department heads confirmed that access to PD funds was a barrier to dialogue about PD. These findings suggest that employees think resources for PD are scarcer than they actually are.

We also found that there were no differences in these data points between varied sizes and types of institutions. Participants responded to these questions on the survey similarly regardless of whether they were employed at a technical college, a prestigious liberal arts school, or a flagship state institution. We found no statistical correlation between the beliefs about the availability of resources and the probable access to resources. Employees at an R1 were just as likely as employees at a community college to see resource constraints as the primary barrier to seeking PD, and department/division leaders at a community college are just as unlikely as leaders at an R1 to see resource constraints as a primary barrier.

No matter the type of institution, leaders who commit to providing division-wide or enterprise-wide support for the professional development of their faculty and staff will need to recognize that simply providing the support isn’t enough by itself; leaders have to also take steps to break down the myths that keep supervisors/department heads from engaging their faculty and staff in regular dialogue about their PD—and the myths that deter some faculty and staff from requesting PD.

Finding #7. Practices such as individualized PD plans and integration of PD into the performance review cycle make a significant difference in job satisfaction.

Another finding is that significant gains in employee job satisfaction can be realized when the dialogue between supervisors or department heads and their faculty and staff about PD is structured and regular rather than ad hoc, and when it is systemic across the institution. Below are three examples, surfaced from the survey data, of how to achieve these gains.

Individual learning plans

The survey asked whether departments are creating annual, written professional development plans for each employee:


Most employees said either that there are no structured discussions about PD (21%) or that there are discussions but nothing is written down (34%). Only 13% of respondents said that their organizations have well-defined written plans with clear objectives and criteria.

Those who reported having well-defined written PD plans were 85% more likely to report high job satisfaction, 25% less likely to report they would seek work elsewhere in the coming year, and slightly more likely (1.1 times) to see PD as closely aligned with the strategic objectives and priorities of the institution.

Consider the axiom that we can’t measure what we aren’t tracking, and also the principle that we are more likely to strive toward and achieve goals we write down than we are toward goals we don’t write down. Leaders that are committed to investing in their employees’ capacity can consider having structured annual discussions with each employee about their PD needs and opportunities—and documenting the outcomes of those discussions.

Integration into the annual review process

Many faculty and staff report that their professional development either is never discussed during annual reviews (14%) or is discussed but has no impact on decisions about promotion or compensation (32%):

Similarly, 53% of employees believe there would be “no reaction” from their department head or supervisor if they did not participate in PD in a given year. That may be a telling diagnostic, given that leadership engagement in PD is also directly predictive of job satisfaction.

At those few institutions where PD is well-integrated into the annual review process, employees also report:

  • Higher ratings of leaders’ level of support for employees’ PD
  • Fewer perceived barriers to participating in PD
  • Higher ratings of job satisfaction
  • Lower chances of the employee saying they would seek work elsewhere

Encouraging follow-up after PD

Third, the survey asked faculty and staff what follow-up activities they are expected to engage in after attending and completing a professional development opportunity. The following table lists the most frequent activities:

It’s axiomatic that we learn best when teaching what we’ve learned, and that by sharing our knowledge, we grow more informed and more efficient. Unfortunately, nearly one in four employees (24.4%) report that no follow-up or knowledge sharing of any kind is requested or expected after they complete a professional development opportunity. Additionally,

31.5% report an absence of ongoing support from their leadership to implement what they’ve learned.

Finding #8. Even incremental progress toward systemic support for PD makes a measurable, significant difference.

Though the survey findings suggest that systemic and structured support for PD at institutions of higher education may be rare, the data also suggests that even minor, incremental steps toward providing that support can make a measurable difference in both job satisfaction and the perceived alignment of PD opportunities with departmental or institutional priorities and objectives.

The data suggests that even if a leader made just one procedural change—such as discussing PD in the context of the annual review—the likelihood of high job satisfaction and employee retention increases, even without making any other changes in PD offerings or funding. When we examined the relationship between this variable and others, the results also showed a linear progression; each step in the scale correlated to higher job satisfaction. Moving from “we don’t discuss” PD during annual review to “we discuss it but it has no impact” produces an incremental increase in the likelihood of job satisfaction and in the perceived alignment between PD and departmental objectives, as does moving from “it has no impact” to “it has some impact.” The same is true with efforts to establish individualized learning plans for employees; even small steps toward that goal make a difference.


In summary, employees seek PD to improve the effectiveness of their work, and greater support for PD improves their job satisfaction and likelihood of retention. Therefore, a more planful approach to supporting professional development is a critical and integral part of a department or division’s commitment both to building the capacity of its people and to leveraging their talent and skill effectively in the pursuit of strategic priorities. That more planful approach would be one in which professional development plans are developed and documented, professional development is reviewed annually, and there are clear expectations for how learnings from professional development are to be disseminated and shared with the rest of a team or department. When PD planning is part of an annual process—where PD objectives are aligned with departmental and unit objectives—and when learnings from PD are disseminated, PD is no longer an ad hoc and underutilized asset but instead becomes one of the core strategies by which teams, departments, divisions, and institutions improve and challenge themselves and advance their mission.

Additionally, it is critical that those in leadership or supervisory positions in higher education consider proactive outreach to their employees to initiate and structure the dialogue around PD plans, objectives, and opportunities. This is important because faculty and staff cite numerous perceived barriers or disincentives to seeking PD, while supervisors do not recognize the presence or validity of these barriers. The gap is greater for women and employees from underrepresented groups, and the onus is on leadership to close that gap and create a space for a more productive conversation around PD.

Such an investment is timely because during an era of uncertainty and rapid change, there is a greater, not lesser, need to foster connection, networking, and sharing of practices among colleagues. The institutions that will emerge from a time of crisis in a position to thrive will be those whose leaders, faculty, and staff are empowered and equipped to think opportunistically, creatively, and with a growth mindset. During such a time, existing mindsets and approaches to the work need to be challenged. Creative solutions need to be sought, identified, piloted, and shared. Systemic, enterprise-wide support for professional development—in a structured, intentional way—cultivates a growth mindset in the academic workforce, communicates a powerful and necessary message to the institution’s employees about their leadership’s confidence and investment in their people, and strengthens the institution’s capacity and resilience in the face of change.

Academic Impressions, May 2020

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What Type of Connector are you?

In today’s era, we are not just connected – we are over-connected. The average amount of time we spend on email and online meetings is growing exponentially. Research tells us that in today’s world, it is not about being a connector. It is about how we connect intelligently with our resources. 

In an interview between Marshall Goldsmith (author and leading business coach) and Erica Dhawan (Founder & CEO of Cotential and the world’s authority on Connectional Intelligence), we learn that there are three types of connectors you need to lead dream-teams today:

  1. The thinker: Thinkers are great at connecting around ideas. They know how to bring together different ideas. They have a lot of curiosity and courage to think in new ways.
  2. The enabler: Enablers are the awesome community builders. They know how to bring together all the right people. They are the traditional networking types.
  3. The executor: Executors are the people who are great at mobilizing – “get things done.”

So, think about it: once you have an idea (thinker), you get the right people (enabler), and you mobilize and turn it into action (executor). And, it is not about being the best at all of these yourself; it is about designing a team that leverages your style as a leader.

The best leaders understands their own style and are mindful of tapping into the diversity of their network and skills that are different than theirs as they are building teams to get big things done.


Note: To review the entire interview, log onto

Page last modified September 28, 2020