Mentoring Mondays

Permanent link for Mentoring Mondays - October 19, 2020 on October 19, 2020

In our last review, we learned that the desire to be perfect can actually be a trap. This week we will learn about another trap. “The desire to be wonderful in all circumstances – to be thoughtful and nice and make everyone around you feel good – is known among coaches as the disease to please.” This desire to be wonderful can also be a trap.

Habit 8: The Disease to Please

Chronic pleasers routinely say ‘yes’ to practically every task or job, knowing that it will eat up their time and bring little or no benefit. You may be aware of all the drawbacks for chronic pleasers, but you find yourself hooked on pleasing because the effort you put into being helpful and putting others first makes you feel like a good person. Psychologists and coaches will tell you that the disease to please is more typically found in women. Why?

“The answer is probably a combination of factors. As already noted, research shows that girls are more likely to be rewarded for being obedient, agreeable, helpful to others, and ‘nice,’ both at home and at school. And organizations often shepherd entry and mid-level women into ’helping positions,’ where they’re judged on their ability to meet the needs of others and may be penalized for self-assertion. . . . While the need to please may serve you in the earlier stages of your career, it will impede you as you move higher, eroding your capacity to demonstrate leadership and serving as the ultimate tool for giving your power away.”

The case study we look at today is about Nancy, a senior administrator at a highly rated regional medical center. “She started her career as a receptionist with only two years of community college. No one in her family had gone beyond high school, and she had never envisioned herself in management. But she was smart, efficient, very hardworking, and remarkably warm and cheerful. Soon after she started, medical teams began relying on her to coordinate with patients.” 

Nancy did a remarkable job and patients loved the way she interacted with them. The center received notes from patients about how she had helped them. Community ratings for the center began to rise and a large donation from a local philanthropist was received because his mother had been so well treated by Nancy. Ultimately, she rose through the ranks and was asked to start an outreach initiative. Eventually, the medical center was acquired by a larger system and many of Nancy’s innovations were adopted. She flourished for a time and then began to hit some bumps. Simply put, she was being spread too thin. Everyone wanted to deal with Nancy because she had the “magic touch.” “Staff found it easier to bring her in than to try to deal with difficult situations themselves. They saw her as the linchpin for when things got rough.”

“As Nancy struggled to meet so many responsibilities, her staff began to question her approach. Some felt marginalized and viewed her as always swooping in to do their jobs. . . . Despite her efforts, a number of high-profile patients who were accustomed to her being there for them sensed she was drawing away and grew resentful. Her attempt to please everyone was failing.”

With the assistance of a coach, Nancy began to realize what is required when in a leadership position. You cannot be everyone’s best friend and be there at their beck and call. “As a senior leader in the system, she needed to give others the chance to flourish and grow, to feel their way and learn from their own mistakes. . . . Coaches who work with women report that the disease to please is becoming more problematic because expectations are ratcheting up. This is an unspoken elephant in the room at many of the women’s conferences we attend, where programs on ‘achieving balance’ have become a standard part of the repertoire.”

Nancy had to learn to say no, as well as learn to delegate. “She also saw that her habit of taking on too much was rooted in her need to feel indispensable. Nancy had to confront the fact her over-involvement had the effect of making everything about her.” 

With the multiplicity of responsibilities women face – as family caregivers in addition to leadership responsibility – feeling guilty that we are not doing enough is a natural by-product. “Finding a way to push back against the ‘disease to please’ is more essential than ever.”

To secure your copy of “How Women Rise” by Sally Helgensen and Marshall Goldsmith, visit

Posted on Permanent link for Mentoring Mondays - October 19, 2020 on October 19, 2020.

Permanent link for Mentoring Mondays - October 12, 2020 on October 12, 2020

“In order to rise, you have to lay your burden down.” Are you always fearful that something is going to go wrong? Then you may be caught in the “perfection trap.” In “How Women Rise” by Sally Helgensen and Marshall Goldsmith, the authors call our attention to this habit which could be disastrous to your career.

Habit 7: The Perfection Trap

“Striving to be perfect may have helped get you where you are, but it will get in your way as you aspire to higher levels. There are many reasons this is so:

  • Striving to be perfect creates stress – for you and for those around you;
  • Striving to be perfect keeps you riveted on details, distracting you from the big picture;
  • Striving to be perfect creates a negative mind-set in which you’re bothered by every little thing that goes wrong;
  • Striving to be perfect sets you up for disappointment for the simple reason that it’s unrealistic.

The authors believe that women are especially vulnerable to the perfection trap. “While women in general tend to be seen as better leaders than men, they are often undermined by their tendency to give themselves a hard time, a habit rooted in the desire to be perfect. The result is that even high-achieving women tend to take failures deeply to heart, get tangled up in self-blame, and stew over mistakes instead of moving on.” 

You may ask, why women? The research suggests two reasons: gender expectations from early childhood and how those expectations are reinforced in the workplace. Girls are usually viewed as obedient daughters and excellent students. Boys, on the other hand, are given more latitude – the naughty little boy – good at sports – bending the rules to score points, etc. “Such expectations can prompt girls to seek approval by striving to get everything right. . . .  As athletes, boys are expected to be aggressive, show confidence, stand out from the pack, and be bold. . . .  What’s the greatest praise an athlete can receive? That he dominated. . . .”

Take the case of Vera, a high performer with a global insurance company. “She is an intellectual powerhouse, extraordinarily hard working, and superbly organized; speaks five languages and is an outstanding public speaker.” Vera was being considered for the CEO position of her company but this is what her colleagues had to say about her: “Vera is an amazing performer and unsparing in her dedication. But she tends to ask too much of people. She’s so worried about failure that she ends up micromanaging her team . . . she’s always nervous that something will go wrong. Vera was by-passed for the CEO position.”

Vera’s quest for perfection derailed her chance to rise. Here are some reasons:

  • Perfectionism made her reluctant to take risks. If you’re trying to be perfect, every task or encounter feels high stakes.
  • The desire for perfection kept her focused on control of every situation.
  • Instead of delegating to highly talented and capable employees, she often ended up doing the task herself – leaving no time to look at the big picture.

“Some degree of risk-taking is essential if the organization is to evolve and grow. . . .  For that, you need a healthy ability to trust, willingness to take considered risks, and a big vision of what the organization could become. It comes down to confidence.”

“If you have perfectionist tendencies, you can best serve your long-term interests by learning to delegate, prioritize, and get comfortable taking measured risks. . . .  The good news is that you will be the primary beneficiary if you lay your burden down.”

To secure your copy of “How Women Rise” visit

Posted on Permanent link for Mentoring Mondays - October 12, 2020 on October 12, 2020.

Permanent link for Mentoring Mondays - October 5, 2020 on October 5, 2020

Feeling frustrated when you see colleagues moving ahead in the organization and you seem to be at a standstill? If you are feeling stuck, you may have devoted too much time and energy to doing your job well rather than doing something about your career goals. Today, as we review the next chapter in “How Women Rise” by Sally Helgensen and Marshall Goldsmith, we will look at ways to break Habit #6.

Habit 6: Putting Your Job Before Your Career

If the above scenario has a familiar ring to you, don’t feel like you have done something wrong -you are not alone. This happens often to women. Why? “The most common reason women put their jobs before their career is rooted in one of their greatest virtues: loyalty. Research shows that loyalty is a primary reason women tend to stay in their jobs longer than men. It’s a virtue that can easily become a trap. The desire to be loyal can lead you to neglect your future, sacrifice your ambitions, and sell your talent and potential short. Others may benefit, but you do not.”

Let us take a look at Serena’s story of personal loyalty. She had spent eleven years as a senior production assistant for a news show based in LA. “The producer Serena worked for had won a notable number of Emmys, and she always felt proud to work for him. . . .  Serena liked the day-to-day rhythm of her job, valued her leadership role on the team, and felt she benefitted from her boss’s prestige. But remaining a senior PA for so long had provided its share of painful moments. She says, a male assistant who joined when she did took off like a rocket, becoming a producer after just five years. He was no better at his job, but he was constantly on the lookout for opportunities. I waited for opportunities, figuring my boss and senior management would know when I was ready to move up.”

The bottom line is that she always wanted to be a producer, but figured when the right time came someone would recognize her hard work and it would happen. This approach leaves the decisions about your career in someone else’s hands.

Serena finally found her voice after attending a leadership retreat, participated in workshops and got some individual coaching. She finally had “the talk” with her boss. She said, “Just the idea of telling my boss I wanted his support in becoming a producer basically filled me with dread. I was afraid he’d see me as disloyal for leaving him in the lurch. . . .  Serena also realized that, although her boss had always been lavish in praising her, he mostly did so to staff and other producers. He’s never raved about her work to the senior network people in New York. Yet they were the ones who needed to know what she was capable of if she had any expectation of moving on. ‘Why wouldn’t he have talked to them about me?’ she wondered. Partly because she had never asked him to.”

During this experience, Serena discovered another vulnerability. “She said, ‘I had this incredible fear of appearing, or of being, self-serving’. . .  But now I think, what’s so terrible about looking out for your own interests?  Knowing what inspires you and working intentionally to create it requires that you acknowledge and then act upon your self-interest.” 

Don’t let the loyalty trap keep you stuck. Exercise your right to some “healthy self-interest.” 

To secure your copy of “How Women Rise” visit

Posted on Permanent link for Mentoring Mondays - October 5, 2020 on October 5, 2020.

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

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

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

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

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.

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

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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