Unlock Your Potential – Do This

Leadership – CC0 Public Domain
Leadership – CC0 Public Domain

What are you most proud of?

Grab that thought that just appeared in your mind. That’s right, the very first one that appeared when you read the question. For me, the answer has little to do with achievement, and much more to do with a time where I was able to contribute beyond what I originally thought I was capable of. In my mid-20s, I became the Senior Project Manager for a large retailer. What was supposed to be a temporary journey to lead several of their new construction projects, turned into a multi-year, amazing adventure.

The most profound times of our lives are the situations and challenges we couldn’t have planned for; yet choice-by-choice and effort-by-effort we ended up making it through better off than when we started.

The key to surprising yourself with what you’re capable of is to stay open to discovering more on your journey. When faced with challenge, don’t default to “I can’t.” Instead, center on what you can work towards. The reward is the richness of experience and the awareness that your capability often extends far past what you imagined being possible.

I’ve seen many examples of leaders (in the news this year) stepping up during the pandemic to work towards achieving more:

The manager who made the ask of her greater department to donate leave for an employee who needed extended time off to recover from COVID.

The coach who expanded his team’s roster to take on more players so more kids could have the opportunity to play and exercise during online school.

The senior manager who went without pay for three months to retain junior team members.

The boss who wouldn’t accept a parent’s resignation so she could provide childcare for her kids; instead, he worked to create a flexible schedule for her to get through until schools reopened.

Each of these leaders approached challenges with an eye for how they could be of service to others, finding a way to make things happen, even when it meant sacrifice or extra effort. When you face challenge, focus on the work towards mentality: the first step you can take to overcome it. Then, keep stepping, knowing that with the most difficult matters we face, the value is in the experience not the outcome. And, through it all, look for ways you can contribute to supporting others. That’s leadership.


Say No – To Being Time Poor

Need More Time
Need More Time

Like many, I’m time poor. (I actually think I may be bankrupt.) But, I’m learning a few powerful lessons during this stress test (known as the Global Pandemic) that I’d like to share.

Before You Commit to Anything, Get Clear on Your Priorities. You might think it’s crazy to take on all of these things that we do and I do agree, I’d also like to offer that all of these activities must be aligned with our top priorities. For example:

  • Family
  • Professional Development
  • Support & Service To Employer (and community)

For the record, I’ve said “no” to things recently, to make room for my “yes” replies When asked if I want to get involved in anything new, I say, “let me think about it” before I agree to move forward. Clear priorities give me guidelines on whether I should say “yes” to anything new.

You Can’t Do Everything. We all have limitations. What I’ve learned is that I can’t be everywhere at once, I don’t always make the best decisions, and there are others willing to step up and help when asked. To manage, we have to delegate and empower. Sometimes it’s hard for people to give up control as they assume more responsibility. You can delegate authority, but not responsibility. When you delegate authority, you give people autonomy – something we all crave. Any task that has been delegated can be a great learning opportunity for someone else.

Sometimes Good Enough Is….Good Enough. We’re all busy and in the greater scheme of our lives, things matter but maybe not as much as we think. When you’re busy, how you allocate your minutes is critical. During the week, there are things I spend time on and things I don’t. There are things that I perfect, and there are things I choose not to. In your world, you know when you’re trying to make perfect things that don’t matter. The key is being able to recognize when good enough is really good enough.

For all of us, we strive to feel full lives. I’ve given up on the idea that life can feel balanced – is anything ever really balanced?


Effective Communication Strategies For Students

Question Mark – CC0 Public Domain
Question Mark – CC0 Public Domain

Faculty often tell me…when students reach out they often express their concerns about their courses, they confess their shortcomings as students and writers, and they ask for some advice. The conversation might look like this:

Student: “What’s the one thing I can do to increase my chances of doing well?”

Faculty: “Simple, keep the lines of communication open.”

The most successful students are the ones who aren’t afraid to reach out to the faculty members with questions, concerns, and comments. As a student, if you’re not used to communicating with your instructors, here are some helpful tips to help you get the most out of each interaction:

Reach Out Early – Most universities and colleges require their instructors to respond to student inquiries within 24 – 48 hours. So, if you have a paper due by 11:59 PM on Sunday, you don’t want to wait until 11:00 PM to email your instructor. Look over the assignments in the beginning of the week and send questions as soon as they arise!

Avoid Vague Comments and Questions – If you ask vague questions, you’ll get vague answers. If you ask clear and specific questions, then you’ll get clear and specific responses.

Be Prepared – Every now and then, faculty members get a student who will send an email like this: “I’m confused by the assignment. Explain it to me, please.” Most faculty provide assignments with detailed instructions and rubrics. So, faculty members are not willing to simply rewrite the instructions. However, they ARE willing to respond to a specific question with a specific direction or a specific piece of language from the rubric.

Use the Appropriate Communication Channels – Be sure you’re using your instructor’s preferred method of communication. If he/she encourages you to call, then call – just be respectful, and don’t call in the middle of the night! If he/she asks you to communicate via school email, do so. If you don’t use the proper communication channels, you may stall the conversation.

Be Patient – Online courses are available 24/7. Online instructors are not. If the school promises a 24-hour response time, then be sure you give your instructor a full 24 hours before firing another email.

Be Nice – Professors are people. They don’t like to be yelled at. They don’t like to be called names. They are more willing to work with people who are kind to them. So, be professional and be kind.

Bottom line: Don’t be afraid to reach out to your instructors. Good communication can make the difference between an okay learning experience and a great one.


Think The Best

Think The Best – CC0 Public Domain
Think The Best – CC0 Public Domain

Think the best of other people. Other people greatly influence us, whether we like to admit it or not.

You have most likely noticed that people may have left your circle recently because of quarantine and this can cause concern. To help, you could:

  • Be willing to reach out to these other people and share more often
  • Other people may not be doing well. Be sensitive to the feelings of other people and how they are coping. Simply ask others: How are you?

You may also be worried about people you love who are not with you or those who are worse off than you are. This can also cause heightened levels of anxiety. To help, you could:

  • Identify simple and realistic ways to help other people
  • Avoid overextending your giving to others, again simply asking someone how they are is helpful


Workplace Diversity

Diverse Coffee – CC0 Public Domain
Diverse Coffee – CC0 Public Domain

Leaders must understand a variety of complicated and sophisticated components within their environments. One critical component is that of cultural sensitivity. Now, more than ever leaders must be sensitive and aware of not just the workplace culture but also how people of varying backgrounds interact with each other. Cultural sensitivity can help improve office morale as well as attract top talent who will contribute to a healthy workplace that is productive. Here are a few tips to improve workplace productivity.

Seek differences in perspective

Poor assumptions can lead to many conflicts in the workplace. A few factors that can shape perspectives are gender, race, sexual orientation, ethnic background and political opinions/beliefs. Whenever in doubt about a difference of opinion in the workplace ask the following questions (in your own words, of course) before responding:

  • How did you arrive at this conclusion?
  • Can you help educate me on this by directing me to the most recent literature?
  • Is there something that you think I need to know about this?

Don’t shy away from awkward conversations

At work it is tempting to ignore the cultural differences and focus on the bottom line or other established goals. However it is important to take time to have an honest conversation on the differences. Chances are this will result in new and fascinating opportunities. For example, while discussing your differences in culture you may discover there is a need that you can support in a different and unique way.

Celebrate everyone

As a leader it is your job to celebrate everyone especially those from different cultures while making sure they are part of the unified vision and mission of your organization. On a regular basis remind all of your employees about your core ethics values and morals. Celebrating the many different cultures ensures that no one is felt alienated or ignored.

The productive team of employees are those who will feel supported, appreciated and validated. Your role as a leader is to make sure that your organization knows this message: everyone’s voice is important and must be heard.

Employees who understand each other can resolve the differences quickly and focus on being productive members of the team. Good leaders should always keep the lines of communication open and understand all members of the organization.


Get Organized

Get Organized – CC0 Public Domain
Get Organized – CC0 Public Domain

Have you ever started a work week only to realize that you are already dreading what lies ahead? It’s the first day of the work week and your calendar is already packed, there are endless emails, piles of papers and a long to-do list are waiting for you.

This is a common feeling for many people. In fact, it’s common for work to feel overwhelming and unorganized. It is difficult to do our best work when we are overloaded with too many things to do and too many distractions. We just can’t be closer to the work we’d like to do, when we feel that we have little control over our days.

When it comes to your workspace don’t let clutter interfere with your daily schedule or your digital life. Create an office space and a digital world that you can enjoy.

  • Start with the physical workspace, clean up any books, paperwork and miscellaneous items like supplies and electronics. Keep only the things that are essential for your job and discard everything else.
  • Clean up your inbox, the apps on your smartphone and the files on your computer. Try to free yourself from constant notifications and the frustration that may come from never being able to find what you need.
  • Change your calendar to make more room for the work that truly matters. Learn how to say no, so that you have freedom to say yes to what you’re going to enjoy and what’s most important.
  • Eliminate, automate and delegate the less significant decisions that can take up a lot of your energy so you can focus on critical decisions.
  • Bigger is not always better. Build a small number of meaningful relationships within your network. A smaller set of high-quality connections can offer the support you need to do your best work.
  • Prioritize your most important meetings and avoid those that waste your time. Be prepared to actively listen and be supportive of others ideas. In general try to keep the meetings small in size and short length.

No matter what your job is, share information, speak up when you have something to add and connect with your colleagues. Avoid teams that are loaded with personal drama and conflict.

Once you’ve made these adjustments, you will be much more comfortable and be able to do the work that you love. A more organized schedule allows you to dedicate attention to projects that will make a difference. You’ll embrace challenges and become more enthusiastic about learning new skills. The changes that come from healthy organizing will work magic for you!


Top 5 List – Tips To Avoid Sending An Angry Email

Top Five List – CC0 Public Domain
Top Five List – CC0 Public Domain

Have you ever sent an angry email only to later wish you had not? The “send” button gives fewer opportunities to allow cooler heads to prevail. As opposed to writing a letter, placing it in an envelope and walking to the mailbox. 

Here are five tips to help you avoid sending out an email that can ruin even the strongest relationships.

  • Set your goal. Are you writing this email to persuade someone to change their mind, request better service, or just to vent? Focus on the goal of your message and what you hope the outcome will be.
  • Use a word processor to write your email, to help correct spelling and grammar errors. This will add that extra step that could keep you from sending it too soon.
  • Don’t write when you’re emotional. Pet the dog or cat, if you are a pet owner. Go for a bike ride, make a healthy snack, do anything to clear your mind. This will allow you to focus and organize your thoughts. Perhaps, wait a full 24 hours.
  • Get an outsider’s perspective. Have someone else read it and provide feedback. Send it to a trusted friend or colleague for their honest opinion. 
  • Choose a face-to-face method of communication. Humor and sarcasm can often get misinterpreted when delivered in the form of an email. Pick up the phone or arranging a personal meeting can be the most efficient, mature and effective way to resolve issues.


Top 5 List: Making Better Decisions

Top Five List – CC0 Public Domain
Top Five List – CC0 Public Domain

In higher education, good decision making is something faculty and staff strive for. Gathering the best and most up-to-date information, listening to others and seeking feedback all play a part in the decision making process. There are many things that can help individuals make smarter decisions that are related to health and wellness. Simply making sure that we are ready to make a decision.

Here are a few things that can help all of us make the best decisions possible. In other words, answering the question…how do I make better decisions?

Sleep – individuals should sleep 7-8 hours each night. Neurologists have been advising the public of this for years. In fact, neurologists indicate that getting less than this amount of sleep each night will have a negative impact on decision making in a couple of different ways. First, the tired brain will make shortsighted decisions most often. Secondly, individuals that are sleep-deprived are more likely to engage their subconscious which reduces the number of A-ha moments in each day.

Locate evidence – locating evidence that disconfirms an existing belief is one of the biggest obstacles of sound decision making, according to experts. Once individuals come to a tentative conclusion, it is important to seek out information that suggests the opposite side is the better decision, in an effort to avoid confirmation bias. Overcoming confirmation bias will lead to better decision making.

Morning – experts suggest that individuals should make their more important decisions during the morning hours and leave the afternoon hours for more menial tasks and meetings. As we move through the day we become mentally and physically fatigued. When individuals are fatigued impulsive and poor decisions are more likely to take place. For example, skipping a workout, going off-diet or sending an emotional email that should have waited until…the next morning.

Long-term – time is better spent on important long-term decision-making. Most decisions are either long-term decisions or short term decisions. In an effort to maximize productivity and sustain impact decisions focusing on long-term choices is the way to go.

Remove the unimportant – many CEOs, Government officials and creative people wear the same outfit or uniform every day in an effort to save the mental energy for more important decisions. Making better decisions works when smaller distractions have been removed. If the decision doesn’t have an immediate impact on your work relationships or perseverance consider removing it from consideration.

A colleague sent this to me recently…”Steve Jobs wore the same black turtleneck, blue jeans and new balance sneakers everyday. It quickly became his trademark look. When you think about the co-founder of the most valuable company in the world wearing the same outfit everyday it’s pretty clear that he understood he had a finite capacity to make excellent decisions.”


Avoid Burnout

Burnout – CC0 Public Domain
Burnout – CC0 Public Domain

Many folks that I interact with outside of Higher Education are interested in hearing about my work in online education, specifically my work as an online instructor. I often hear that they wish they had this dream job and could work from home on their own schedule. What they don’t realize is that working as an online instructor is much more time-consuming than expected and can be related directly to professional burn-out.

There are a lot of reasons why online instructors may experience burn-out. For example, taking on a large number of courses, the lack of face-to-face conversations and the volume of feedback and grading that is required. And for those individuals that work as online instructors in addition to their “other job” it is difficult to provide high quality responses to discussions and emails at the end of a normal work day.

Here are a few items that may help avoid feeling burned-out:

Management – develop strong classroom management skills. For example, often students have the same questions as in previous terms. Proactively address these questions at the start of the course or lesson. Are you providing similar feedback over and over….find a way to automate this. Establish set office hours at varying times throughout the week.

Time – have a set time of day that you log into your classes. When you finish teaching for the day, do not go back to it. And take breaks to avoid sitting for an extended period of time. Don’t do all of the grading in one session.

Talk – ask students for phone meetings as needed, rather than relying on email. Call a fellow online instructor to discuss strategies. Talk to a friend or neighbor who works in an unrelated field.

Read – read academic journals and blogs to gain new teaching techniques and strategies that you could adopt in your classes. [and of course, read for pleasure].

Health – eat nutritiously, exercise and sleep well to be fit for the job. Have some soft music playing in the background while teaching. Don’t eat in your office/workspace. Get out and go for a quick walk.

Connect – create a social media outlet where students can follow you. Set up an Instagram or Twitter account where you can invite students to view your content and help you feel more connected.

Overall, take your time, find balance and have fun!


Top 5 List: Ideas For Training Faculty

Idea – CC0 Public Domain
Idea – CC0 Public Domain

Training faculty often falls within the scope of work of those that practice instructional design and/or educational technology. This training can be challenging when it comes to the use of new digital technologies and tools. While some of my colleagues over the years have expressed how challenging this can be, I find that to be just the opposite my experience. The training should focus on several strategies and this will lead to an effective and efficient outcome for all of those that are involved. Here are couple things to consider:

Relationship building – this strategy will offer the opportunity to apply newly acquired knowledge directly into daily practice. Building a professional relationship allows the person doing the training to better understand the baseline knowledge and comfort level of the individual receiving the training. This allows open communication that can lead to possible opportunities for collaboration in the future.

Staying informed – research is a very important part of training. To research the latest trends in higher education, instructional design and learning in general can serve as a starting point for training development. Many times faculty are not able to articulate what they need because they don’t know what the options are.

Walk the walk – the person conducting the training should have an inside scoop on what is involved in teaching courses prior to conducting any training. A key ingredient will be that the trainers have first hand knowledge of the entire process of building a course: designing, developing, implementing, assessing and revising.

Build bridges – instructional designers have the opportunity to view a variety of courses across different disciplines. This offers a unique perspective and can often serve as a bridge between faculty members. Many times faculty would like to collaborate across disciplines but they’re just not aware of what others are doing. Sharing information across disciplines will benefit all involved in the process.

Leadership – successful instructional designers that do training proactively support faculty and allow faculty to share experiences with each other. One of the ways to do this is to establish an online faculty learning community within the institution. In this space ideas can be shared in an effective manner. Once established,  some of the things it can be shared include job aids, quick tips, best practices and other digital tools to increase efficiency and improve student outcomes.

– RG