As our more frequent readers already know, we at Lead365 believe that reading is a fundamental piece of the leadership development process. Today, UNC-Chapel Hill’s Krista Prince reviews a leadership book that’s new to the scene- popular college speaker James Robilotta’s Leading Imperfectly.
In his new book Leading Imperfectly, James Robilotta models the way; he transparently, accessibly, and humorously shares his story in an effort to encourage readers to lead authentically. He assures readers that “your story is good enough,” and can be a starting place for leadership: “connecting with others, empowering them to be their best authentic selves, and working together toward a common goal” (p. 152 & p. 106). James’ emphasis on learning and relating through leadership, and his analysis of power in leadership, proved particularly poignant for me in considering how to lead authentically if imperfectly.
Relating and Communicating
James explores the importance of relationships for leadership, and makes critical points about the interpersonal nature of leadership. The ideas about communication that resonated with me most include: sharing why and not just that I love someone, showing a curiosity about others, being appreciative of the time others (e.g. students) give, considering how I make others feel, asking if something bigger might be influencing behavior, spending time investing despite being “busy,” and listening actively. It’s my hope that engaging some of these recommendations more intentionally when working with students might foster a stronger sense of vulnerability that strengthens our communication and thereby our relationships.
We’ve all worked with, or even been, overcommitted students with far too much on our metaphorical plates. As an advisor, I find that helping students realize the implications of their over-commitment can be a delicate balance: helping students realize the ways that their over-commitment has been detrimental to the caliber of their work or well-being, while simultaneously focusing on their strengths and achievements. Robilotta’s personal story of a past supervisor’s “pie” activity at the conclusion of which she asked: “’is it fair that each of these commitments only gets a small percentage of your energy and time?’” stood out as a powerful way to frame these challenging, but necessary conversations (p.86). This particular example serves as just one of many that professional advisors and supervisors may find applicable in their own work of helping students learn through leading.
Learning and Leading
Robilotta’s emphasis on the “learning, teaching, and growing that happens along the way” is congruent with my own approach to leadership development (p. 36). His reminder that perfection is incongruent with this approach gave me pause to consider how I might be more authentic in my work with students and colleagues. I am left considering how competence and imperfection are not as incompatible as they may seem, and how my own vulnerability might support others in developing through leadership experiences.
Robilotta asserts that “having a title means you’ve earned a responsibility to share your knowledge with others” (p.117). This line in particular struck me because I find that often in Student Affairs, we spend so much time on tasks and administration that we often forget the importance of education. I too agree that we have a responsibility to share our knowledge, in its many forms, with others: experiential knowledge (mistakes & successes), resources, literature, best practices, and so forth. As leaders, it’s important that we commit to continual knowledge-seeking and sharing. It’s also critical that we interrogate our own learning and leading in an effort to relate more equitably with people.
Power and Leadership
As a student affairs professional, I spend a lot of time reflecting on notions of “fit” in hiring practices and the construct of “professionalism” as incongruous with our commitment to inclusion. James is perhaps the first author who I have seen discuss the construct of professionalism as problematic, even patriarchal: “being professional means curbing your emotions to remain as even-keeled as possible” (p.110). He acknowledges how he can use the privilege he has to push back against the “tradition of professionalism” and norms that hold people back. While this section could be developed into a book itself, it provides a starting place for those leading recruitment and hiring or for those with the power to set expectations around “professionalism” (dress codes for example) to ponder and perhaps even disrupt the dominant discourses that inhibit authenticity.
Another area where Robilotta (2015) explores power was through communication. He reminds us that healthy conversations require an equal playing ground, and I found his comments around reprimanding emails to be particularly important. He elaborates that such messages take the power away from the recipient and are therefore unhealthy modes for communicating. Even when we aim to have an equal playing ground, titles and positions can sometimes mean that this is not the reality, and leaders must intentionally consider the very real implications of their positions for interpersonal interactions.
I hope you will take the time to read James’ book and consider what leading imperfectly means for you. His personal examples will surely provide you new insights from which to interrogate your own authentic leadership, and I hope it will provide you with the courage needed to be vulnerable in your relationships and leadership too.