Read365: Krista Prince Reviews Leading Imperfectly

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.

Thank you, Krista! IMAGE CREDIT: UNC Chapel Hill



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.


Conference Retreat Guide: Walt Disney World

One of our favorite selling points about the coming conference is the opportunity to host a retreat day at the best possible offsite venue- the theme parks of Orlando, FL! But with any retreat, it helps to have an agenda. We want to help you structure that agenda. So here are some of our top picks for rides and attractions that will get you smiling…and thinking!


The Seas with Nemo (EPCOT)

This slow-moving ride through the seas in search of Nemo is a great piece to address the importance of teamwork to your organization. While each member is presumably accountable to an overall goal or objective, Finding Nemo reminds us all that teamwork means being accountable to one another as well. Dedication to a common goal, while also valuing the individuals that make that goal reality, is an essential ingredient to group success.

The diverse nature of the Wallaby Way gang demonstrates just how many different types of people you need for a team to be successful. Gil’s sage wisdom was appreciated, as you should for the elder statespeople of your organization. At the same time, the bravery and excitement of your newer members shouldn’t be discounted. Both perspectives are valuable, and can carry you out to open water and new adventures if you let them.

As you ride, consider this: how well do you know the makeup of your team? Who’s been there the longest? What experience are they bringing to the table, and are you taking the most advantage of it? What goals do you have for yourselves for the year ahead, and how can you use each individual’s skills and abilities to get there?


Captain EO (EPCOT)

Captain E.O. was one of the most vivid memories I have of my first trip to Walt Disney World back in 1991. Michael Jackson was a hot property at the time, and the park thrived from his presence and contribution. However, as years went on, his star faded and the demand for his material did as well. Captain E.O. was shuttered in 1997 to make room for Honey, We Shrunk the Audience, a different interactive experience.

However, something happened after the untimely death of Michael Jackson in 2009- the market changed, and the demand for an experience featuring the artist was renewed. Disney responded by reopening the ride in 2010, and it has been able to captivate a new generation with the same songs and characters as it did in the late eighties.

There’s a lesson for you and your board or organization, too. Think about initiatives that have fallen by the wayside, ones that people have been reluctant to bring back or reconsider. “That’s old,” you might hear, or “That didn’t work last time we tried it.” But the game may have changed since your last attempt. We’d encourage you to be open to the idea of a return for the initiative that may seem past its prime.

As you ride, consider this: what programs or initiatives have fallen out of favor at your institution? Is there space for them to be revived? What would be needed to make the “upgraded” versions work?


Carousel of Progress (Magic Kingdom)

This exhibit, one of Disney World’s oldest, first debuted at the 1964 World’s Fair. It was created to thrive in a space that revered creativity, innovation, and progress, and was given the opportunity to continue to do so when Disney World opened a few years later.

The ride takes place in a circular theater, moving through time and demonstrating how progressively newer technologies changed the lives of average families, while still reinforcing common values of love, togetherness, and stability. And even though the ride’s “future” probably fell somewhere in our mid 1980s, the lessons it teaches are still relevant today- while technology seems ever-present, it is really only a tool to help make common things we do easier.

As you ride, consider this: Are there areas that you’re seeing a need for progress? What sorts of solutions are you generating? What new problems could those progressive solutions pose, and are there ways to troubleshoot those concerns?



Space Mountain (Magic Kingdom)

Space Mountain has always been one of my favorite rides at Disney, but it became all the more interesting to me as a leader a few years back, after a significant renovation to their queue. With its considerable popularity, enjoyment of Space Mountain is nearly always preceded by a looooong line. I mean, long. And up until a few years ago, the only source of entertainment you had in said line, was listening to other people not enjoy it. The remodel inserted games, contests, and conversation points along the way, improving the rider experience.

There are always points like this on our campuses and in our organizations. What can you do with the resources at your disposal to make the in-between moments (like in line before, or when leaving an event after) the most enjoyable and effective? Too many people undervalue these moments, assuming that they’re bound to be unenjoyable. But Disney doesn’t believe that- neither should you.

As you ride, consider this: at what points do your events or initiatives have “dead air”? What activities are popular on your campus that can fill these spaces? What opportunities can be found in these moments to inform, entertain, or educate?


Any and all of the dining facilities

As someone with food allergies and sensitivities, I struggle to eat most places. While I completely recognize the complications that can come from trying to accommodate everyone (and generally prepare to feed myself otherwise), I was floored to realize the care and consideration that Disney takes when ensuring park patrons can eat around the park. If you identify that you have a food allergy, you aren’t just referred to another menu- you’re referred to an establishment manager, who shows you the ingredients for the products, helps you make your selection, and personally delivers your food to you.

This can make a HUGE difference to someone who expected to not be able to eat, or to have a limited array of choices. I’ve been able to eat pasta in “Italy,” and have my own bread before the meal- something that no other restaurant has ever been able to give me. I nearly cried!

As you dine, consider this: How can you be considerate of what seem like small touches to you, but make huge differences to those you work with? Ask questions. Assess needs (a few of these offbeat examples can help!). Work with collaborators to see how these concerns can be addressed.

We can’t wait to see all you’ll learn at the conference, and are especially excited to see what you do with your “retreat day” at Walt Disney World. What other lessons can you find at the parks? Let us know, we’d love to showcase them!

Lead365 Conversations: Christian Cho on the Startup Mindset

Today’s Lead365 Conversation features Christian Cho, higher education critic and blogger, and his take on the startup mindset and how to support student entrepreneurialism. we had a long conversation with Christian, but we want to share our favorite part- discussion of how startups are a product of the generation that’s rising to power, their values, and what it’s doing for the world of work. He also shares a book recommendation that can help you start to cultivate your own startup mindset.

Share your thoughts and further questions in the comments, and thank you to Christian for taking some time to chat with us!

Read365: Amma Marfo Reviews GENIUS OF OPPOSITES

As our more frequent readers already know, we at Lead365 believe that reading is a fundamental piece of the leadership development process. Today, our Director of Educational Development shares a book that’s caught her attention- GENIUS OF OPPOSITES by Jennifer Kahnweiler, about the interplay between the leadership of introverts and extroverts.

She will be speaking on this topic at the November conference- there’s still time to register to see her, and 15+ other speakers in Orlando! But in the meantime, watch her quick review below.

Sometimes Silence is Louder

When I first decided I was going to run for President of my fraternity, I knew that I had a lot of work to do. I studied my chapter’s policies and bylaws and felt confident that I was capable of fulfilling the responsibilities that were detailed. Frankly, there weren’t really that many. It mostly stated that the President was to serve as a mentor to the other leadership positions and as a liaison between my chapter and the National office. It was pretty straightforward.

But I didn’t just want to check off tasks on a to-do list. I really wanted to be a leader – more specifically, an effective leader. I pondered the various leadership styles I had come across in past experiences. There was command-and-demand, democratic, laissez-faire, and so many more. But I wasn’t sure that I fit into any of those cookie cutter definitions of a leader. What I did know, though, was that I wanted to accomplish two very specific things. I wanted to establish effective communication between myself and the other members of my board, and I wanted to do what I could to help them grow as leaders.

I was elected in April, and as per tradition in my chapter, I received the President’s binder from the exiting President. The binder contained documents from previous Presidents detailing what they wish they had known before their term, what they learned, and what they wish the could have accomplished. As I studied their words, I came across a piece of advice that resonated with me and the goals I wanted to accomplish. This President suggested being a “silent leader.” As I first came across the term I was perplexed. Silent leader? What does that even mean? But as she elaborated on the idea, it made perfect sense. She said, “Don’t comment on anything the officer is discussing with you unless they directly ask you a question. I found that when I made a suggestion, they took it as law. They were afraid that if they questioned my authority there would be ramifications.”

I thought back on my previous experiences and I found that I had been guilty of that, too. I’ve given people advice when they weren’t necessarily asking for it, and they followed my suggestion to the T. And I’ve also done exactly what someone had said to me out of fear that I would somehow be punished if I didn’t.

So give silence a try! If someone informs you of a plan that they haven’t fully formed yet, give them a chance to flesh it out. Don’t give them the answer. It’s okay to help out sometimes, as that is one of the purposes of being a leader. But another, is to help other leaders grow.

Akyanna’s Leadership Spotlight: Leading Like Leslie

If I were to compare my time as President of OUTspoken (my alma mater’s LGBTQA+ organization), I would compare it to Leslie Knope’s time as Deputy Director of the Pawnee Department of Parks and Recreation. If you’re familiar with the show Parks and Recreation, you will find that Leslie Knope is very passionate about her job. She loves everything to do with the Parks and Rec department and she clearly enjoys her job. I envisioned myself to be the Leslie Knope of OUTspoken for a few reasons.

The first reason is that that it was an organization with a mission that I was very enthusiastic about. I wanted to be a resource for education for the LGBTQA+ community. Even though Leslie held the position of Deputy Director, she was very much the spokesperson for the whole department. People knew that she would fight for the town of Pawnee and its parks. I liked to think that in my time as Secretary of OUTspoken during my Sophomore year, I was viewed as the same way.

Towards the end of the series, Leslie gets promoted to chair of a branch of the National Parks service, pretty much the pinnacle position you could get being in the Parks Department. When I moved from secretary to president at the end of my Sophomore year, I felt that I had reached a point where I could truly make a difference.

Like Leslie Knope, I was passionate about one thing and decided to immerse myself as much as I could in it. I worked with my executive board to reach out different people in other organizations and in other departments around campus to get the OUTspoken’s name out there. Leslie Knope did everything in her power to make sure the citizens of Pawnee knew that the Parks and Rec department cared and wanted to make the town parks better for the children of Pawnee.

Being President of OUTspoken taught me so many things. It taught me how to communicate with other people; both people who were on the same level as me and people who were in positions higher than me. It taught me how to work with different people in different positions; some people who did their work well without any direction (ahem, Jerry) and some who needed a little more guidance with their job and what they needed to do (read: Tom Haverford). But regardless, being a part of OUTspoken was such a great part of my undergraduate career. Being my first leadership role, it gave me my first steps with getting more involved on campus. It will always be the example I give to other students who are having trouble fitting in on campus.

One quote from Leslie that I always enjoyed and I think people should keep in mind is: “I am big enough to admit that I am often inspired by myself.” I think we should all be inspired by the work that we do and where we have started to where we are today.

Mike’s Leadership Spotlight: Fighting Apathy as an Ambassador

Part of being a student leader is just that- a student leader. You’re a temporary fixture in an institution that survived before you got there and will last after you leave your schooling and head to the real world. The good news is, as a student leader, your presence can be immortalized on campus for years to come after you depart for the next chapter. Jack Welch once said, “Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you before a leader, success is about growing others.”

This is something I have taken to heart. The role that has the biggest impact on me being a student leader on campus has been being a student ambassador (tour guide). For me, this is the pinnacle of being a student leader; this is because I get to put Jack Welch’s words into something tangible. Showing prospective students around, hearing their stories and what drives them, whether it be student government, social justice or cultural understanding. I know if my school is a good fit for them and, if so, give them the opportunity to be a student leader by introducing them to current students and professors in those organizations, share their passions and get involved.


All the time we hear about apathy in new students when they come to university. As an ambassador for my institution, I get to be on the forefront of fighting that generalization and making a difference in the future of my school. This is why I think being a student ambassador is the most important leadership position I’ve held at my school. Not only will I be able to take pride in all the things that I have personally done to help make my school a better place, I will also get to take pride in the student leaders who I helped make that decision to come to our school and make a difference as a student leader. This is how I see myself leaving a permanent mark at my school and why being a student ambassador is by far the most rewarding opportunity that I have been a part of.