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!

Prepare to Lead-inate: Leadership Lessons from Odd Squad

In the past few weeks, I’ve found a new TV show to get consumed by, but it’s not anything you might be able to guess. I’ve finished The West Wing, blew through Mad Men, and haven’t started The Walking Dead or finished Breaking Bad.

One of my new favorite shows is…Odd Squad. A Canadian show made for kids and shown on PBS Kids, Odd Squad is about a kids’ detective agency that solves odd crimes. Most of the crimes they investigate can be solved by a basic understanding of a mathematical concept, hence its placement on PBS Kids. And while the website indicates it was developed for children ages 5-8 (I’m much older than that), I’m finding that there are lessons to be learned from this program. You know, besides the math lessons.

No Leader is an Island. Each Odd Squad agent is paired up with a partner, who goes with them on all calls or talks them through cases. They develop strong relationships built on trust and respect for one another’s intelligence, and they build friendships in the process.

While it may seem as though the right way to lead is as a talking head at the front of a room, it can be beneficial to share the load of leadership with a partner or group. You can prevent one another from being overworked, troubleshoot problems that an individual may not be able to see a solution for, or fill in any skills gaps that you may have. A leadership structure that can encourage the sharing of responsibility- either formally through the use of co-chairs, or informally with the formation of mentor/big-little relationships- will yield stronger, more cooperative leaders.

Every Problem Has a Solution. On Odd Squad, this is literal- some of their odd cases are solved with a device aptly named to solve a problem. For example, a bike that wouldn’t fit where it needed to go, was made smaller with a Shrinkinator. While our problems in real life aren’t always that easily solved, the thinking is smart- seek to attack each challenge that you and your team encounter, as though it can’t be solved. Many of us will give up early, or work in difficult conditions, because we give up on finding a solution, or delay doing what needs to be done to prevent conflict or discomfort.

Miss O (the juicebox-loving head of Odd Squad headquarters) and I want to challenge you to do one better; treat each issue that arises as though it has a solution. You can come to this solution in a number of ways- consulting with those affected by possible solutions, friends and mentors, or even your advisors or bosses if you’re truly stumped. Don’t let a problem lie just because it’s hard- make the triumph all the more sweet by continuing to work at it until the case is solved!

Find Your Ideal Workspace. For the Odd Squad agents, it’s the Mathroom- a Fortress of Solitude-like virtual space where they can render their clues and tie them together to map out their solutions. In this space, they have all the tools they need to get their work done, no distractions, and time to solve the problem at hand.

Where would you say your “Mathroom” is? Do you have one? It’s easy to try and make this space in your student organization’s office, public spaces on campus, or even your bedroom…but these may not be the best places for you to really dive into your work. Rooms can be made loud by roommates or neighbors, offices can be distracting when other tasks or coworkers compete for your attention, and your bed, while comfy, isn’t the best place to work- it’ll make it harder to sleep later on. Take some time to experiment, find your sweet spot where you could be more thoughtful, productive, and able to best serve your organization.

While the lessons shared each week on Odd Squad aren’t designed to teach college students or professionals, this doesn’t mean that there aren’t good lessons in there for us too. I encourage you to give it a watch, have a laugh, and see what it can teach you about being the kind of leader kids can look up to.


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.

Meet Our Sponsors: e2c Services

As we continue the journey toward our fall conference in Orlando, we want to give you the opportunity to meet some of the people that help us make it happen. Today, Gary brings us the story of e2c Services.

It’s every college senior’s major question when entering their final year of school: “What am I going to do after I walk across the stage in the fall?” Many college graduates graduate and do not have a job; this is true for a great many who are out in the world today. Some might question the lack of preparation in higher education for that. But career service organizations like E2Cservices are changing that fear, and turning it into a possibility.

Career_fairThe model that they adopt and have college students follow is what shows their success. Dave Pearce and Dawn Brunn’s story is unique. They were co-workers at the same company and one day had a conversation about how much they learned; they wanted to bring that knowledge back to college students for others ultimate success.  Dave Pearce is founder of E2Cservices, while Brunn holds a masters degree in Adult Education and is a Certified Professional Coach.  Their networking model developed as they reached out to different students, organizations, colleges and other groups- from there the word spreads about E2C.

E2C believes that universities can get their faculty active within their community, particularly in business. Students should get opportunities to get out of the classroom and do internships. E2C says, statistics shows students who have had a internship during a period of their educational career have a greater chance at obtaining a job at that organization, than their peers who do not take advantage of this opportunity. E2C has had great success- each student they take on as a client receives the same coaching and the same number of interviews with the organizations they want. A quick example: one of the trainings that E2C conducts is called Strengths Training; through this one of E2C’s clients discovered he wanted to go to school for his Civil Engineering degree. Now he is working in his dream field, and has an internship at a Engineering Firm.

E2C feels that Lead365 is a great conference opportunity and partner, because both organizations have the same audience and core values. E2Cservices welcomes everyone to attend their session (to be held at the start of Day 2); they will present networking ideas, resume building, LinkedIn profiles, and do’s and don’ts on Social Media. Join them at Lead365.

Truly Outrageous! Leadership Lessons from Jem and the Holograms

This October, a live-action version of the 80’s cartoon Jem and the Holograms will be hitting the big screen, and to prepare myself for the film I’ve been rewatching the cartoon (available to stream on Netflix now). For those unfamiliar, I’ll attempt to give a brief synopsis:

Jerrica Benton and her sister Kimber are the daughters of a long-suffering inventor, working on a top-secret computer project. When he passes away, the sisters discover what he was working on: a high-resolution hologram projecting computer called Synergy. Seeking to protect their family’s record label, Starlight Music, while also making enough money to support the orphans living at their Starlight House, the sisters and two other lifelong friends form Jem and the Holograms, with Jerrica taking on the alter ego, rockstar Jem.

If you’re interested in seeing more, the first episode is on YouTube in full.

In addition to being highly talented, Jem/Jerrica also showed tremendous leadership qualities- anyone interested in leadership could learn a great deal from “them.”

The team is the most important thing. I always found it interesting that the group was held together by a computer named “Synergy.” Although offers were constantly made to Jem to appear on her own, she always refused, insisting on staying a part of the group. Not all leaders are so gracious in this understanding of the team as a unit. By insisting that the Holograms remain a unit, she built the trust of her band members- the only others who knew that Jerrica and Jem were one and the same- and also was able to inspire the girls residing at Starlight House. She also ensured that she had the support that she needed when the obligations of living a double life caught up with her, as it did in a few episodes.

Let the spotlight shine elsewhere. Not every episode was about the Holograms, or even about their rivalries with the Misfits. Episodes, some of them “very special” (as was often the case in the 1980s) focused on the Holograms’ friends, and the orphans who lived with them in Starlight House. The show was stronger for this occasional look at other areas, as your organization could also be. And indeed, part of being a leader is being able to decide when attention should be deflected from you. Make sure to let your members, volunteers, and supporters (advisors, staff, etc.) take center stage once in a while- this is the sign of an inclusive and confident leader!

The Misfits, rivals to Jem and the Holograms. IMAGE CREDIT: Wikimedia

Focus on the work. The Holograms had a rival band, the Misfits, who always seemed to care more about making sure the Holograms didn’t succeed, than actually succeeding in their own right.  Even in the moments where they likely could have won handily, Jem encouraged the rest of the Holograms to take the high road, never disrupting the work of the other group- and in some cases actually being active in helping them through difficult times. It can be easy to look to your rivals to drive your work; the best leaders avoid that temptation, put on blinders, and focus on what it will take to elevate themselves naturally.

Know the difference between authentic and transparent. Jem may seem like an odd role model when it comes to authenticity. She is the alter ego of a music executive, and only a handful of people know who she really is. Even Jerrica’s own boyfriend, Rio, doesn’t know about her double life!

But Jerrica/Jem does something important in this double life she leads- she is selective about what information she shares with the world. She never outright lies, and she is never inauthentic. She simply compartmentalizes what elements of each personality she shows to the world. In an era where it’s easy (and in some cases, profitable and entertaining) to overshare, Jerrica/Jem is a wonderful example of restraint, even if by necessity. Be honest, be forthright…but know that this doesn’t always mean being a fully open book.

Have you watched Jem and the Holograms? What other lessons have you learned from it (and not just from the Very Special Episodes?)