Entering my 21st fall opening, I feel like I’m once again in unchartered waters as a student affairs professional. The skills that brought me successfully into this role have undoubtedly helped me to lead through these months of ambiguity, uncertainty, and fear. However, I have also had to sharpen new skills to more successfully manage this daunting time as a higher education leader.
According to Psychology Today, the average person makes approximately 35,000 decisions a day or roughly 2,000 decisions per waking hour. Some days, I have felt the weight of eachand every one of those decisions. Decisions that on the surface seemed simple and yet as time progresses, become more and more complex. Decisions that impacted student and employee health and well-being, our college mission, and our role within the local community and economy. Each day, new challenges, mandates, and public health information have both enlightened and complicated an already unforgiving landscape.
Through it all, when leading in the time of COVID-19, two core guiding principles have been at the forefront of my actions and beliefs: radical clarity and extreme humanity.
John Maeda wrote that “transparency is access to the facts” and clarity is “access to understanding the facts.” Where I once relied on providing transparency to my team, I now focus on clarity instead. We have changed course more than a few times due to changing circumstances. Radical clarity has allowed me to not only share what is happening in the moment, but why it is happening, the factors impacting the decision (or lack thereof), and discuss what factors might alter it again moving forward.
This invitation to know and truly understand the complex landscape has helped to bring about new innovations, challenged assumptions, and built trust. It has also brought frustration and disappointment in some cases. Radical clarity doesn’t always feel good, but it fills in the information gaps and allows us all to move forward from a more informed and aligned standpoint.
Extreme humanity shouldn’t be a stretch for student affairs professionals, but I can honestly say that I have learned more about my staff on a personal level than I have ever known before at every level of our organization. I am now acutely aware of who is caring for loved ones, who is dealing with health concerns, who is juggling their kids online learning, who needs to work in a structured office setting, who is thriving working remotely, and much more. Throughout this experience, I have chosen extreme humanity when helping to develop and interpret institutional policies, determine staffing models, and help supervisors support their teams.
Extreme humanity also means sharing my whole self with my staff. From how I am “really doing”, grief over the loss of a dear colleague, my fears about what a return to campus work would mean for my ability to see my dad, who is battling cancer. Extreme humanity takes longer and presents more complexities, but the impact on individual staff and their unique circumstances is an investment that I am proud to have made.
The past five months have challenged me, and I’m sure each of you, in new and hard ways. We have many more tough decisions to make in the monthsahead. I have no doubt that by continuing to be guided by radical clarity and extreme humanity, I will continue to make the best decisions that I canfor our students, faculty, and staff. I encourage you to share your own COVID-19 guiding principles, and experiences with me (@clairelbrady) and our @NASPAtweets community on Twitter.
About the Author
Dr. Claire L. Brady currently serves as the vice president for enrollment and student affairs at Lake-Sumter State College in Central Florida. Claire has also served in student affairs roles at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, Michigan State University, and Alma College. Within NASPA, Claire serves as a member of the James E. Scott Academy Board, and has served as faculty for the 2019 New Professionals Institute and on the 2020 Community Colleges Institute planning team. Claire can be reached at [email protected] or @clairelbrady on Twitter.