Reflections from year one in the middle

I hope you had a restful Labor Day weekend! #SAMid is back with this insightful post from Renee P. Dowdy. Leading from the middle looks and feels different than other positions. Thank you, Renee for sharing your story!

On August 19th, 2015 I marked year one in my first mid-level role as the Assistant Director of Student Staffing and Training at Marquette University. I returned to residence life from a role in association management and was itching to be back in the day-to-day problem solving, planning, and challenges that I love about this functional area. One of my greatest joys in the job is the work of developing and coaching staff. As I sat in RA training, watching months of planning flash before me, some of my most important lessons stood out.

When leading from the middle, one of your most important jobs is to give context. Tough decisions are made and entry level professionals develop their own perception and lessons from these observations. My role as a supervisor is to help provide a deeper understanding of the how and why behind these moments. It isn’t just about managing the now, but helping to prepare others for the hard decisions and stakes they may face later in their career. I want to protect our staff from unnecessary worries, but I also want them to be prepared for the very real challenges that are part of the job.

In that vein, what I say and do carries different weight. When I was a hall director, I had my 17 staff members who looked to me for guidance and support. Now there are 128 RAs, 225 desk receptionists, and 13 RHDs and grads who look at my words, behaviors, and choices as a barometer for professionalism. This may seem obvious, but the realization that I could have greater and broader influence at first overwhelmed me. I didn’t want to say anything wrong and the task of avoiding an error or mistake was mentally taxing. Now, further in, I’ve made mistakes and I’ve also maximized my influence. I’ve been able to own and apologize for mistakes, which is also a demonstration of leadership. But I’ve also been able to reach students and staff in some incredible ways. Which leads me to…

Share what you care deeply about. It will be contagious. People want to be surrounded by others who are not only invested but who offer something to get excited about, interested in, or adds new depth to their work. This year, I focused on basics of effective training methods and facilitation skills. I worked on this across all realms of my work and saw in August the impact this focus offered. After an incredible presentation by a team of RHDs, another staff member turned to me and said, “You made this happen.” I never expected that impact to be noticed but it made me so proud. At mid-level you are stretched in many directions. I knew to take our training to the next level, I needed to extend my knowledge and equip staff members with this knowledge and confidence to be an extension of my vision. And it was a success. Allowing others to be a partner in my work and to build their skills while at it was one of my smartest decisions in year one.

Many lessons lay ahead for me, but I can look at year one with pride. I took some chances and exercised great forethought to where I wanted to take our team and who I wanted to be to allow that to happen. Mid-level demands an ongoing focus on the details and the bigger picture. But most important within and between those aspects is the work of developing others. Looking forward to year two and the work and learning that awaits.

Renee P. Dowdy

Renee Piquette Dowdy is the Assistant Director of Student Staffing and Training at Marquette University in Milwaukee, WI. Her work has taken her to Fort Collins, CO as part of Synergos, AMC, the University of Chicago, and Bowling Green State University. She lives in Milwaukee with her husband, Gavin, and Goldendoodle puppy, Maxwell. Outside of work, When not training and selecting staff, Renee enjoys yoga with a recent fitness certification, barre fitness classes, hiking, and home remodeling projects. Find out more from Renee by following her on Twitter (@reneepdowdy) or on her blog, www.reneepdowdy.com

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