As we wrap up the semester and head off to our various ways of celebrating the Holidays, I want to jot down a few thoughts about a question I have been pondering since the middle of September. When is good, good enough?
My department lost an amazing young professional suddenly to leukemia in mid-September. Literally, one day she was at work laughing and joking with all of us and the next day, she was in the hospital never to reawaken from a brain hemorrhage. When I reflect on the events leading up to her passing in the search of making some sense of things, I wonder if I missed some obvious signs things were not going well. She was burning the candle at both ends like many of us have done and are doing. She was trying to do it all and keep everyone happy. She would still be working when I would pack up and head for home most nights. I would encourage her to “go home” but it seemed to fall on deaf ears. I remember thinking, “Oh goodness, she reminds me of myself at that age”. She was our “go to” person and yet, did we “go to” her too much?
What responsibility do we have as supervisors and leaders to identify and help correct misconceptions of what is expected in our work environments. I don’t believe it is ever our intention to create workaholics or nurture this type of behavior. However, I do wonder if the search for bigger and better helps to feed behaviors we know are not healthy. What behaviors am I role modeling to the young professionals, especially women, I work with?
I know my concept of good enough has been impacted by my strengths [Ideation, Input, Learner, Deliberative, Intellection], my generational expectations, my past supervisors, my upbringing, and my gender. When it comes to my strengths, I can always find something to take a good thing to the next level. Why do a little when a lot is so much better? As a 50 year old Boomer/X-er my concept of good enough in the work place is influenced by whatever I need to do to make sure I’m competitive and meeting the expectations of those I work for and with. I have had supervisors who demanded a specific level of commitment to the job which included feeding my own workaholic tendencies. Both of my parents were high achievers and dedicated to their work and their family. As a third generation female college graduate, I grew up with traditional female roles and expectations, but with high priorities placed on independence and self-reliance. The collection of my life experiences and education have focused on skill development dedicated to moving from good to better, and then on to best. But when is good, good enough?
Our work environments are supercharged with words such as efficiencies, streamlining, and change. It seems as if we are continually asked to do more with less and yet, not cut or reshape what we are currently providing to help meet the demands of the “more”. I want to put forth the notion that it is time for us to evaluate the concept of bigger and better in our work environments and especially as it impacts those we supervise. Do we really need to make everything a grand production or can our organizations be happy with our best efforts? I believe our “I want it right now and I want it better than the last one” society feeds our bigger and better appetites. I try to groom the staff I supervise to be able to excel in the workplace by being creative and looking for ways to take “good to great”. Am I truly helping them to form strong work ethic habits or am I helping to create a group of professionals who are more focused on whatever it takes than on finding some kind of balance?
This semester has been a struggle for me in trying to come to grips with a loss, while also trying to reevaluate what is truly important in my work environment. Can we instill the desire and teach the skills for continuous improvement without setting unattainable expectations which set staff members up for failure? Can we, as women in Student Affairs, make a commitment to keep an eye on all of our staff members but especially those up and coming women who are emulating what they think they have to do in order to be successful? I believe we can. I believe we have to in order to prepare the next generation to be committed but also balanced.
While I did not really set out to make this all about me, I do want to highlight my belief that the things that happen are often opportunities to reevaluate and provide reflection. Although it doesn’t seem so at the time, it is a precious gift. I want to make sure I’m challenging new professionals to find a balance between too much and not enough. I want to assess my work environment and guide our practice in a manner that provides exemplary service to our students and their parents/families without working folks into the ground. I want to be a supervisor who inspires the folks I work for and with to celebrate good while striving for better as simply an opportunity for growth and development. I believe this balance can happen and I believe we can be the impetus behind it.
I would love to hear from folks if you have developed strategies to help yourself and/or the staff members you work with/supervise find the bigger and better balance. Happy Holidays!D’aun Green, Ph.D. Senior Associate Managing Director, University Student Housing Texas Tech University