“Development by Leadership” by Beth Searcy

There is a chapter in John Maxwell’s book, Leadership Gold, titled “Few Leaders Are Successful Unless a Lot of People Want Them To Be.” Its premise is leaders stand on the shoulders of those who have contributed to the cause they champion and share the vision they inspire. Community and relationships matter. And as I view my own journey through that perspective, I see a distinguished procession of people who contributed to my success because they invested in me, gave me opportunities, and encouraged my development. And, I hope I’m doing my fair share – or more – of extending that same sense of mentorship to others. It’s at the core of who so many of us are as student development practitioners.

But recently, I had an experience where I encountered someone who was, shall we say, less than supportive, and while I have my own ideas about why, it was an anomaly  and a learning opportunity. Not everyone is going to be a champion, or a fan, or honest, or even collegiate.  And for the most part, that behavior is outside my circle of influence; the only thing I can control is how I respond.
Really, I’m not necessarily a glass-half-empty or a glass-half-full kind of person. I’m going to look at that glass and say, “Yep, that’s a glass.” And then look at its context to see what the glass itself, as well as its contents, means. Professionally (and personally), I’ve learned this measured approach helps avoid overreaction, drama, and wasted or misallocated resources. And building on that value of community touted above, I try to involve my team in asking the right questions to get at its value, because what value we assign to it must be rooted in our philosophy, our mission, and our goals.

From an assessment perspective, we might say, “There seems to be some water in this glass. How can we measure this water?” From a community standards view, “If the water is something we value, what are we going to do when someone spills the water?” To our career services colleagues, “This water is only in this glass for four years. At the end of that time, what happens to the water?” To our student activities and leadership teams, “How can this water add value to the student experience?” To our Admissions and/or Development staff, “Assuming this water will advance our mission, how can we get more water?” To our business and finance partners, “How does this water figure into our budget priorities?” And to our marketing folks, “What is our communication plan about the disposition of this water?”

Then, we use the information from the questions to make decisions. In the end, the water may not even be relevant to us or it may be just the thing we need to advance our mission. The key is to avoid making assumptions just because a glass of water is sitting on the table in front of us. Half-empty, half-full, it’s just perspective until given meaning and context.

There’s good in the world, and there’s bad in the world. In the time from when I was asked to contribute to this blog and submitting the piece, world events have included the bombing at the Boston Marathon, the explosion in West, Texas, and the escape of Amanda Berry from ten years of captivity. Filtering what we hear and see and know through the appropriate lens is essential. So is surrounding yourself with people who will ask the right questions and, in doing so, refine your understanding and grow your awareness. Because the world isn’t for you or against you, it’s just a glass sitting there. In the right context, let’s raise it to those who have championed our success. Cheers!


Beth Searcy
Director of Admissions Events and Strategic Initiatives, University of Mary Washington
Immediate Past International President, Delta Gamma Fraternity
Grants Division Lead, Circle of Sisterhood Foundation
University Document Review Chair, National Panhellenic Conference



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