Leadership has several directional undertones embedded in its framework. In moving an organization forward motivation, inspiration, coaching and planning are all requirements of a successful leader. North, south, east, west, forward and backwards are all directions a leader may travel while motivating, inspiring, coaching, and planning and I invite you to imagine what those directions look like for your organization.
However, center in leadership is far less discussed. Leading “from center” represents the distinct recognition that you are tethered to others on your team; inextricably tied to them and their success as a part of your own success. To lead “from center” is to resist personal neutrality. It is to admit that who you are not only shows up in the work, who you are is the work. It’s muddy and messy because it requires self-awareness, and self-awareness is often identified as a soft skill—far less noble than the person-neutral and selfless managerial characteristics touted as preferred or required in job descriptions. How a leader manages who they are and how they develop personally while leading is seldom given the same attention as the outcomes of their leadership. But what if leading “from center” is the way forward?
But managing life, especially when it starts “lifing”, work, especially when it starts “working,” and people, especially when they start doing “people things,” demands that you lead “from center.” It demands that you be rooted in identity and values exploration, critical reflection, and develop and cultivate emotional intelligence. It demands that BE empathetic. It demands connection, vulnerability, and humanity – none of which are authentically possible without operating from your center.
I wonder, as a supervisor, when was the last time you shared your story with your team? What about your values outside of work? When was the last time you told your supervisor the ways the work is either supporting or contradicting what’s important to you? When was the last time you journeyed to your center?
At a time when student care has been elevated to priority #1 at many of our colleges and universities, there exists an either-or dichotomy that occupies our work as practitioners: Being Student-centered is uplifted demanding (y)our time and attention and supported by (y)our scholarship, theory, and practice, while (y)our personal centering is “hoped for” not but planned for and supported. Our students are centered while the team hired to serve are nowhere on our directional map.
What’s unfortunate is that higher education leadership seems to suggest that educating the (whole) student is the work, while educating the educator seems too arduous of a process. We—intentionally or unintentionally—remove education from higher education leadership.The outcome is: the good work of the practitioner is isolated to the co-curricular experiences they create to support the academic mission of the college while cultivating and developing the learner is somehow outside of the scope of our work.
Leading “from center” means that supervisors and managers see our practice as more than just a means to an end. In this model, leading becomes—or is undergirded by—learning, and offers a muddied narrative to the predefined hierarchy of leadership. Leading from center is an active model of change. It is a commitment to learning that empowers, informs and inspires change. This is where the muddiness comes from. Teachers and students, in this multiverse, are both-and. This is the good work. This is the good fight.