Before the winter break, I spent some time considering who would make a great example of leadership for my reflection. I kept coming back to the idea of describing my friend David, who was once a colleague of mine at another university. Over the years, we’ve kept in touch on a regular basis, and kept up with each other’s professional journeys. My work used to intersect with his department frequently, and we had long ago developed a habit of seeking each other’s constructive feedback.
What has always made me appreciate catching up with David is his ability to inquire constructively. He asks not just how I’m doing, but what exactly I’m working on, and what my biggest challenges are. He asks what other parts of my organization are impacting or impacted by the projects that are on my priority list, and whom I might tap for cross-departmental support. The process of thinking about how to answer, and how to describe all the elements of a particular problem, is an excellent way to churn up new ideas. It also reminds me that I’m not alone, even if I’m currently operating as an “IT Department of One”. I always find it energizing to talk over my current challenges with him, because he never fails to truly listen. He can ask enlightening questions that lead me in the direction of a solution. This is a model that I want to follow with other peers, as well as employees who eventually report to me.
Recently, I met up with David for another catching-up lunch. I reflected with gratitude on the past ten years, and how his inquiry and influence have helped me to grow as a professional. When I couldn’t remember how our habit of checking-in had started, David reminded me of something I had completely forgotten; that I was among the first people to approach him and introduce myself when he was a new employee in my division. Because I paid attention to his concerns and the lofty goals that he brought to his new position at the time, we both became invested in each other’s success.
Kristen B. Soule
New York University