Leadership During Changing Times

Change is the only constant – Heraclitus, Greek philosopher

If the rate of change outside the organization is greater than the rate of change inside the organization, then the end is in sight – Jack Welch, CE of General Electric

I have been participating in the RMAFSAA Leadership Pipeline and when we were having to choose our chapter from You’re the Director: A Guide to Leadership in Financial Aid I was immediately drawn to “Leadership During Changing Times.” My life was nothing but change at that time and for the foreseeable future. In my office I had one person retiring in October, my director (the only one I had had in my short 5 years in the industry) got a promotion within the college, hiring of a new director, a promotion for myself and my immediate supervisor, hiring another staff member for our office, new changes instituted by the new director, and the normal life as a mother and wife. I knew all about change!

Every year the Financial Aid industry faces changes, some are expected and some may occur from an unforeseen crisis. There are many different changes that we face such as: regulatory mandates, statutory changes, staff reductions, new supervisor or co-workers, elimination of programs, promotions, death, retirement, economy, difficult students, etc… Are you and your office ready for the changes? How prepared are you to handle the changes?

Change can create stress which will affect how well you adapt to the change. Do you know what causes you the most stress at work? What are your stress triggers? Is there something you can do to change the circumstances of this stressful situation? There are some things that you can start practicing in your daily life to help combat stress and begin to develop great leadership qualities that will shine during times of change.

  • Act, not react to change
    • A reaction will only increase your stress level and put others on the defense
    • Dig right in on a plan of action and this will inspire others
  • Be realistic in your goals for the change and in the process of adaption
    • You are only human and can only do so much
      • Learn from any mistakes and be okay in the knowledge that you will make some mistakes
      • Don’t be too critical of yourself, boost your self-esteem instead
    • Make a list and prioritize the items
      • Remember to delegate any items on the list to others
        • Match items to someone that excels in that area, take advantage of your staff’s strengthens
        • Politely bring up any negativity or bad behavior (weaknesses) in co-workers so that the issue can be worked out and not compound the changes
      • Be realistic in the amount of time it should take to complete the task
    • Block out time on your calendar to work on task uninterrupted
      • Set aside time to answer e-mails, don’t let them interrupt your train of thought every time they come in
    • Seek out help or advice from co-workers or others in the industry
      • Be open to suggestions
    • Create a toolbox of strategies and plans that are at your fingertips for when change occurs
      • Have multiple plans and know that it is okay if what you try first does not work
      • Try to be more objective in looking at the situation
        • Your perspective outlook on the situation may be creating more stress
      • You can say no
        • Try to say it in a way that explains you are too busy to give that task the required and deserved time it would need
      • Take a time out and step away from the problem or task
        • Go for a short walk
          • Short breaks can help refocus your energy
        • Stop and take a breather
          • Breathe in for 5 seconds, hold, and exhale for same amount of time
          • To cool off quickly try breathing in through your mouth like you are sipping through a straw and then breathe out through your nose, you should feel a cooling effect over your tongue
        • Take care of yourself first and foremost
          • Get enough sleep
          • Eat a proper balanced diet
          • Exercise
          • Remember to laugh
          • Have a hobby

Change of any size will affect your working environment. An effective leader will strive to lessen the impact or distractions the change will have on your office. Leaders should be prepared to take charge and direct the staff through the change in a calm manner. Leaders should be ready to listen to any concerns that staff may have and be prepared to communicate the plan in a clear way. Once the immediate crisis or change has passed then you will also want to look at your preventive strategies and how well they worked and what changes to those procedures might be needed.

Even though I have been going through so much change at work and was handling it well, this chapter and Leadership Pipeline experience has taught me that we learn new things every day. I have also learned that even though our team handles the changes extremely well, we don’t necessarily have any formal strategies for crisis management. I have had the pleasure of working with a wonderful mentor who has helped point out leadership qualities in myself that I did not recognize.

May you all be laughing through the changes and embracing the leaders within yourself!

Tara DeVries

Financial Aid Specialist at Davis Applied Technology College, Kaysville Utah

Tara is a participant in the current class of the RMASFAA Leadership Pipeline.  Mentees in this year’s Pipeline are all contributing blog posts as part of their leadership development.

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