Purpose Statement

Finding Purpose in Unsuspecting Places

Laura Inlow

Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota


Finding Purpose in Unsuspecting Places

Nearly two years ago, I was still adjusting to home life as a new mom when my career took an unexpected turn onto the management track. I graciously accepted the challenge and immediately sought to learn everything I could about leadership – from enrolling in graduate school to joining the local chapter of an international women’s leadership organization. I had long been a peer leader, setting a good example for those around me to follow (Nayar, 2013) as I strived for success in my field, but suddenly my life, both personally and professionally, could no longer be about me. As a parent and as a leader, self improvement suddenly became a means to empower others to add value alongside mine (Nayar, 2013) for the greater good.

Initially relying on Power by Association, riding the coattails of my boss and mentor to self esteem and competency (Hagberg, 2003), to Power by Achievement, driven by a sense of expertise and control (Hagberg, 2003), I’ve grown exponentially through my courses and experiences in the Master of Organizational Leadership program at Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota. I have come to accept who I am at Stage Four, Power by Reflection, and have begun to let go of the control I once so desperately sought (Hagberg, 2003). My time in graduate school may be coming to a close, but it is clear that my leadership journey is far from over. I must continue my introspection for opportunities to improve not only personally, but for a higher purpose.

Purpose & Meaning

Ultimately, I seek to live a life of wholeness (Palmer, 2009) and meaning. At home, I work alongside my husband and family to raise our daughter to be respectful, understanding and compassionate of others, and to live a life reflective of those ideals. In my community, I am volunteering my skills and assets to help a group of women leave a positive impact wherever the need is the greatest. At work, I contribute my talents to an organization that shares and supports my values (Palmer, 2009), including personal empowerment, equality, and fairness.

I am continuously developing my own style of leadership while recognizing and embracing the influence great leaders in my life have had on me. I strive to be organized, authentic (Palmer, 2009), and of the people. Rather than dictating orders, I prefer to utilize a team approach to creative problem solving by empowering others to contribute their unique skills and talents (Nayar, 2013), while also recognizing and capitalizing on my own.

As a planner and developer (Grivas & Puccio, 2012), I find inspiration from elevation – trying to see my organization’s situation from 10,000 feet and through various viewpoints (Marrapodi, 2003). From there, I enjoy working with my team to develop a joint vision and corresponding plan to move forward, utilizing each of our unique capabilities and strengths.

My particular strengths include support functions like streamlining or enhancing projects and processes, and helping to connect people and ideas. As a leader, I work hard to embody the values of kindness and respect, rarely making a decision that is not vetted through my team or handing them an assignment I would not do myself, within my skillset and capabilities. I place a high value on my team’s input, and hold myself to a high standard of transparency, because I recognize the great importance of cultivating trust (Dowell & Silzer, 2010) among them and others.

Together, my team and I are in a good position to affect positive change that has the possibility of becoming infectious at the organizational level.

Vision

The ultimate goal is a more connected organizational culture, united behind a common purpose that aligns with our organization’s mission of “empowering people” (Lewis and Clark Community College, 2017). Financial uncertainty caused by the ongoing lack of a permanent state budget in Illinois for the past two fiscal years (Finke, 2016) has taken a devastating toll on the emotional state of many employees (Piderit, 2000), some of whom have lost sight of the profound impact we are able to have on our community through this organization. We need to refresh and re-energize those folks behind the mission, streamlining and improving our efforts as a whole to accomplish that end.

When our president speaks about the mission of, and his vision for, our organization, his charisma and energy are often infectious, but not everyone in every department has the same kind of access to him that is enjoyed by my marketing and public relations team. As a leader, I will look to expose more people to his message and rhetoric through improved internal communications and possibly more exposure to him and the organization’s other cabinet members. A number of efforts could be utilized to get everyone on the same page including the possible development of an employee brand ambassador program which will be the topic of my capstone project.

The idea of a brand ambassador program is to reward faculty and staff who already represent our organization well in the community (Arruda, 2013) and within their spheres of influence (Sensenig, 2011), as well as bring more employees on board toward that effort. Ambassadors would be made to feel more invested in the organization and a part of something bigger than themselves (Lencioni, 2002) through first access to information about upcoming projects and the organization’s direction. As part of the program, they would also be given the training and tools necessary to share that message with others, both internally and externally.

Internally, such a program has the capability of generating good will between employees from different constituent groups, from administration to staff to faculty, both full and part time. As peer leaders, ambassadors will model good employeeship and community citizenship through their words and actions, setting good examples for others. They will be champions for positive change. Externally, these employees’ authentic messages and actions concerning the organization have the capacity for generating good public relations and community interest in what we do and stand for.

My team will lead the effort by example. As their leader, I will remain committed to ongoing personal and professional development for myself and my team, with the intention of passing knowledge onto others through teaching and presentation opportunities. I will create a safe space for my employees to think outside the box and innovate by allowing them to voice their opinions and take risks without the fear of consequences from failing (Davis, 2004). I will help them keep their focus on contributing to the organization’s mission through their actions so that they are utilizing their time wisely. I will consider their interests and potential in certain areas and tailor assignments to their particular strengths (Musselwhite, 2011), as well as give them room to initiate their own projects. My efforts will aim to help my employees succeed, because when we succeed individually in a team atmosphere, we all win.

Practice

The first step to achieving the vision of working as a cohesive whole toward a common ideal is to improve internal communications, or bring together the college’s various communities in a world that is increasingly moving toward isolationism (Wheatley, 2005). There are several ways to accomplish this end, from working in the digital space to creating more opportunities for interpersonal communication between constituencies.

In the digital space, in addition to e-newsletters that are already in place but not widely read, my organization can utilize web applications such as Trello, a project management app (Trello, 2017), and Slack, a group messaging app, to pull together remote and interdepartmental teams and to streamline work processes outside of employees’ inboxes (Trello, 2017). There are also discussion board capabilities within Blackboard, which the college currently uses for online and web blended courses on the instructional side. These could be used to connect staff and faculty who might not otherwise cross paths with one another.

Face-to-face efforts are also important since it’s often hard to see online collaborators as people and hold them accountable (The Arbinger Institute, 2000; Patterson, Grenny, McMillan & Switzler, 2000). These might include offering more networking and professional development brown bag and after hours events, or even lunches during the semester with the president and his cabinet to help nurture relationships (Wheatley, 2007) horizontally and vertically within the organization.

As leaders, we can continue to invest in our human capital, increasing morale, empowering current and future brand stewards, and creating new knowledge within the organization (Wheatley, 2007) by increasing internal training and empowerment programs. Currently, there is no leadership track for employees who want to learn and grow and stay with the organization long term, but we certainly have the resources to create one using faculty and programming that already exists within our Associate in Applied Science in Management degree. These resources could be tweaked and tailored to our employees’ and the organization’s needs (Office of Personnel Management, 2012). The organization currently offers tuition waivers for programs offered in house, but could institute a tuition reimbursement program for those seeking higher education beyond their associate and bachelor’s degrees. It could also benefit from the creation of a formal mentorship program, wherein executives engage in mentor-mentee relationships with promising young leaders (Office of Personnel Management, 2012).

By instituting more diverse, cross-organizational problem-solving teams, college employees will not only be able to see problems and possible solutions in a new light, but they will be able to gain knowledge and insights from new experiences with a broad array of professionals. The effort works toward strengthening trust across departments and encouraging shared decision making to benefit the whole (Hagberg, 2003). It encourages diversity in thinking, breaks down cliques, and fosters new ideas through conversations and varying viewpoints. Teams that are operating currently in non-ideal situations will have the opportunity to break from the constraints of their departments, and those departments that are already working in ideal situations will have the opportunity to examine what makes their processes successful and model those positive behaviors for other areas of the organization.

Through the creation of safe spaces for innovation, without fear of negative evaluation (Davis, 2004), our organization can empower its employees to strive for new solutions and different modes of thinking for enabling positive change. Managers should strive to accept responsibility for the ideas coming out of their departments and stand behind their employees, while at the same time giving credit where credit is due. Departments can and should schedule idea sessions, at least once a semester or so, to brainstorm ideas and develop plans to tackle some of the larger issues faced by the organization, such as student recruitment, retention and success.

By utilizing strategies like The Disney Method (Dilts, 1996), departments can create implementation-ready plans and processes to address these major issues in relatively short amounts of time. Going beyond the rules and how things have always been done (Davis, 2004), teams can dream up solutions they might not otherwise consider, strategize how the idea might work, set goals, milestones and measurables for ROI, and think critically about the entire process before putting a plan into motion. Once in motion, teams should evaluate processes and tweak ongoing as needed.

Leaders and department managers must be supportive of new ideas and efforts, and be constructive when critical. Successes should earn employees rewards in the form of positive feedback, choice of assignments, and group recognition when deserved. When ideas do not work, it’s important that managers and employees discuss what might have gone wrong in order to learn from that mistake, and be able to apply that lesson or lessons to future efforts.

Personally, as I continue my leadership journey, I will strive to continue moving through the stages of power in hopes to attain the spiritual freedom of Hagberg’s stage 6, Power by Wisdom (Hagberg, 2003). First, I must continue working toward selflessness and become satisfied from passing power onto others rather than keeping it for myself (Hagberg, 2003).


References

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