Category Archives: Leadership

Using Chess Strategy & Tactics in Student Affairs

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Working in student affairs is fraught with many challenges and opportunities. Being able to successfully maneuver through a busy work environment is a skill that all student affairs professionals need to develop. I have found that playing chess has helped me to think about various strategies and tactics used for the game that I can also use at work. Chess is a wonderful game that I encourage you all to learn and practice.

MANAGING TEMPO – In chess, “tempo” refers to a single move. By alternating turns and making moves, you gain tempo. If you get in a position in which your pieces are under attack, you may have to move backward in order to prevent losing a piece. You lose tempo by continually moving your pieces backward in a defensive position rather than moving forward and setting up an offensive attack. Eventually you do not develop enough pieces to be successful, your opponent squeezes you for space on the chessboard, and starts picking off your pieces one by one.

Sometimes I can find myself and other student affairs colleagues losing tempo when it comes to successfully managing our own projects and schedules throughout the day and year. Create tempo by eliminating distractions as much as possible, which can include avoiding unproductive meetings. If something can be solved with a quick email or phone call, get in that habit of doing that instead. Additionally, manage tempo by reducing extra projects and responsibilities that simply do not add to the goals and mission of your direct work. Not only will this help you in a time-management sense, but will also help you from an emotional standpoint so you are not overstretched.

PLAYING FOR THE END GAME – The goal in chess is to put your opponent’s king in a position in which it is being attacked (“check”) and ultimately cannot make another move (“checkmate”). Having a plan in place from the beginning (and throughout) is more helpful than merely making moves in response to what your opponent does. Having the end in mind (to use a phrase from Covey) helps you think through the process in getting there. You should use this process for strategic planning for the year as well as lifelong career goals. Unfortunately, we can get trapped in the day-to-day tasks of work or constantly putting out proverbial “fires” and neglect long term planning on an ongoing basis. Taking time out of your work week (even if it’s only an hour) to make future plans should be a part of your regular schedule.

MANAGING ALL OF YOUR PIECES – In chess, the queen has the ability to move like every other piece (aside from moving like a knight) so it’s a very versatile tool. However, many new players use the queen to their detriment by using the queen too early and too much. Doing this risks the possibility of being captured and not developing your other pieces; this puts a player in a compromising positional standpoint. Being able to utilize all of your resources and skills is crucial given the scope and complexity of our work. Doing everything yourself or simply delegating important work to just one key person is not a smart strategy. Having one staffer managing everything will burn them out and is counterproductive. Additionally, you are less likely to get more done if you are limiting those who could be more involved. Like chess, use all of your employees to help you accomplish your goals.

Playing and studying chess can help you not only in the game, but in life as well. I highly recommend the following books if you are looking to learn how to play chess or to expand your knowledge if you already play:

Pandolfini’s Ultimate Guide to Chess: Basic to Advanced Strategies with America’s Foremost Chess Instructor by Bruce Pandolfini – Simon & Schuster; 1st edition (September 9, 2003).

Winning Chess Strategies by Yasser Seirawan –  Everyman Chess; Revised Edition edition (May 1, 2005).

Winning Chess Tactics by Yasser Seirawan – Everyman Chess; Revised Edition edition (May 1, 2005).

ACPA 2015 PechaKucha – There’s Always Another Move: Lessons for Student Affairs Pros from Shackleton

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On Saturday, March 7, 2015 I presented “There’s Always Another Move: Lessons for Student Affairs Professionals from Shackleton” for the PechaKucha event at the ACPA National Convention in Tampa, FL.

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Sir Ernest Shackleton was an Irish-born explorer who, during the first decade of the 1900’s, attempted to reach the South Pole, but did not succeed. After Roald Amundsen finally did so, Shackleton sets his sights on crossing the Antarctic. The Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition eventually became a legendary lesson of great leadership.

To hear more about Shackleton and how lessons from his expedition applies to student affairs professionals, please click HERE to see the video of my presentation. Enjoy!

 

The Things We Dread: Evaluations (Guest post by Sinclair P. Ceasar)

Staff Evaluations

You both sit down to the table for a chat. Well, it’s more formal than a chat. Your employee looks at you with wide eyes. At present, they are more attentive than they are at staff meetings, and you feel pressure to say everything with a smile – even if the information is negative at times. Why do we have to go through this? Aren’t they self-aware enough to know how they’re doing at their own job? You refocus your attention on the mid-year evaluation before you and begin.

Evaluations Can Be an Ordeal

Many of us are gearing up for mid-year evaluations with our supervisors, our staff members, and ourselves. We tell ourselves we won’t get lost in the rubrics and number valuations, but at some point we trip up during the evaluation process especially when we appraise our own employees. For me, most the anxiety around assessing my staff stems from me not wanting to hurt feelings or turn staff off from the work they do. At the end of the day, I’ve hired competent individuals who work to improve the lives of students. Alas, those same individuals are imperfect and need coaching, mentoring, and feedback.

Feedback with a Purpose

At some point in my career, I decided to view one-on-one meetings as opportunities for improvement and relationship building, rather than just simple check-ins with my staff. Reframing my meetings changed my line of questioning. I became more interested in the life of my employees outside of work. I wanted to know about how their interpersonal relationships were with their teammates. And I questioned their thought processes when reviewing situations they’d dealt with since our last meeting. I wanted to affirm their decision making skills and let them know where they could improve as well. Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric said to “make every meeting an appraisal.” Sure, I could have a staff that dreads criticism each time they enter my office. Or, I could have a team that values my perspectives because they know my intentions are to build and strengthen instead of belittle and weaken.

By the time we reach evaluation season, my staff is knowledgeable about their progress and areas of growth. The formal appraisal meeting becomes a space to exclusively converse about what they need to do to take their positions to the next level. We focus on actionable steps and end the meeting with goals and deadlines. The result: we have an account of their progress, written steps to better performance, and an entire evaluation packet to help me keep them accountable throughout the next half of the semester.

Putting it All Together

Here are 3 ways you can kick up your staff evaluations and make them less scary and more meaningful:

1. Show them how what they do matters – One section of my evaluation focused on interpersonal relationships. This section contained phrases like: staff member effectively communicates with others and staff member updates supervisor in a timely fashion. On the surface, these could seem like basic outcomes to measure, but I went beyond simply saying how well my employee did in those areas, and I came prepared with examples for each line of feedback I wrote. I also had an overall explanation of why we evaluated employees on interpersonal relationships in the first place and how it connected with our departmental goals. You want to know why your boss wants you to do something, and your staff wants to know the importantance and impact of their jobs.

2. Nothing should be a surprise- Your mid-year evaluations may be anxiety filled no matter what you do, but none of the feedback you provide should blindside your staff. Do yourself a favor and take 5-10 minutes during each one-on-one meeting to provide an informal appraisal. It will make your mid-year evaluation run smoothly, and you and your staff member will be on the same page.

3. Make the numbers work for you – We used a numbering system at one of my institutions in the way that “1” meant you were weak in an area and “5” meant you excelled. Once, I told my staff that no one would get above a “3” because they were all new, and it wasn’t realistic to have an exceptional staff member at that point. This was a huge mistake. I received backlash from staff members who felt this wasn’t fair and expressed how they excelled in some areas. Word to the wise: make sure the number system make sense, is objective, and is used fairly.

I’m curious to know what your best practices are.

Does your staff find evaluations to be refreshing and helpful? What changes have you made to your process in the past years? What are some challenges you face as a supervisor when it comes to appraising your staff? Please feel free to comment below.

Sinclair P. Ceasar has six years of experience with Residence Life, New Student Orientation, First Year Programming, and Service Learning. He is currently an Assistant Director of Residence Life at Mount St. Mary’s University in Maryland, and enjoys dancing, running 5K’s, and being a foodie in his leisure time. Follow him on twitter @sceasar1020.

* Graphic courtesy of Sigurd Decroos