Commentary: Finding a balance

Leadership is a demanding career. As you know, a college president is the public face of the institution.

Walter Bumphus

Walter Bumphus

For community college presidents, that role is often more overwhelming as our leaders tend to be more accessible — more a part of the community itself. It never fails that when you least expect it, you will be recognized and drawn into conversations in the unlikeliest of places — the grocery store, the soccer field, the local restaurant. Being “on” all the time can drain your energy. How do we, as leaders, recharge our batteries and make sure that we don’t burn out? New and aspiring college presidents often ask me about ways to find balance in their lives.

Finding balance is a challenge. Read any leadership or business magazine and it is easy to see that working long hours for a significant length of time tends to lower productivity and kill motivation. This isn’t new information, but often we whole-heartedly support vacations and professional development opportunities for our own staff members and leaders on our team, but forget to treat ourselves with the same regard. It is critical to the success of your college for you to stay healthy — both physically and mentally.

You’re human

A recent Community College Daily article focused on the art of finding work-life balance. Presidents interviewed talked about exercise, travel and even meditation at your desk as ways to unwind. One president said, “You have to realize you’re human.”

Realizing we are human is sometimes a difficult reality. We think that we can push through the stress and feelings of being overwhelmed. But burnout can have a real impact on you and your organization.

Recharging your batteries is a big part of what we do at the various AACC events. Last year, we asked our board to reflect upon their time at the AACC Annual Convention. Overwhelmingly, we heard that the networking and connecting with other college presidents was the intangible (and invaluable) take-away. Being able to discuss the issues with someone that can relate perfectly to what you face on a daily basis is a therapy like no other. I certainly experienced it for myself as an attendee and still enjoy connecting and reconnecting with colleagues.

It is very easy to get caught up in the constant treadmill of activities that come with a community college presidency and, before you know it, you are on the verge of burning out. We all have our own ways of dealing with the daily pressures of work, but I encourage you to reflect upon the time and energy that you spend on keeping yourself healthy, motivated, and happy. Be it exercise, travel to an exotic location, unplugging from technology and cell phones, or painting landscapes — find something that helps you recharge and reconnect with your own internal compass. I guarantee it will benefit you (and, your team too).

Whatever recharges your batteries, take that time for yourself unapologetically. In the end, it will pay off for you and for those you serve.

Editor’s note: This article comes from the current issue of the Community College Journal, which has been published by the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) since 1930.​


About the Author

Walter G. Bumphus
is president and CEO of the American Association of Community Colleges.