Embracing flexibility

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Flexible. That word has long been associated with community colleges. Today, I hear and talk about flexibility more than ever before.

The early days of the pandemic brought about swift change for many of us. The changes on campus to create viable pathways for students to complete their semester and for faculty to obtain the tools needed to support them were a testament to the ways in which community colleges are flexible.

That was just the beginning.

Flexibility is the new name of the game. Flexible schedules, flexible pathways to completion, flexible work hours — you name it, as leaders we need to be flexible. Flexible work continues to be a topic that impacts anyone with employees. I believe that it impacts our colleges even more considering the demands of students and employees. Remote learning and working has rapidly become the norm and not offering flexibility in learning modalities, scheduling and remote work may cost you enrollment and leave you with unfilled staff positions.

This article comes from the new issue of the Community College Journal, the flagship publication of the American Association of Community Colleges.

Handling flexibility

How does flexibility play out when we are talking about leadership? The answer is that it plays out in several different ways. Deciding on how to handle the need for flexible work schedules is only one of the many pressures applied to community college leaders. As a leader, you must adapt to what is happening internally and externally.

Your leadership style may differ based on different situations. External situations may be political or cultural and may require you to think differently and lead differently. That is not always easy when you are steering the ship for many different constituents. Inevitably you will hear opinions from many and will need to weigh them as you determine a course of action.

Political pressures, internal or external, can be very tricky to navigate. It is important that you remain open-minded and flexible as you navigate a political situation. The key for me was to always remain as neutral as possible. Of course, I have personal convictions with regard to politics, but I always tried to ensure that as a college leader I was not representing my political leanings but working to ensure that whatever decision made was in the best interest of the college and its students. Change may not be the answer. You may choose to stay the course but getting to that decision should be an exercise in flexibility as you consider the course of action.

A different lens

For some, change is difficult so flexibility may not be their strong suit. Changing the way in which you view change may be helpful. I try to look at change in the workplace as a positive action step. As we plan and implement programs and services, there are always action steps included. Change is oftentimes those action steps moving you closer to achieving the goals that you so carefully plan for. I recognize that may be an oversimplification but being flexible in how you view change may help you to see it in a positive way and express it as a step forward for the college and its community.

Perhaps the most important reason to understand and embrace being flexible is the need to sometimes adapt to the people in and around your organization. I have yet to meet a community college professional — be it a faculty member, a groundskeeper or a college president — who did not value the needs and perspectives of the people that make up the community. Allowing their voices to inform how you lead in different situations may not always be easy but will always serve you well.

About the Author

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