It’s not personal


Leadership is not easy. It requires you to balance today’s needs while striving to reach tomorrow’s goals. You must respect the culture while implementing needed change. It is arduous and wonderful when those goals are achieved and benefit the students and community you serve.

Regardless of how well your college is doing, you will be the recipient of a lot of feedback.

People, many well-intentioned, will provide you with no shortage of opinions and input on programs, goals, politics, personnel, budgets and a whole host of other things. Sometimes their feedback may not be positive, but I encourage to you allow them the space to air their opinions.

It’s not personal. Though it may feel as though it is an attack on your idea or your handling of a situation, as a leader you can’t take it personally. Remembering that you represent the institution is important and may help you to refrain from being defensive or taking different or negative comments to heart. It’s human nature to defend yourself and your ideas and actions.

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

But, in most cases, it is your job as a leader to listen. Many times, I have found that simply hearing them out goes a long way toward building trust in your leadership. By listening, you have an opportunity to create a better workplace where it is safe to share their professional opinions.

That’s not to say that you should not continue to articulate a clear vision for advancing the college. Recognizing that most advancement requires doing something differently, and we all know that change can be threatening in a complex organization. Using the input you receive, good or bad, can help you make the needed changes.

No matter your position, using input and data to guide decision-making and action planning is a part of our everyday lives. That input comes from many sources and in many ways. Most of the time, it is not personal. Program metrics may show less progress than anticipated. Student surveys may indicate that cafeteria food is that popular. A local reporter may publish a story that excoriates the cost of textbooks. All of this is important data that now can inform the next steps. None of it is a personal attack on you or on the employees that work hard on campus to help students.

It sounds simple, but it is not. By taking things personally, you shift the focus to you instead of the organization. It may sound harsh, but over-personalizing criticism changes the way in which you approach your job as a leader and makes the work about you. Instead of thinking of it as input, you think of it as insult. Instead of measuring it rationally, you respond in defense. Most importantly, instead of considering it as additional input in your professional capacity, you may feel hurt and carry that with you outside of work.

As a college president, you lead a complex organization that is, at its very core, about caring for people. Learning to accept input, even the negative input, as not personal will help you to care for yourself. As they say on the plane, put your oxygen mask on before you help others. This is an important lesson that gives you the breathing room to continue to care for others by leading a community college.

About the Author

Walter G. Bumphus
Dr. Walter G. Bumphus is president and CEO of the American Association of Community Colleges.
The owner of this website has made a commitment to accessibility and inclusion, please report any problems that you encounter using the contact form on this website. This site uses the WP ADA Compliance Check plugin to enhance accessibility.