Kindness & Transformational Change

One enduring skill I learned three decades ago in the military is how to make my shoes shine, as the little orphan Annie would say, “like the top of the Chrysler building,” through a skill called “spit shining.” The process involves rubbing a pair of shoes in a small circular motion with a soft cloth, shoe polish, and a touch of water (I don't actually use spit). The shoe shining motion helps to clear my mind as I think of nothing else (no worries, concerns, anxiety, etc.), but to make my shoes look beautiful and last longer because of the care I’m putting into them. I don’t take short cuts such as applying “instant shine” Kiwi-brand bottles. We can often tell the difference between something that was neglected and/or done quickly and something that took time to nurture. Metaphorically, we can think about “spit shining” in the way we care for our co-workers, subordinates, colleagues, peers, and even those above us in the organizational chart. A prevalent issue as institutions of higher education embark on transformational change is how people treat one another. To put in bluntly, bullying exists at campuses and many personnel feel powerless because they're often (but not exclusively) experiencing the bullying from the highest levels of the institution.

In my facilitation, training, and coaching work with institutions of higher education, I’ve seen my good share of people struggle mightily with the role they were assigned or decided to take on. To pour salt on the wound, I’ve also seen those in the upper echelons of the organizational chart nod their heads with disappointment as they tell the story of an employee who failed to execute.

Employing external attributions (looking outside oneself) tends to be easy. It’s those internal attributions (focusing on our own behavior) that leaders need to reflect on. Some employees fail because, among other issues, they are unwilling to continually improve. However, people in positions of leadership don't often do enough to turn on their internal attributions “button” in order to self-reflect on whether they sufficiently helped a team member to succeed. Did the team members who partially or completely failed to execute receive the appropriate amount of time, attention, and nurturing needed to make them successful (i.e., shine)? A leader may have the ends in mind (e.g., a vision for success), but if the support needed to ensure the means are well executed are absent, leaders shouldn't be surprised when the vision is unsuccessful. For a pair of shoes to shine brilliantly, there is a process that involves quality care, patience, and persistence.

With a focus on external attributions, it’s rather easy (and commonplace) for people in positions of leadership to point fingers. Instead, let’s consider focusing on internal attributions in order to be honest with ourselves when things go wrong. Did the team members receive the quality mentoring and coaching support needed to help ensure that they were successful? Note that mentoring and coaching should not be equated with micromanaging. The former can allow people to make mistakes along the way but it’s also supposed to prevent team members from failing fantastically. Micromanaging is typically the result of a bad hire and in some cases (unfortunately) someone’s approach to management (which more often than not results in low employee morale).

Institutions of higher education are embarking on redesigning the way they serve students. Will leaders from across the institution provide planning and implementation support and treat team members with kindness or take a bullying approach (demeaning, yelling, slamming things, and threats) when things go wrong? The culture of the organization and its ability to improve practices and student success is at stake. With a toxic culture of external attributions--that often leads to bullying--improving student equity and success is almost impossible.

Let's treat people with kindness.

Semper Fi.

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Contact me about customized trainings or ongoing coaching support to help your campus plan and implement grants, projects, or comprehensive efforts such as guided pathways.  Use the contact form on the right (bottom of the page for mobile users).


Dr. Al's collaborative and inclusive leadership style is highly effective. His facilitation of our 3-day Guided Pathways summit was highly engaging. It propelled our work and his continued coaching support has ensured that we maintain a steady momentum. Marie Vicario-Fisher, Southwestern College Faculty, Health Science & Environmental Technology, Former Acting Special Assistant to the President, Guided Pathways

We continue to renew Dr. Al's services because we appreciate his value. He understands and genuinely appreciates shared governance and the critical roll faculty play in shaping Guided Pathways. He brings an array of tools, resources, and coaching skills that are tremendously valuable to our work. We engage with him extensively and he makes himself available at a moment's notice. The level of communication is unparalleled. Dr. Martha McDonald, Citrus College Vice-President, Student Services

Dr. Al helped secure two NSF grants that support our STEM meta-major. He listens to our needs and is an effective communicator and consensus builder. Dr. Par Mohammadian, Los Angeles Mission College Faculty, Life Science Vice Chair/Allied Health Director/NSF PI

Dr. Al provided us with exceptionally well-received customized trainings based on our needs. Our "why, what, how" of Guided Pathways session helped us create the planning structure that best suited us to move forward. In addition, he helped plan and conduct a student panel that helped to give additional meaning to the subsequent meta-major sorting activity with faculty and staff that he facilitated. We appreciate his approach of planning and executing with us instead of to us. Dr. Mary-Jo Apigo, West Los Angeles College, Dean of Teaching & Learning

We were recently awarded a 2.7M Title V STEM grant and have experienced a smooth transition from proposal to implementation. Dr. Al took us through a highly collaborative process to ensure all voices were heard. I highly recommend him for any project. He knows how to help campuses build clarity, coherence, and consensus.
Dr. Erik Bender, Orange Coast College Faculty, Geology & Title V Project Director

Our campus participated in a regional integrated planning workshop that Dr. Al led. We were so impressed with the session that we invited him to Diablo Valley College to assist us with integrated planning and Guided Pathways trainings. He didn't disappoint! Don't expect a "sit and get" session with him. He'll facilitate groups to do productive and meaningful work. It says a lot about his abilities when he can keep a group motivated and engaged from morning until the end of the day! Dr. Mark Akiyama, Diablo Valley College Faculty, Psychology & Chair, Student Equity Committee

(A. Solano)

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