Guest Post: On Leadership in Graduate School

“Be a great leader” apparently isn’t the appropriate answer to “what do you want to do when you finish your PhD?” Neither is “sleep” or “go to Jamaica.” People seem relieved when the awkward silence that follows such a response is replaced with, “I’m looking to obtain a dual faculty-administrator position.” I think they’re relieved because “faculty” and “administrator” are accepted reasons to pursue a doctoral degree, not be a leader. Google “what is leadership?” and you’ll find these six views packaged in various forms:

  1. Leadership can be learned.
  2. Leaders motivate others to be their best.
  3. The ability to Influence matters, not a position or title.
  4. Leadership is not synonymous with management.
  5. Leaders continually strengthen their emotional intelligence.
  6. Without followers, leaders do not exist

These tenets represent a snapshot of the available information on leadership. It is left up to the leader to evaluate their own effectiveness through self-awareness, performance reviews, or the evaluation of follower output. Herein lies an easily overlooked aspect of leadership that allows many of us, myself included, to thrive within the comfort zone. How often do we deviate from the all-knowing, top-down assessment of leadership to ask our followers one simple question – how am I doing as a leader?

I understand this question isn’t an easy one to ask; however, not asking ignores a critical part of self-improvement. It’s much easier to avoid, ignore, or become defensive when given feedback from subordinates. As I’ve tried to strengthen my leadership skills, I’ve made attempts to incorporate evaluations from those I supervise. The key is creating an environment where supervisees trust me and my intentions. I do this because I’ve experienced the joy of working in environments with the level of trust needed to be open and honest. I’ve also experienced the need to remain gainfully employed (at-will employment is a thing) rather than speak my mind. I’ve tried to actively seek all forms of feedback, and it’s helped me to keep in mind that:

  1. If I ask for feedback, I must at minimum consider it.
  2. The feedback I receive is not a reflection of my worth or capability.
  3. Not all feedback will have equal weight.
  4. A person providing feedback is doing so through their unique perspective and life experiences.
  5. No matter what, don’t take it personally.

I promised myself that I would use this time in graduate school to physically, mentally, and spiritually grow so that I can return to the professional world with fresh eyes. Positive feedback is amazing and yet, I’ve grown so much more from negative feedback. The beauty of embracing imperfection is that it forces me to accept the need to continuously improve. My end is not to do something perfectly, but to do it better than I did before. The process of self-renewal has been long, challenging, and one that I know will continue throughout my career. I challenge you to embrace yours and do the same.


Asia Randolph Office HS.jpgAsia Renée Randolph is relationship-focused and a close friend had this to say: “[Asia is] an incredible friend. Our relationship is one of my favorites because I can count on [her] for honest feedback and the best support. [She is] one of the most authentic, thoughtful, and resilient people I have ever met. [She] is stronger than I think [she realizes] and I know [she is] unstoppable.” -SLQ

Asia is a third year Ph.D. student in the Educational Policy, Planning, and Leadership (Higher Education Administration) program at William & Mary. Originally from San Diego, California, she holds a B.A. in Language Studies – Spanish from the University of California, San Diego and a M.A. in Postsecondary Educational Leadership with a Specialization in Student Affairs from San Diego State University. Connect with her on Instagram (@blackgraduate) where she posts about her life as a (sometimes struggling) doctoral student.

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