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President's Message: Communication Styles & Networks

Greetings. Thank you for allowing me to continue in service as President! As a reminder, I still welcome feedback on the issues and topics you believe are important for our organization to address or explore. Please email thoughts to or on areas that impact or improve conditions of our overall membership and higher education.

I am continuing in the discussion of leadership topics and what effective leadership implies. As transitions occur between leaders across our colleges and universities, the state, and nation and all aspects of our society, actually, these areas are timely and apropos. As companies and educational institutions realign and shift to meet current demands and challenges, it’s important to discuss how to practice effective leadership in organizations during times of growth or crisis. Please share your thoughts as well. Let us dialogue further as you respond to these President’s Messages or other aspects of our newsletters.

In this issue, I discuss the importance of facilitating healthy and productive communication networks in our organizations. On the one hand, communication is a powerful tool allowing us to reach constituents within our institutions along with our external stakeholders and aiding us as we continue to connect virtually. On the other hand, communication, when unbridled, untruthful, and unprofessional, can undo us and the very core of our institutions, organizations, and professional associations and networks. We are stewards of resources and services, but also traditions and people.

Subsequently, I include two leadership case scenarios that encompass both productive and unproductive types of communication. I will use these two scenarios to connect to the points about leadership. Of course, as the proverbial saying goes, names were changed to protect the innocent and furthermore, not so innocent.

University Boss A (Uba) has become the President of a small, regional college in a highly industrialized rural area. Uba believes in knowing about all aspects of her college down to the departmental levels. She is accustomed to leading with strong oversight, involvement, micro-management, and direction. Uba finds information providers (IPs) in each unit of the college i.e. members she can use to gather information about the innerworkings including the smallest and minute details. Information about the operations from these IPs are always taken at face value and are used to make decisions as well as administer rewards and punishments. IPs feel comfortable taking information (even gossip) to her for their own benefit and her manipulation too. IPs find it easy to distract or set her off which allows them to control their respective units and personally benefit. She sees herself as highly communicative, knowledgeable, and powerful. She believes it’s her duty to ensure order in the institution. Uba sees herself as a great communicator because she is able to call or consult directly about the status of any unit at the college at a moment’s notice. She is proud of her prowess in this area.

At an established, urban university in a large metropolitan area, University Leader A (Ula) believes in knowing about all aspects of her university where related to her role as Chancellor. Ula is aware of the scalar chain of command and encourages individual accountability, leadership at multiple levels, and awareness of the expertise of different team members to obtain information that is used for operating the university efficiently and effectively. Ula does not believe in getting down in the weeds on most issues, but connects with those team members within the zone of expertise and/or relativity. Ula is careful, reflective, analytical, and decisive when receiving information. Before Ula acts, metacognition and critical thinking occur along with maturity and discretion. Ula understands the power she holds is a gift and a huge responsibility, not to be taken lightly or narcissistically. With humility and constant meditation and reflection, she is keenly aware that she must be an exemplar and professional at all times. Also, she knows that knowledge must emerge and continue over time and she is a life-long learner. She has learned she should balance performance and productivity with people and purpose.

In the examples with brief snapshots of two managers’ overall leadership styles, we see communication used for different purposes. As a professor and educational leader, I love using case studies and scenarios to explore topics as I have done in this message. I have used these situations to establish some important points.

In the former example, we see communication in forging alliances for power and control. Forming connections and gaining support are important skills, but if done solely as quid pro quo approaches, such actions can be dangerous and dictatorial. In the latter example, we see communication used for action and advancement. In the second case, reflection and critical thinking are important, but the leader also cannot overthink issues where there is no decisiveness. The leader must build relationships and also act when prudent i.e. when the time is right. Occasionally, the leader may need to connect at lower levels to fully experience and understand an issue. When interacting with leaders it’s important to know which type style they possess and to act accordingly.

Also, I used the two examples because they help clarify core concepts undergirding effective communication, specifically: advocacy, justice, fairness, meaning, integrity, productivity, collegiality, ethics, purpose, and authenticity. These traits characterize what we attempt to perform and exemplify in/through TACT and with tact.

Twice each year, we meet with the staffers and/or state senators and representatives of the higher education, appropriations, and finance committees. We have also met with leaders in the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB). We assess issues impacting our TACT constituents and higher education and discuss those topics with the individuals with the most external impact in meeting goals and fostering outcomes. As a result, we have developed relationships and effective communication networks that actually help make a difference i.e. partnerships. Our legislative leaders, policy leaders, and THECB leaders know we are committed and keep abreast of issues without bias, but with respect, transparency, professionalism, and class. As a member of the board, I work with other board members who are best-in-class and first-class in how they operate in and outside of our professional association. Our board members have heart, serve and truly care about the higher education profession and the state/condition of higher education in Texas. It’s been an honor to serve with the other members and executive staff.

In closing, we hope you will support our efforts and share in our advocacy. Also, I hope you will have the opportunity to connect with the board and staff in a meaningful manner. We are here to address important issues impacting our members and look forward to greater dialogue and continuing to make a difference!

With service and stewardship,

Lisa D. Hobson, Ph. D.

TACT President

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