Ann M. Hintz, St. Norbert College
Sara E. Gomez, Madison Area Technical College
As the profession of academic advising continues to evolve, it is important for academic advisors to develop strong leadership skills to advocate for students, their roles on campus, and the academic advising profession. Leadership development can occur in a variety of ways, and academic advisors and their supervisors need to find opportunities to ensure leadership skills are honed. Developing leadership skills may lead to academic advisors becoming formal and informal leaders, on and off their campuses. This development can occur through involvement in on-campus committee work, professional development organizations, community organizations, book clubs, and more. Each advisor, with the support of their supervisor, has the opportunity to determine how to strengthen their personal professional development by creating their own individualized plan for enhancing leadership skills. This article will discuss some ways that an academic advisor can seek out leadership opportunities to grow their voice and leadership skills.
Importance of Leadership
Development of leadership skills is an important aspect of professional development, one that should be cultivated by all professionals. Trede and McEwen (2012) discuss the need to develop a professional identity that allows the individual to “have a position within their chosen field of practice that is aligned with their values, interests and intentions” (p. 6). Every professional has their own personal values and ideals that should align with the values and ideas for their chosen careers. Over time, one’s professional identity will change, grow, and develop (Trede & McEwen, 2012). This change is a natural part of growth for a person and should be fostered through regular professional development that is relevant to one’s chosen field. This will foster the idea of “critical professionals'' that Trede and McEwen (2012) discuss as being an integral part of higher education and become the next generation of leaders.
Part of developing as a leader involves reflection. Identity and leadership are intertwined, and past experiences impact not only our professional identity, but also our leadership identity (Seemiller & Crosby, 2019). Through the process of reflection leaders can “identify what they truly care about and what calls them to leadership” and can also help model how, as leaders, we are continuing to place emphasis on our own professional development (Seemiller & Crosby, 2019, p. 77).
There are many leadership theories, including servant leadership. Servant leadership focuses on the motivational needs of the individual rather than that of the organizational objectives and is based on the premise that “great leadership is not derived from position, status, or skill, but rather from the will of the individual to serve” (McClellan, 2007, p. 42). Academic advisors are often servant leaders. Their commitment to their profession and to students allows them to lead from their positions on campus, even if there is no formal leadership role.
Academic advisors do not always hold formal leadership roles on campus but are powerful leaders when it comes to being advocates for students. Academic advisors can take informal leadership roles on their campus through committee work and sharing the voices of their students in these positions. This also helps the academic advisor grow professionally while cultivating leadership skills.
For some advisors, adding additional tasks to their plate may seem daunting, but it can be rewarding and help create strong connections across campus. For faculty advisors, this is often easier as committee work is expected as part of their role on campus. For primary role advisors, the challenge becomes balancing student-facing priorities with external campus serving roles. It is important for primary role advisors to incorporate this into their workload as it will help them find their voice on campus and become recognized as a leader.
The interactions academic advisors have with students give academic advisors a unique perspective and opportunity to share the views of the student in a way that can support student success. Academic advisors have a voice that can be used to support students, but advisors must have leadership skills and be able to integrate the right circles to have this voice heard. These leadership skills can continue to develop over time with the right mentorship and guidance. Academic advisors can bring a fresh perspective, advocate for students, and share student needs by serving on committees while at the same time developing their leadership skills.
Another way to develop leadership skills is to become involved in professional development organizations. These organizations allow advisors to share what they are doing on their campuses through conference presentations, blog posts, and round table discussions. Academic advisors can gain formal leadership experiences as executive board members, on committees, and in volunteer roles. Even something as simple as reading conference proposals or award nominations can help an advisor gain a broader perspective of the profession.
Professional development organizations can help academic advisors learn and grow in ways they may not be able to on their campuses. One recommendation is to encourage academic advisors to become involved in state, national, and global organization opportunities. This starts with attendance at conference and professional development events, but needs to be fostered through submitting presentation proposals, event planning committees, and board positions. Seasoned professionals must encourage new professionals to become involved in a variety of ways. This involvement can build leadership skills and allow academic advising professionals to grow.
Community involvement can be used to develop leadership skills. Becoming involved in book clubs, volunteering, and community service allow academic advisors the chance to integrate their personal passions with opportunities to lead. This can impact their professional roles as academic advisors through increased self-confidence.
Academic advisors can be strong leaders. Lessons learned as an academic advisor include being present and supportive of our students and advising colleagues, looking at the bigger picture when reviewing a student's needs, recommending a process change and more. From building connections with faculty, primary role academic advisors, and other professionals on campus to the development of human relations skills, effective teamwork strategies, and exploring effective strategic planning, all these activities have the outcome of developing leadership skills and becoming involved as an academic advisor. It is essential that supervisors support this development and encourage those who want to grow. It can be hard to take the first step toward becoming a leader, but doing so can have a strong, positive impact on both a personal and professional level.
Director of Academic Advisement
St. Norbert College
Sara E. Gomez MS.Ed
Lead Academic Advisor
School of Business & Applied Arts
Student Development & Retention Services
Madison Area Technical College
McClellan, J. L. (2007). The advisor as servant: The theoretical and philosophical relevance of servant leadership to academic advising. NACADA Journal, 27(2), 41–49. https://doi.org/10.12930/0271-9517-27.2.41
Trede, F., & McEwen, C. (2012). Developing a critical professional identity: Engaging self in practice. In J. Higgs, R. Barnett, S. Billett, M. Hutchings, & F. Trede (Eds.), Practice-based education: Perspectives and strategies (pp. 27–40).
Seemiller, C., & Crosby, B. C. (2019). Exploring and enhancing leader, educator, and leadership educator professional identities. New Directions for Student Leadership, 2019(164), 71–86.
Cite this article using APA style as: Hintz, A. & Gomez, S. (2021, September). Cultivating leadership opportunities to develop as a professional. Academic Advising Today, 44(3). [insert url here]