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Sara E. Gomez, Madison Area Technical College
Ann M. Hintz, St. Norbert College

Sara Gomez.jpgAnn HIntz.jpgThere are many meanings to the term leadership and what it entails for higher education professionals.  Leadership opportunities are open for everyone, regardless of title or role. Effective leaders are able to inspire others to reach a common goal and do not need to be in positions of power to lead (Cox, 2016). Rather, they need the skills to inspire others to do their very best. At times, it can be difficult to inspire those around us, but now, more than ever, we need to lead with passion, collaboration, connection, commitment, and communication. The following article includes several key components to be a strong leader that can be helpful for academic advisors to be aware of so they can lead from their position on campus.

Supporting Yourself and Others

Leadership is about supporting those around you to achieve goals; actively and sincerely listening to needs, interests, and desires; and providing the support necessary for success. Supportive leadership involves providing inspiration, support, trust, and helping and supporting others through challenges (Corporate Finance Institute Education Inc., 2022). When leaders support the initiatives of others, this can foster motivation (Jansen, et al., 2016).

Leadership and DEI

Leadership means educating ourselves and understanding our cultural diversity, awareness, and privilege. Then working on steps to understand equity, inclusion, and diversity through using an equity lens. As leaders, we first need to have a deep and sincere understanding of what cultural awareness is and what it means for us. It means having the ability to recognize, value, and appreciate ourselves and others as we all bring unique perspectives, experiences, skills, perspectives, histories, and culture. It is about celebrating and valuing our differences, listening, and embracing. In addition, we need to understand how our actions influence others, and how we can help those around us realize the importance of doing our work through this lens.

Equity means fairness, impartiality, and justice—an equal opportunity for all students to participate fully in all educational and non-educational opportunities. As campus leaders, are we committed to working with our colleagues on equity, diversity, and inclusion to best meet the needs of our students, faculty, and staff? As authors, on our campuses  we have embraced this is by taking advantage of opportunities to learn about diversity, equity, and inclusion through ongoing staff training and participating in book clubs. We have also found it valuable to understand the history, current events, and personal experiences/stories of our colleagues, friends, and relatives. From these experiences, we gain knowledge, insight, and become better. This also gives us more insight to help understand the injustices that continue to take place in our society, to be advocates, to work together toward a common goal of valuing diversity, equity, and inclusion. It also means to value and acknowledge the experiences and stories. It becomes important to continue to be advocates for these important issues, to actively engage in conversations and to work together toward solutions and achievable action items. Lastly, we have learned that the work in diversity, equity, and inclusion is ongoing, and we have found it is important to continue to educate, learn, build our communities, embrace, and celebrate each and everyone’s unique and individual experiences. 

It is about understanding current issues in higher education nationally, locally, and internally. Then understanding these issues, especially as it relates to our institutions. Then talking about the issues, collaborating, communicating, and actively working together toward common goals. As a leader, it is important to ask and reflect on these questions.

Communication and Collaboration

As leaders, we are in conversations with our colleagues and campus leaders, directors, and/or managers to discuss student needs. For example, maybe there needs to be additional funding for students impacted by COVID-19. If yes, is there an opportunity to write to legislators to advocate for additional funding and the importance of maintaining state funding? In another example, maybe a student's need is about how campus can be more inclusive. How can we as faculty and staff make the learning environment and college setting more inclusive? This first starts with examining our own assumptions. Learn more about our students, their names, their unique backgrounds, experiences, abilities, and dreams/goals for the future. We as the authors of this article, have learned recently how the pandemic has made it more complicated for international students to enroll in college and for continuing students at some community colleges to increase their persistence. Now, it is even more important to welcome students as leaders in higher education. Perhaps it is about offering mentors for students, support groups, and/or more funding for them to continue their education. As leaders in higher education, it is important for us to understand the issues, collaborate with our institutional partners, and together work on initiatives to achieve these common goals.

Leadership and Emotional Intelligence

Leadership means that we are in tune to our emotional intelligence, being confident, clear, concise, and comfortable in our communication. According to Daniel Goleman (2005), an American psychologist who helped to popularize emotional intelligence, there are five key elements. Are we using and considering the five components of emotional intelligence individually and collectively as we work toward our leadership goals and strategic planning?

  1. Self-awareness
  2. Self-regulation
  3. Self-motivation
  4. Empathy
  5. Social skills

For example, when a leader for a team is motivated, it can boost employee morale. Additionally, an empathetic leader listens to the team, understands them, offers support, and helps them.

As leaders, it is necessary to understand the needs of those around us. Using the key elements of emotional intelligence will help us understand others. Being aware of how others are self-aware, what motivates them, and how their social skills and empathy play into their roles on campus will strengthen our ability to lead, but more so encourage the respect of those we lead.

Celebrating the Success of Others

Leadership also means having the ability to celebrate the success of our colleagues and peers, showing them praise and support for a job well done. If we haven’t done so already, can we develop and honor our colleagues? Do we have campus awards available for staff, faculty, and administrators? Nominations can be received from current staff, instructors, faculty, and administrators to honor a well deserving colleague for a recent achievement. Even a small recognition makes a difference—the thank you note with a treat, or the weekly celebrations of what people are doing well can help with morale.

Taking the time to celebrate the success we share with others will also impact this. What opportunities are there available or what opportunities can we create on our campuses to do this? This can be done both formally, through official awards, or informally, at meetings and events. Take the time to honor colleagues at a staff meeting with recognition of a job well done for things such as working on a team to coordinate and develop a new curriculum to teach a First Year Seminar Orientation Class.

Other options include facilitating an end of the semester gathering to celebrate the team's achievements or having the beginning of a meeting include time to share praise for colleagues. Often these small gestures go a long way for recognition. Share the kudos and praise in public. This begins the meeting on a positive note and adds to the positive morale of the group.

One of our colleagues from Madison College, Dr. Froehlich-Mueller shares,” A true leader is one that respects, values, and appreciates the uniqueness of each individual on their team and the perspective that they bring to their work. A leader must find a way to develop this in their team members and themselves and celebrate this development.” As author of this article, we agree. Each team member brings their own unique experiences, backgrounds, interests, and values to the team.  

Leading Through Connections

Your professional network is one of the most important networks that you have. This network develops over time and has a plethora of knowledge and support for you. A strong leader will use this network for support and continue to network, growing and expanding connections to colleagues within their institution, within the state, and nationally. Encourage those you lead to make these connections and to become active participants in your professional development organizations. For more seasoned professionals, this work often helps fill their cup and re-energize them for projects back on campus. Additionally, this allows for professional development in the field and encourages continual development and succession planning.

Professional connections can also impact campus development through analyzing key institutional needs, student needs, asking key questions while we are in dialogue with our colleagues to solve concerns, and being strategic and creative in long term planning. Additionally, data gained through this type of professional development can then be used to enhance our services. As campus leaders, we need to understand, constantly communicate, collaborate, coordinate, and celebrate.

Closing Thoughts

Leadership on a higher education campus is about being proactive and dynamic in addressing staff and student needs. This means communication and collaboration on a regular basis with our institutional partners, faculty, staff, advisors, counselors, and students. It is important that we use this holistic approach to leadership that is ever evolving, changing, and growing. Then together we can lead with passion and have a positive, energetic, and vital mindset to best serve our students and one another.

Sara E. Gomez, MS. Ed
Lead Academic Advisor
School of Business & Applied Arts
Student Development & Retention Services
Madison Area Technical College
[email protected]

Ann M. Hintz
Director of Academic Advisement 
St. Norbert College
[email protected]


Corporate Finance Institute. (2021). Supportive leadership. https://corporatefinanceinstitute.com/resources/careers/soft-skills/supportive-leadership/

Cox, J. A. (2016). Leadership and management roles: Challenges and success strategies: Perioperative leadership. AORN Journal: The Official Voice of Perioperative Nursing, 104(2), 154–160.  https://doi.org/10.1016/j.aorn.2016.06.008

Goleman, D. (2005). Emotional intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ (10th anniversary ed.). Random House Publishing Group.

Jansen, J. J. P., Kostopoulos, K. C., Mihalache, O. R., & Papalexandris, A. (2016). A socio-psychological perspective on team ambidexterity: The contingency role of supportive leadership behaviors. Journal of Management Studies, 53(6), 939–965. https://doi.org/10.1111/joms.12183

Cite this article using APA style as: Gomez, S.E, & Hintz, A.M. (2022, September). Elements of a successful leader. Academic Advising Today, 45(3). [insert url here] 


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