3 Ways to Find Your Community as a New Higher Ed Leader

Higher Ed Leadership Series

As you enter a new chapter in your career as a higher ed leader – perhaps even in a new physical (or geographical) setting – it’s important to build a community where you will find support. It can be hard to leave a place where you’re comfortable and plant yourself somewhere new.

It can also feel a bit lonely when you are the head of a department, as you aren’t able to let your hair fully down with your staff. What’s more, if you are in a new city, you have yet to establish personal relationships that you can lean on as an outlet.

This sense of isolation, both personally and professionally, can feel overwhelming at times. So, as you begin to find your way, start to look for ways to engage with people in your new surroundings. This includes both inside and outside the campus footprint.

Why is community important?

It’s important to find peers across campus who can be a sounding board, give you political insight on the landscape, and who can be a friend. In addition to professional insights, you need someone who can tell you where to get your hair done, where the best meals are in the area, and can give you the name of a trusted mechanic or plumber.

So, how do you find a community?

1) Join cross-department committees

It’s easy to stay in the bubble of your own department; but that will limit your opportunities to meet new people. Joining a committee outside of your department can not only open up new career opportunities, but can help you to connect with colleagues you wouldn’t otherwise meet. And you never know what these relationships may grow into!

2) Extend an invitation

Take the initiative to invite someone to an in-person or virtual coffee chat, or to go for a walk around campus. Your colleagues will be happy to connect with you, answer your questions, and provide guidance and support as you enter your new role.

3) Find connections off campus

Outside of the university, it’s important to find personal connections that will feed your interests. You are not just your career, so if you only focus on campus life you will burn out quickly. Find an outlet that brings you joy. In short, find community in the community!

Some examples include:

  • Joining a church
  • Activating in the local chapter your sorority or fraternity
  • Finding a community service organization that reflects your passion
  • Participating in the gym, walking groups, etc.

In an interview with Ladders, Simon Sinek summarized the importance of finding your tribe in a really powerful way.

“Anybody who thinks they can do this thing called ‘career; by themselves is nuts. Life, business, career, profession, parenting — all of these things are incredibly difficult, and they require advice, emotional support, mentorship, friendship, and the ability to ask for and receive help.”

– Simon Sinek

Without a solid community, it’s going to be hard to excel in your personal or professional life. So if you’re feeling isolated in your new role as a higher ed leader, use the tips above to begin building your tribe!

University Leadership Roadmap

Looking for additional resources to help you navigate senior leadership in higher ed? Download our free University Leadership Roadmap: 7 Steps to Jumpstart Your Leadership Journey for Women of Color in Higher Ed.

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