The favorite part of my role in Corporate America was not the many meetings or endless business travel, but my time on the shop floor, working with hourly associates, supervisors and managers to explore solutions to improve performance and job satisfaction. When I first became a leader, I was too quick to offer solutions, and even to step in to take over what was happening in an effort to solve the problem. My intentions were good, but I realized that I was not adding value by talking so much, and offering advice to workers who understood the job better than me. In fact, my efforts to take over as the leader only made matters worse and led to a disengagement rather than engagement.
These were valuable lessons for me and my experiences in working with students on their career paths at the University of Denver. The feedback that I’ve received from the students is consistent to what I heard from my workforce: they really are not looking for us as faculty and staff to tell them what they should do, as they are already getting enough of this so-called advice from their friends and family. Instead, what the students are really want is a different approach to engagement where we actively listen to better understand what they really want from a career, and what endeavors they must take to get there. Through listening and understanding, we can sharpen their understanding into action, and therefore, success.
These sessions that I’ve held with students at DU have been as valuable to me as those times on the factory floor when I listened to the team and then followed back to see the progress that they have made. Much as in my corporate job, there is no part of my role at DU that is more satisfying than hearing back from a student that I have been speaking to who informs me of their progress in a small step or a big one like their first job.
We as faculty and staff focus on our typical interactions with students that are comfortable to us, such as teaching the course content, helping them with their schedule, reviewing their resumes and so forth. These are undoubtedly important tasks, and we are really good at them, which is why DU is such a great place. Sometimes, we as faculty and staff underestimate the impact that we have on our students, and when we engage, the students are very appreciative, especially in these difficult COVID times. As such, any of us can step up and help any student, no matter of our area of expertise: recently, I’ve been working with a student interested in Art, an area way outside of my experience but something that I can help her with in connecting the dots between her current state and goals. It is these little interactions between us and our students that will define how they viewed their educational experience at the university, perhaps just as important as the course content that they learned. And in return, we gain a great experience that is the most valued in our time at the university.
Jack Buffington is the Program Director/Assistant Professor for the Supply Chain Management program and the Denver Transportation Institute at the University of Denver. Jack is also the 2020 Undergraduate Faculty Career Champion.