Skip navigation
From the admin chair

Some reflections on working through the process of change

“As a leader, there will be times when you just have to take a leap of faith.”


Change is inevitable, whether in our personal or professional lives. Life just does not stay static, nor do institutions. Sometimes change is welcomed and other times change is viewed as challenging. I have always looked at change as an opportunity to improve or to do things differently. This openness has helped me through some very exciting changes as well as some difficult ones.

Each institutional leader brings with them their own vision and ways of carrying out that vision. In these instances, being open to new and fresh ideas is critical. This does not mean that we have to agree to everything. Rather, having a sense of openness and flexibility allows us to see another view and to hear bold new ideas, even if they might make us uncomfortable.

Change can also be challenging, so here are a few essential things that I have found useful: remain focused on your own vision and goals; remain respectful despite any differences that may arise; maintain your integrity; and, at the end of the day, stand up for what you believe to be important.

Having a vision includes having specific goals or outcomes that you are working to achieve. Oftentimes, on a day-to-day basis, it is easy to get caught up on operational details. Don’t get me wrong, operational details are important and are a good part of what administrators tend to. However, it is also important, as one of my mentors often remarked, to get your head “out of the weeds.” I have come to realize through my own experience that getting caught up in too much detail can pivot you away from seeing the bigger picture and from moving larger goals forward.

One of the practices that I’ve learned over the years, and that has helped me enormously, is to build in your own accountability mechanisms that ensure you stop and take time to reflect. I do this regularly by reviewing yearly goals and objectives, which are aligned with the broader institutional vision. As part of this process, whether my supervisor requires it or not, I find providing regular written reports extremely useful in keeping me focused on my personal goals and the larger institutional vision.

Second, during times of change, we may not always agree with decisions or directions. At these times it is important to remain respectful despite differences. In my view, good leaders model the notion that we can agree to disagree and that should be perfectly fine. In reality, this may not always be the case – people may have mixed feelings. During those times it is probably wise to keep an open mind and remain reflective.

As a leader, there will be times when you just have to take a leap of faith, believe in your peers and embrace the change. This sounds bold, I know, but sometimes you have to rely on your intuition and know that those around you also want the best for the institution. This can be hard for leaders who have been schooled into producing accurate answers, views and decisions.

My third point centres on integrity. Integrity, to me, is being honest, fair and ethical. I think about integrity as living with a sense of honesty. That is, being honest with yourself, who you are and what your truth is.

Early in my career I often looked to others and thought I wanted to be a leader like them, or wished I were more like them. I realize now how important it is to be yourself and hold on to the values that you believe in. Leaders are called upon for many things, including adapting to an ever-changing environment, making decisions and acting on them. Working with honesty means recognizing your strengths, being yourself and walking in a way that reflects your core values.

The last point I want to make is to stand up for what you believe in. In a changing environment leaders are often challenged by a number of factors that cause them to question their vision, their ability to remain respectful and their sense of integrity. During these times I have found it important to think about “debwewin,” an Anishnaabe word for truth. For me it comes back to the central questions of: Who are you? What are you here for? What is your truth?

Knowing your truth means that there are times when you do have to go against the grain and stand up for what you believe in. In my work, I have found myself doing this more often than not. For example, the heightened attention to address the needs of Indigenous learners and perspectives is upon all of us. For institutions, this is a bold change. For Indigenous peoples, this is their educational truth. I hope that you remain open to listening and making the necessary changes to your institutions.

Sheila Cote-Meek
Sheila Cote-Meek is vice-president, equity, people and culture, at York University. Her column appears in every second issue.
Post a comment
University Affairs moderates all comments according to the following guidelines. If approved, comments generally appear within one business day. We may republish particularly insightful remarks in our print edition or elsewhere.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *