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Candid Answers to your most Candid questions

A Safe Place to Ask Candid Questions


Every professional - entry level, mid-career, and experienced - faces situations where they wish they had someone they trusted who would listen to their challenge and thoughtfully suggest solutions or offer a new way to consider the situation.   In the Vault is a safe, anonymous space for you to submit questions and receive candid practical advice from Sophia Confidential for even the most sensitive of issues.  


WHO IS SOPHIA CONFIDENTIAL?

Sophia is an experienced professional who has worked in a variety of fields. Ask her anything. Sophia is not HR, your boss, your lawyer or your therapist. But, she IS the person who will tell it to you straight, even if it’s difficult to hear.

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Submit your question or situation anonymously, and our team of experienced international educators will post it with our best answer.

Watch  this space as well as LinkedIn and our e-newsletter for your answer!


SOPHIA SAYS....

  • 17 Nov 2021 6:00 PM | Anonymous

    Dear Sophia,

    I have enjoyed working from home since Covid 19’s various lockdowns and the expectations of me to travel for work were one of the few benefits of the pandemic. Now that travel is resuming for holidays, I'm worried that the day is coming that travel will resume for business and for work again. I have a young family and quite enjoy being at home and not having to travel to the office or travel overseas for work. Should I start thinking of how to manage these expectations to once again travel so that I am ready when this might happen again?

    Sincerely, 

    Happy at Home Working Mother

    Dear Happy at Home Working Mother, 

    There seem to be two camps when it comes to traveling these days: Those that can’t wait to get back out there and get away from the places they’ve been stuck in for the past year and a half, and those that are quite content with the lack of travel and would like things to continue as they are. In your case, you have an extra layer of a young family which typically requires a bit more time, attention, and support. It’s completely understandable that you would want to limit your travel in the future. So how do we set expectations here?

    I would first assess how much travel you are willing and/or able to do and second, the amount of travel your role has typically required. This second piece may be a bit more difficult to answer as we are living in a very different world now, but start with what it used to look like. Once you have that, think about how much travel you think is really necessary now? Pre-pandemic, many business trips were required as they were key to building relationships. In this post-pandemic world, however, this isn’t necessarily the case. While an in-person meeting, in my mind, will always trump a virtual one, that doesn’t mean that EVERY meeting needs to be in-person. Every organization is reimagining what business travel looks like. The ability and what’s become almost second nature of connecting virtually for many fields is making it so organizations can save not only money but also time. It’s much easier and efficient to jump on an hour-long Zoom call, than to fly for 5 hours, rent a car, spend a night at a hotel, expense meals, risk exposure to COVID, etc. for an hour-long in-person meeting. I would say you could make quite the business, financial, and health case for not traveling in certain situations.

    After you have done some basic analysis, try to gauge the direction that your organization is going in. Do you think the expectation is that travel will ramp back up again? Talk to your supervisor about what they think. If the organization is really going to limit travel then that’s a good sign and will hopefully work for you. If they aren’t, however, or if they haven’t decided, it’s going to be really important to start having discussions about what you would like sooner rather than later. Explain your situation and how you would like to reduce the amount of travel. Are there practical ways to reduce travel because of the remote space we naturally find ourselves in? Perhaps another colleague is willing or even eager to take on some of that in your place. Is there a way to adjust your official role to have less travel? Perhaps now is the time to consider other roles within the organization or outside the organization if it isn’t meeting your needs. The key is having a clear understanding of what you’re willing to do, what your role entails, and to communicate with your supervisor around this. Ideally, you will be able to make a case for an adjustment and if not, then you’ll have to decide what your priorities are and potentially adjust your expectations to jumping back onto a plane.

    Confidentially Yours,

    Sophia

    P.S. Now that I’ve shared my thoughts, I’m curious what the amazing community of educators reading this post has to say. Chime in, folks! What thoughts do you have for Asking for a Friend? Share your thoughts on the Global Leadership League’s LinkedIn page. Have a question for Sophia yourself, ask here!

    Please note: This response is provided for informational purposes only. The information contained herein is not legal advice and should not be used as a substitute for the legal advice or legal opinions of a licensed professional. Contact a personal attorney or licensed professional to obtain appropriate legal advice or professional counseling with respect to any particular issue or problem.

  • 03 Nov 2021 4:00 PM | Anonymous

    Dear Sophia,

    I know someone who is facing a problem with the return to in-person work. While everyone was remote, the teamwork on his team was amazing and the team functioned very well. Now that there is in-person work, however, he notices that unhelpful and destructive chatter has returned. It's like everyone was mission-focused while remote, but now that they are seeing each other again, the focus is sometimes on the team members/on interpersonal issues instead. Those chattering don't think they are gossiping and they don't think they are behaving in toxic ways. They think they are discussing work matters with people they trust and would reject the notion that they are engaging in toxic behaviors -- but they are. He knows he can't change others, and that lecturing his colleagues won't be productive. What can he do to improve this situation for himself and for the whole team? 

    Sincerely, 

    Don’t Want to Work with Toxicity

    Dear Don’t Want to Work with Toxicity,

    I’m glad you’re writing on behalf of “someone you know” but I hope you don’t mind me talking to you directly on the off chance that someone happens to be you (wink wink). No matter who is asking this question, it’s relevant to any of us who have ever had the delight of working in an office setting with other people. Let’s start with the basics. Offices are made up of human beings. Human beings are naturally social creatures. We connect and interact on multiple levels in numerous ways throughout our lives, both personally and professionally. So, it’s no wonder that sometimes the lines get blurred in personal and professional boundaries. But the pandemic  laid down a clear demarcation between the two. When we entered a Zoom room at work for a meeting, it was clearly business. If you called a colleague to catch up on their latest family vacation, that was personal. Working from our little bubbles, we kept everything in the separate lanes because there were no accidental interactions.

    But as you rightly point out, going back to work in person means we are jumping back into the lawless frontier of office politics. Now keep in mind, what you might be seeing at this moment is an almost frantic overload of human connection where everyone is so hungry for socializing that the balance is heavily skewed towards chatter. That will settle out eventually as we all get back into the routine of normal work behavior so perhaps a bit of patience is called for here.

    That said, there is a difference between engagement with colleagues and toxic gossip-mongering. I’d like to think that as professionals we all know the difference, but that would be naïve and clearly you are witnessing this firsthand. So, here’s what I’d suggest: Jump into the fray. Trust me, I know this is not the answer you wanted, but the reality is, if you want to change the environment in your workplace to one that does not promote this kind of disruptive and damaging behavior, you’re going to have to get your hands dirty.

    You’re correct that lecturing colleagues will not be effective. So instead of lecturing, join in the conversation, engage in the circles, and elevate the dialogue. When topics veer into gossip, gently suggest, in a good-natured, light-hearted way, that perhaps we don’t want to go down that road because “hey, Charlie’s a good guy deep down and it might be that he’s just really overloaded right now…” You can also jump in with suggestions for improvements like “yes, it does sometimes feel like Monique creates a real bottleneck in projects, but I don’t think she means to—I wonder if there’s a productive way we could work with her on that?” You see what’s happening here? You are being called upon to be the bigger person—to guide others away from the toxic cliff to more stable and productive ground.

    If that feels like too onerous a task, then I would suggest you take the complete opposite approach and find a way to reframe the environment for yourself. Eckhart Tolle talks about situations being completely neutral, neither good nor bad. He says it is only your own thoughts about it that make it positive or negative. Perhaps this is an opportunity to hone those skills and simply remove yourself from letting it get to you, creating an environment where you simply expect the best from your colleagues, clearly communicate what you need from them, and if you don’t get it (because they are too busy gossiping) you can suggest to your supervisor or your team that a renewed focus on efficiency and productivity would be helpful.

    Either way this is going to involve a choice on your part. You can’t fix other people, but you can model the behavior you’d like to see and/or you can move yourself into a Zen space where you’re not distracted or irritated by the world around you. No matter which you choose, these are life skills that need practicing but will serve you well forever.

    Confidentially Yours,

     Sophia

    P.S. Now that I’ve shared my thoughts, I’m curious what the amazing community of educators reading this post has to say. Chime in, folks! What thoughts do you have for Asking for a Friend? Share your thoughts on the Global Leadership League’s LinkedIn page. Have a question for Sophia yourself, ask here!

    Please note: This response is provided for informational purposes only. The information contained herein is not legal advice and should not be used as a substitute for the legal advice or legal opinions of a licensed professional. Contact a personal attorney or licensed professional to obtain appropriate legal advice or professional counseling with respect to any particular issue or problem.

  • 20 Oct 2021 11:00 AM | Anonymous


    Dear Sophia,

    I have a friend who was told by her boss (the director) that certain organizational changes are coming down the pipeline - mostly a restructure of reporting lines. Next she had a candid conversation with another colleague who shared that the director had told her that a restructure of reporting lines was coming but the details of who reports to whom was different. Then she spoke with another colleague candidly who had yet a third version from the director. There are no cross-team meetings, and no general staff meetings to somehow bring these 'discrepancies' up in 'public'. What should she do?! 

    Sincerely, 

    Asking for a Friend

    Dear Asking for a Friend,

    Ah, a classic game of telephone: office edition! I have been there, too. I was once told that I would be appointed to take over for my boss in the interim after she resigned, while at the same time her boss was telling everyone that she was going to take over that job. In the end I was appointed, but had barely started when my new boss took over the interim role after all, despite having less context than me to do the job. It seems this was her plan all along. Two years later, we still haven’t hired someone permanent for that role, and leadership did not explain their reasoning to me. I will probably never know what went on behind the scenes and that’s what’s important to remember in a situation like this.

    At this stage, it’s impossible for your friend to know what the final plan is in her office, and the truth is, leadership at this organization may also not know what the plan is. In my mind, there are at least three possibilities for the different versions of the story your friend is hearing:

    1. The director is deliberately telling different stories as some kind of strategy to confuse employees. This seems unlikely.

    2. The director honestly doesn't know yet what changes are going to be made so they’re throwing out ideas which are being interpreted as more of a certainty. Each employee is inserting their own interpretation and distorting the story further. 

    3. Communication is poor in the leadership team or between the director and their reports, so each staff member has a different idea of the restructuring plan. This is the most likely scenario. 

    With the full understanding that one may not receive clear answers, it never hurts to try to open the lines of communication. Office restructuring is nerve-wracking for everyone, so employees have a right to be concerned, and, hopefully, provide feedback on any major plans before they’re finalized. Your friend can state openly to her supervisor that she’s heard a few different things around the office and would appreciate being included in upcoming planning for restructuring. It could be that this conversation sparks better communication from the director or within the leadership team, if they realize how differently staff members are interpreting the plan. I am a strong advocate for open communication, so I hope this may help! 

    In the end, your friend may just need to wait to see how things shake out, and hope that next time the director will have a clearer plan before sharing it with the team. 

    Confidentially Yours,

    Sophia

    P.S. Now that I’ve shared my thoughts, I’m curious what the amazing community of educators reading this post has to say. Chime in, folks! What thoughts do you have for Asking for a Friend? Share your thoughts on the Global Leadership League’s LinkedIn page. Have a question for Sophia yourself, ask here!

    Please note: This response is provided for informational purposes only. The information contained herein is not legal advice and should not be used as a substitute for the legal advice or legal opinions of a licensed professional. Contact a personal attorney or licensed professional to obtain appropriate legal advice or professional counseling with respect to any particular issue or problem.

  • 06 Oct 2021 10:30 AM | Anonymous

    Dear Sophia,

    One of my colleagues has made it widely known that she supports the former presidential administration. During the January 6 insurrection at the Capital, she expressed sympathetic views for the rioters and while she didn't directly make these comments to me, I heard from several others, which makes me increasingly uncomfortable. Should I mention anything to my manager (who is also my colleague's supervisor)?

    Sincerely, 

    Reconciling Ideological Differences

    Dear Reconciling Ideological Differences,

    I imagine most Americans reading this response, and even those living outside of the U.S., have at least one or more colleagues, friends, or family members who openly support the past President Trump and his  administration or some of its views. We’ve all likely had situations over the last 5+ years where we had to decide the best course of action to address ideological differences with a person we don’t know at all or that we’ve known for a long time. Some choose to end contact all together, others seek to deepen their relationship and seek greater understanding or influence, others ignore or distance themselves, and many do some combination. With this in mind, my question for you is: what is your goal in reporting your discomfort to your supervisor?

    You shared that this colleague has made statements to others- not you- which show sympathy for the January 6th rioters. While you, and potentially others, are uncomfortable to know the views of your colleague, I encourage you to take a step back and take a moment to ask yourself if and how knowing her views is harmful to you or your work. How does sharing political views (regardless of the ideology) align with or in conflict with company policy and culture? Consider that the colleague may be sharing her views to gauge support from others or she may feel it’s safe to convey her beliefs knowing that the company is one that seeks to create an environment for civil discourse and include diverse perspectives and identities. 

    If your company has made statements or has policies which limit political discourse or behaviors which create a divisive environment then you may decide to talk with your supervisor about your concerns. You may even recommend professional training to engage colleagues in civil discourse, create intergroup dialogues, or introduce story circles. Above all, if you decide to report her, avoid demonizing the beliefs she has and stick to concerns directly about how the person is sharing political views inappropriately or creating discomfort in their discourse about polarizing issues. Do this with an understanding that your supervisor will likely do their own investigation and since you don’t have firsthand knowledge of statements made, you could end up on the wrong end of this stick. Of course, if you or others have heard this colleague make statements which are threatening or discriminatory toward others based on race, color, national origin, or sex (includes pregnancy, gender identity, or sexual orientation), then you definitely can  report this behavior which is unlawful under Title VII and the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  

    Having a visceral negative response to President Trump and his policies, especially for anyone who perceives them as in conflict with their own views, is expected. Don’t lose sight that your colleague is a whole human being and much more than just her political opinions. She, like you, has had experiences and relationships that form her current worldview. In the workplace, she, like you, is looking for relationships, to be validated, to contribute, and to create outcomes at work. Assuming an employee with different political beliefs doesn’t belong in your workplace is a problematic take and one that doesn’t bode well for a company that promotes civil discourse and differences of perspective and identities or for the stability of our country. 

    Having ideological differences in a workplace isn’t new. What’s relatively new is a focus many companies have to promote inclusive workplaces and welcoming cultures during a period of increasing polarity. It also likely means managers are likely fielding staff concerns like yours more often. Does being inclusive include ideological differences and welcoming civil discourse around those differences? I suggest it should. I worry about unhealthy behaviors (across all communities) being taught and learned that dehumanize individuals across our differences. I fear this puts our society, workplace teams, and families at risk due to unproductive or disruptive conflict and harmful acts (including the events of January 6th). As an international educator, my personal ideological views push me to seek greater peace through increasing understanding, reserving judgement, perspective taking, and showing compassion while also calling out behaviors which actively discriminate, create barriers, attack, or harm others. I encourage you to reflect on your own goals for working in this field and consider how you’re living out the values in your work and personal life.

    Confidentially Yours,

    Sophia

    P.S. Now that I’ve shared my thoughts, I’m curious what the amazing community of educators reading this post has to say. Chime in, folks! What thoughts do you have for Searching for Safe Partners? Share your thoughts on the Global Leadership League’s LinkedIn page. Have a question for Sophia yourself, ask here!

    Please note: This response is provided for informational purposes only. The information contained herein is not legal advice and should not be used as a substitute for the legal advice or legal opinions of a licensed professional. Contact a personal attorney or licensed professional to obtain appropriate legal advice or professional counseling with respect to any particular issue or problem.

  • 15 Sep 2021 2:00 PM | Anonymous

    Dear Sophia,

    I have been working remotely for 18+ months and return to a hybrid work schedule in one week and a full return to students just 1 week later. While I am excited to be back in the office because I miss valued relationships with colleagues, I am not excited to work on a college campus while the pandemic is raging in my community. My campus has experienced massive Sr. leadership turnover in 12 months and has many new hires everywhere. Pre-pandemic nearly everyone had individual offices and now, due to organizational growth and changes we are often sharing offices or working in more public "hot spot" spaces. We have a vaccine requirement to return to campus that has no teeth and a mask indoors requirement that Sr. leadership have already expressed won't remain throughout the fall. I have an unvaccinated child at home and will be welcoming international students without access to vaccines before arriving to the U.S. I am comfortable wearing my mask everywhere, requesting social distancing, or similar needs with individuals I know. I have less comfort doing this with new colleagues for fear of coming across in a negative way. I am a ball of anxiety about how I'm going to make it through another roller coaster semester and don't want my anxiousness to impact building relationships with my new colleagues. What suggestions do you have about approaching new colleagues and the situation overall?

    Sincerely, 

    Masked Up and Not Ready to Go

    Dear Masked Up and Not Ready to Go,

    Going back to any kind of social environment where it is unclear who has been vaccinated and who hasn’t, or how people feel about wearing masks vs not, is something that is causing many people to be apprehensive and even fearful, myself included. This is very much uncharted territory for all of us, but keeping in mind that your safety and that of your family and those around you should be the number one priority, here are a few suggestions:

    As I’m sure you know, one of the big pieces of connecting with new colleagues and building rapport is genuineness. What do you do when you normally have new colleagues? One thing would be to ask them out for one-on-one coffee, lunch, a drink, etc. (perhaps in an outdoor venue for safety reasons!) and spend some time getting to know them a bit. This will hopefully make it easier for you to bring up your concerns around safety and get a sense of where they stand on the issue and share your concerns in a way that is more natural and honest. Even if they don’t agree with you on your stance, perhaps they will be sympathetic to the fact that you have kids and be supportive in following the safety protocols. 

    If meeting like this doesn’t make sense because of safety concerns, then what? Well, then I would express those same concerns one-on-one but in a way that is, again, genuine, and that will maintain your professional boundaries but still get your point across. Point out that this is an awkward thing to ask or to say, if that’s how you feel, and then say it. In a work environment, hopefully, professionalism will allow people to respect their colleagues' wishes, even if they don’t agree, without causing any negative feelings. If they do react negatively, and you did everything in your ability to be calm, non-judgemental, and professional, then I would have some serious concerns about your coworkers which may go beyond their ability to respect your safety concerns.

    Beyond talking to your coworkers, I would also speak to your supervisor about your concerns and see what they are willing to do to address them. If the current office climate is putting you, your children, and your fellow colleagues at risk, then this is a serious issue, especially with the now rampant Delta Variant. I’m betting you aren’t the only one feeling anxious. Maybe a survey needs to be done to do a pulse check on how people are feeling about being back in the office. Multiple voices expressing the same concerns will hopefully prompt management to do something.

    Finally, if all else fails, do what you need to protect yourself. This could be anything from asking for an exemption to work from home, purchasing better masks for yourself, finding the farthest desk from people, bringing your own air purifier if one isn’t being provided, etc. Do whatever you need to be safe even if that means pissing a few people off. Your health is more important than a few bruised egos.

    Confidentially Yours,

    Sophia

    P.S. Now that I’ve shared my thoughts, I’m curious what the amazing community of educators reading this post has to say. Chime in, folks! What thoughts do you have for Masked Up and Not Ready to Go? Share your thoughts on the Global Leadership League’s LinkedIn page. Have a question for Sophia yourself, ask here!

    Please note: This response is provided for informational purposes only. The information contained herein is not legal advice and should not be used as a substitute for the legal advice or legal opinions of a licensed professional. Contact a personal attorney or licensed professional to obtain appropriate legal advice or professional counseling with respect to any particular issue or problem.

  • 01 Sep 2021 2:00 PM | Anonymous

    Dear Sophia,

    I work on a very small team that helps develop professional development coursework and programming for students. One of my colleagues is consistently late to meetings and is always dropping the ball on deadlines. When asked about why something wasn't done, they always have an excuse as to why they couldn't get to it. I've tried to put deadlines on the team calendar, remind this individual during meetings, and even spoke to my supervisor but nothing seems to work. My supervisor just gives this individual a pass and says they've had a difficult time. This not only impacts my ability to get my work done but also impacts our students and instructors who then end up with last minute changes to their activities and schedules. I'm hitting my wits end and don't know what to do.

    Sincerely, 

    Struggling with Slackers

    Dear Struggling with Slackers,

    I’ll be honest. I had to consider this question for a bit and really dig deep to answer in a way that I hope will be helpful to you. I, along with everyone else in the world, havehad to navigate working with this person you describe. Have I grown in my ability to handle a challenging colleague effectively over time? Probably. Do I have a silver bullet answer for you? Certainly not. What I can do is give suggestions that, if you’re willing to deploy, may help improve the situation.

    1. First, it is critical to thoroughly evaluate the situation. Identify to what extent the colleague’s work, missing deadlines, or lateness you referenced is directly impacting your team’s ability to meet deadlines or complete projects to the established criteria. The last thing you want to do is to be perceived as the nagging colleague to your team members because you seem unable to flex to different work styles or values within your team. For example, if the quality of work is high but the timeliness is off, focus on your own work and growth and push the other colleagues’ behaviours out of focus. You may also consider praising the colleague for the successful outcome while seeking incremental improvements on their timeliness or seek greater understanding about their work values to contextualize their behaviors. 

    2. If you’re certain their work is directly impacting your ability to do your job or succeed, then start by documenting the behaviors. This will require you to note actual situations with as much detail as possible--what the established expectations were, how this person has failed to deliver, and how it has impacted the team’s outcomes. While this is not your job, as the person that is affected most by this person’s professional behavior, you’ll need details on the actual scenarios where their performance (or lack thereof) has been most egregious and any attempts to work with them to achieve individual and team goals before speaking with them and if necessary their supervisor.

    3. With the information you’ve documented, reach out and request a meeting with this person. Be upfront that you’re interested in talking about teamwork and opportunities you see to improve team outcomes. Set your intention for the meeting in your mind and be sure you feel calm and balanced in your approach. You won’t get anywhere if you’re accusatory and exasperated. Now more than ever, we need to consider all the things that might be contributing to this person’s lateness and propensity to make excuses for their work. Remember that everyone has challenges in their life that you know nothing about. Your job is not as judge and jury, but as a colleague who truly wants to understand why this is happening and how you can help reverse the trend. Share your list of situations that you’ve documented and how it undermines the team.

    4. If meeting with this person doesn’t seem appropriate to the culture of your organization or realistic in providing positive outcomes, take your documentation to your supervisor and lay it out for them. Ask them to set up a meeting between the three of you to discuss these situations that keep occurring or ask your supervisor to take this up specifically with this person one on one. Although you may have raised concerns with your supervisor already, be direct with your supervisor that you would like to find a solution to this as it greatly affects your work and the work of your team. If you keep having to circle back to this, do so. Doing so doesn’t make you annoying and whiny, it makes you committed to finding solutions and supporting your team.  

    Ultimately, it’s time to engage with your colleague, understanding it may be perceived as confrontational no matter how hard you try for it not to be. But confrontation, done thoughtfully, can yield huge results and maybe the only thing that can. A last resort option that won’t fix the problem is to take away high priority or time-sensitive assignments from this person. As much as possible, decide as a team to simply take on the work and avoid relying on the colleague who cannot and will not deliver. If asked, tell this person that it seems like they have a lot on their plate and you're taking on the additional workload temporarily. Again, this is not a long-term fix, but it may help you advance the situation towards a resolution. Most of all, it might help you regain some of your wits!

    Confidentially Yours,

    Sophia

    P.S. Now that I’ve shared my thoughts, I’m curious what the amazing community of educators reading this post has to say. Chime in, folks! What thoughts do you have for Searching for Safe Partners? Share your thoughts on the Global Leadership League’s LinkedIn page. Have a question for Sophia yourself, ask here!

    Please note: This response is provided for informational purposes only. The information contained herein is not legal advice and should not be used as a substitute for the legal advice or legal opinions of a licensed professional. Contact a personal attorney or licensed professional to obtain appropriate legal advice or professional counseling with respect to any particular issue or problem.

  • 18 Aug 2021 2:30 PM | Anonymous

    Dear Sophia,

    I'm trying to find trusted in-country providers and tour guides with whom I can partner, but I honestly don't even know where to look or how I know I can trust their services (and the price quotes they give me). I don't want to go through an American or other foreign company to get to the local providers, but how do you know who you can trust? Is there anyone else out there who has built their business from the ground up and wondered who they can trust? Does anyone who has searched for local providers before have any wisdom for someone starting out? Help!

    Sincerely, 

    Searching for Safe Partners

    Dear Searching for Safe Partners,

    This is where networking becomes a very important tool! You mention trust, and starting with people in your personal network, or another trusted network, can get you moving with much more confidence than starting from scratch.

    Reach out to anyone you know who runs programs in your target location or is locally based such as local university partners, friends, colleagues, etc. Ask if they have on-site partners or US-based providers they’d recommend. Provider services may be invaluable if you’re building a program from the ground up, and costs vary, so don’t discount them until you’ve talked to your network and have done a few price comparisons. In weighing pros and cons of using different providers, in addition to cost, consider things like what they include in their packages, reputation in the industry and locally, how long they have been around, whether they include things like liability insurance, what their emergency protocols are, whether they work with institutions such as yours regularly, etc. There are a lot of things to consider and you may not know what they are until you’ve spoken to a few folks. That’s completely ok!

    If you don’t know anyone who runs a similar program, you can search online for other US institutions that do. Program web pages usually show up in Google searches, along with contact information. Reach out to explain your situation and ask for an honest review of their on-site partner or US-based provider--have they had a positive experience with them so far? How do their prices compare to other providers? Although study abroad staff are usually busy, they are often willing to help out a fellow professional who needs advice. Similarly, look up local providers directly online. Many organizations will have reviews and ratings online that you can look into. If you see an organization that seems to be a good fit, call them and ask them for references and documentation and carefully check all of these. Ask colleagues, in-country or in the US, if they’ve heard of the organization. While it may be more of a risk, sometimes you can find an organization that isn’t as well known State-side, but is locally, that is a great fit. If your institution is one in which familiarization trips are common prior to starting new programs, then you can add a few organizations to that list to check out when you are in-country. Now, this may not be a luxury your office has, in which case, you will really have to rely on your research and references. When it comes down to making a decision, make sure you have a few options to compare. You’ll find comparisons between providers will give you insight into what you should be getting for what you’re paying and ways to negotiate price as well as what they are offering in services. Remember you get what you pay for! Cheaper isn’t always better but you also don’t want to be overpaying for services you don’t need.

    If your Google search is fruitless, or even if you find a few potential options, you can post a request for help on SECUSS-L, a national listserv dedicated to the discussion of education abroad, with a reach of 7500+ members. Readers who have advice can reply to your email. I have used this tool many times in my career, and find it a great way to access sometimes obscure information! You might also consider posting a request on a discussion board for your local NAFSA region. 

    Best of luck getting started!

    Confidentially Yours,

    Sophia

    P.S. Now that I’ve shared my thoughts, I’m curious what the amazing community of educators reading this post has to say. Chime in, folks! What thoughts do you have for Searching for Safe Partners? Share your thoughts on the Global Leadership League’s LinkedIn page. Have a question for Sophia yourself, ask here!

    Please note: This response is provided for informational purposes only. The information contained herein is not legal advice and should not be used as a substitute for the legal advice or legal opinions of a licensed professional. Contact a personal attorney or licensed professional to obtain appropriate legal advice or professional counseling with respect to any particular issue or problem.

  • 04 Aug 2021 7:19 PM | Anonymous

    Dear Sophia,

    I work as a manager but sometimes feel I am more of a leader than my boss. On paper, they have the leadership duties, but since I have more experience and context with the day-to-day operations and their primary role is quite different, I end up doing most of the work. They are often unwilling to learn new things they should know for their role and sometimes fail to prioritize key responsibilities to our office since they are busy and their main interests are elsewhere. I am trying to be a leader, but since I am juggling so much, in the end it feels like we have no leader. Do you have any suggestions for “managing up?"

    Sincerely, 

    In a Leadership Vacuum

    Dear In a Leadership in a Vacuum,

    Being in a position where you feel the work you are doing to keep a unit and projects functioning isn’t valued, or even noticed, by your manager is hard. It is essential and often not easy, for your day to day sanity and your career, to develop and maintain an effective and productive working relationship with your manager. This requires a relationship where you trust the individual is interested in your work and development as much as their own. Reflect on the saying, “employees don’t leave companies, they leave their manager.” 

    You’ve shared that your manager’s focus is not on the operations you lead for your unit nor prioritizing understanding or learning key aspects of your office. While you find this frustrating because you seek more involvement from them as a leader during these uncertain times, I encourage you to re-frame this in your mind and consider how your current state is freeing. You’re not being micromanaged which likely means your manager trusts you and your work. 

    I see an opportunity to manage up, or figure out how to capitalize on the traits of your manager to help you perform your best and demonstrate your value to them and your organization. There is no one size fits all formula to manage up. Test out some new strategies considering the aspects below:

    Know your manager’s style

    Have you ever taken notes on or sought clarity from your supervisor about their preferred operating style? This is key to identifying what you may need to adapt, and it might help you understand better how you can work within that context while still growing and expanding your skills. How does your supervisor communicate, what are their preferred channels, what have they shared about their needs and expectations of you and your unit? You may need to call upon active listening to read into your conversations if they are not direct in their communication with you.

    Humanize your manager

    Your supervisor is human with strengths and weaknesses. You’ll find that being authentic, honest, and caring with your supervisor can go a long way to developing a deeper connection. If you’re not clear about their goals, expectations, or aspirations then find ways to ask for clarity that stress how your desire is to exceed their expectations and limit any additional time or resources they may need to spend down the road as a result of a lack of clarity. Also consider that matching the tone, language, and terms you hear from your manager can help you to be heard by your manager.

    Share feedback and seek support

    Give positive feedback to reinforce things you’d like to see more of and try to remain calm and productive when stress is high for either of you. Convey that you appreciate autonomy, and you're concerned because you want to keep things running smoothly and are seeking their direction. Ask for their insight on organizational issues they see from their vantage point and let them know you’ll use this information to prioritize and decide what can take a back seat. You also might decide to share that you desire more mentorship to increase confidence with the uncertainty that is so prevalent in your work and ask for suggestions of leaders they have worked with.

    Convey your technical skills, results, and future plans

    You seem to be handling the day to day operations with little involvement from your manager. How often do you update your manager to highlight the unit work that is getting done, under your leadership, without their supervision? Where are the opportunities to talk about the unit goals, achievements, convey outcomes, and solutions to problems you’d like their input on? Managing up results in your supervisor seeing you as an indispensable member of their team. 

    Ultimately, a big part of making it work with your supervisor is recognizing we all see our work and that of our colleagues through our own lens. The manager may benefit from a stronger relationship with you to help them see some things they have not previously, and my guess is you too may benefit from the same. 

    Confidentially Yours,

    Sophia

    P.S. Now that I’ve shared my thoughts, I’m curious what the amazing community of educators reading this post has to say. Chime in, folks! What thoughts do you have for In A Leadership Vacuum? Share your thoughts on the Global Leadership League’s LinkedIn page. Have a question for Sophia yourself, ask here!

    Please note: This response is provided for informational purposes only. The information contained herein is not legal advice and should not be used as a substitute for the legal advice or legal opinions of a licensed professional. Contact a personal attorney or licensed professional to obtain appropriate legal advice or professional counseling with respect to any particular issue or problem.

  • 21 Jul 2021 8:30 AM | Anonymous

    Dear Sophia,

    How do I further my career & leadership possibilities when I don't specifically want to manage people?

    Sincerely,

    Advancement Without Managing People

    Dear Advancement Without Managing People,

    I commend you on your self awareness. Acknowledging that your aspirations for advancing your career do not involve managing people is going to save you, and likely the people you would manage, from unnecessary frustration. While managing people may be the most common track for increasing professional responsibilities or advancement in a career, it is not the only track. If more managers pushed themselves to reflect on the reasons they pursue a management position which requires supervision, I expect teams in every industry would be way better off! Although you didn’t share why you aren’t interested in managing people, I assume it is likely because your skills, confidence, or passions don’t lie in navigating people dynamics or managing other people’s goals. Instead you likely perceive yourself as a doer who excels at managing your projects and tasks, seeks to launch new ideas, and thrives as a content expert, and establishes a reputation that extends beyond your team or company. Are you comfortable training others, developing strategy, managing projects, or promoting your knowledge and skills as a consultant or influencer? If any or all of these things are more enticing than managing people to reach their goals, you are already well on your way to having the right conditions for advancing your career without supervisory responsibilities. 

    An important step to take is to talk early with your current manager. Work together to develop an individual plan for growth in the company. Be explicit about seeking opportunities to grow your responsibilities and develop as a company leader without supervision. Spell out what you think you excel at currently or where you aspire to be a recognized expert. Don’t be afraid to seek support from your manager to consider gaps so you can focus where you increase your expertise. An example may be to propose a compliance area or an innovative program idea you can take responsibility to master and then demonstrate your skills through training others to build capacity or mitigate risk. Don’t miss any opportunities to emphasize how your expertise, influence, or reputation helps the company achieve goals and support the overall mission. You may decide that additional value and career progression makes it necessary to leave your current organization after a period of time and pursue work at a larger company or pursue work as a consultant or independent contractor. Ultimately, the path you choose to advance may not be as clear as you’d like right now but hopefully after some deeper exploration and discussions with your manager you can begin to map out the road ahead. 

    Confidentially Yours,

    Sophia  

    P.S. Now that I’ve shared my thoughts, I’m curious what the amazing community of educators reading this post has to say. Chime in, folks! What thoughts do you have for Lilly? Share your thoughts on the Global Leadership League’s LinkedIn page. Have a question for Sophia yourself, ask here!

    Please note: This response is provided for informational purposes only. The information contained herein is not legal advice and should not be used as a substitute for the legal advice or legal opinions of a licensed professional. Contact a personal attorney or licensed professional to obtain appropriate legal advice or professional counseling with respect to any particular issue or problem.

  • 07 Jul 2021 1:30 PM | Anonymous

    Dear Sophia,

    I want to be supportive of my staff. I care about them as people and I am interested in them, but it seems like we are more friends than professional colleagues. When it's time for performance reviews (now!), I find it so hard to be objective and not let our personal relationships influence how I review them. I justify it to myself by thinking of the wonderful things they do, and they do many wonderful things, but I know in the back of my mind that they (and I) can always grow and there are things they could do better...but it feels like they will be hurt if I tell them openly and especially during performance review time. Help me separate personal relationships from the professional, and change my relationships with my team so that I can better fulfill my obligations to our organization. 

    Help Me Rhonda

    Dear Help Me Rhonda,

    You’ve touched on a sticky issue that almost all managers will have to face at some point in their career. While giving feedback may never be easy for you, I assure you that taking steps to shift your own mindset and taking steps to shift the mindset of your team to look at feedback as a gift can forever change how you prepare for a performance review with every type of colleague (friend or not). Once you choose to regularly welcome and collect feedback, you model for your team what is often a missed opportunity to gather data from others that is necessary to grow.  Unfortunately, performance reviews tend to be a single annual event where supervisors are expected to evaluate an individual’s performance and goal attainment. The anxiety that comes from this time of year is definitely a reflection of our mindset about giving and receiving feedback. In addition to shifting our mindsets about feedback, there are several ways to preserve friendships with colleagues while not compromising your professional responsibilities.

    Let’s start with the most basic rule of any relationship you have with anyone anywhere: effective communication. We all know that resolving any human relationship issue starts and ends with communication. As the manager, it’s your job to communicate in a respectful and clear manner referring to behaviors and actions, not personality. This is  especially necessary with employees you're most worried about. Be honest and be explicit about your responsibilities as a manager at your company. Tell them you recognize giving constructive and positive feedback could make for some awkward space within your relationship when feedback is perceived in a negative way. Be willing to hear their concerns about this and be open with your own. This will help them recognize the tricky spot you’re in as well as allowing you to hear any of their worries about the relationship dynamic.

    On the heels of communication comes setting expectations. To remove the personal from the professional as much as possible, be clear about the things you will be assessing in the reviews with all of your employees equally. When giving feedback, consider how you're highlighting the positive and pointing out areas of needed improvement, think about the manner in which you would want a friend to judge your performance. Try couching the comments in ways that are supportive such as, “We are having issues with follow-through in our department. How do you feel you perform in this area? Are there things that we could adjust to make it easier for you to feel successful in this area?” Reviews are a great way to share feedback you’ve noticed, and also ask employees to be self-critical. What areas do they feel they can improve upon? Chances are these will overlap with the things you’ve noticed, and you can then help support them in meeting these new goals.  

    And don’t be afraid to add in lightness and humor. If it starts to get sticky because you need to address something they’re not seeing, remember this is a person who trusts you.  Your trusting relationship can help you to say “you and I both know things get tough for the team when everyone isn’t following through on their commitments, and I see you're overloaded at times. What can I or other members of our team do to help?” An advantage of knowing your staff well on a personal level is that you likely have a better idea how to provide feedback in a way that they’ll understand and feel that it comes from a place of care and not criticism. Your friendships will help you customize your approach to management.

    There are other things to consider as you move from friend and manager so that you are keeping a balanced approach to your work and not showing favoritism in the office. As a manager, it’s important that all of your employees can trust you to be fair and just. For example, if you socialize with certain colleagues outside of work, keep your social media about those activities to a minimum. When it’s lunchtime and you’re headed out, invite all of your colleagues to go along, not just the ones who are your friends. It may not be as fun, but as a manager you have responsibilities beyond your work friendships and those need to come first. The bright side is that you have friends at work and that should be celebrated. You don’t have to forfeit those relationships at work. In fact, if you’re honest and fair, those relationships will only get stronger.

    Confidentially Yours,

    Sophia  

    P.S. Now that I’ve shared my thoughts, I’m curious what the amazing community of educators reading this post has to say. Chime in, folks! What thoughts do you have for Lilly? Share your thoughts on the Global Leadership League’s LinkedIn page. Have a question for Sophia yourself, ask here!

    Please note: This response is provided for informational purposes only. The information contained herein is not legal advice and should not be used as a substitute for the legal advice or legal opinions of a licensed professional. Contact a personal attorney or licensed professional to obtain appropriate legal advice or professional counseling with respect to any particular issue or problem.

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