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Leadership and Presence: Why There’s No Substitute for Showing Up

The school year is well underway. The boxes are unpacked from move-in day, orientations have been successfully completed, and welcome events have come and gone. Through these events you were able to connect with new students and re-engage with returning students and staff across campus. How do you keep your visibility up on campus as a connected leader? Or will students not see you again until graduation? To be a successful leader, it is vital that you are visible and available to students and faculty. Leadership is not just a role, it’s a relationship.

So how can you stay in touch with the campus at all levels, not just the executive wing? We have one piece of advice that everyone in leadership should take to heart: go for a walk. It’s not an innovative tech solution, but it is an effective strategy. Make a weekly practice to get out of your office to spend time on different areas of campus. Visit the Student Union. Eat lunch in the cafeteria. Join a game of frisbee on the Quad. Have no agenda other than to spend an hour of your day interacting with the campus community. Be approachable and allow time for spontaneous conversations.

Your posture should be one of listener and learner. Observe the world around you—everything from noticing how students are interacting, to identifying someone who might deserve recognition, to the broken water fountain that needs to be fixed. Try to see familiar surroundings with fresh eyes. You might even consider keeping a field journal of the things you observe from week to week. It can be a meaningful way to record the insights you’ve had and initiatives you want to undertake as a result of your walkabouts.

This practice will not only make you a more effective leader, it can remind you why you decided to lead in the first place.