Assistant Director of Undergraduate Admission
Illinois Institute of Technology
In June 2019, I attended my first Middle Management Institute (MMI) at the recommendation of several of my colleagues. “Markie! You seriously need to go! I learned so much!” was the feedback I heard repeatedly from MMI alumni with whom I work closely at Illinois Tech. However, as I was just at the beginning of what was turning out to be my busiest summer ever, full of projects, goal setting, and new initiatives (all self-imposed, but it is easy to become zealous when you work with an incredible, highly motivated team), I was reluctant to take time away from my office. However, as a newbie middle manager fresh into my new role as an Assistant Director for a team of first year counselors, I was definitely looking for some guidance. I decided to make an investment in my career and attend the institute.
It was worth it.
When I entered the room, I was immediately surrounded by a diverse group of professionals serving in similar roles to my own with like-minded future career aspirations. In addition to the participants, the MMI committee was full of alumni from previous years whom were actively engaged during the event and sharing the knowledge that they had gained as first time attendees. Throughout the institute, we participated in various sessions facilitated by experts in the field, upper administration from various universities, and middle managers sharing their own experiences.
Prior to MMI, all participants completed the Strengthsfinder Assessment to determine their top five professional strengths. Through a combination of listening to the presenter and working with one another in small groups, we learned to leverage our own strengths in the workplace while embracing the diverse set of strengths demonstrated by our colleagues. As it turns out, while it can be challenging to work with someone who has a very different set of personality traits and nuances, it can also open a whole realm of possibilities for collaboration and creative thinking. By honoring our own strengths and those of our colleagues, we can accomplish far more because it provides the ability to analyze the situation from varying perspectives.
For me personally, the most valuable experience was the multiple opportunities that were provided for participants to engage in open and honest dialogue about the challenges of middle management positions, strategies for mitigating those challenges, and the differences between true transformational leadership and mere management. Throughout the two days, we were invited to engage in open discussion forums with enrollment managers at the higher administrative level and current middle managers. We were also assigned to small groups led by MMI alumni-mentors hoping to pay their positive experience forward. Through these conversations, I learned a myriad of valuable lessons, but most importantly I learned the following:
- There is no magic manual for being a great manager.
- I am not alone in the challenges I face.
- The best way to overcome obstacles is to lead by example, empower your staff to trust in their unique strengths, and to seek collaboration over isolation.
In the end, I walked away from the experience feeling validated, supported, connected, and armed with knowledge from seasoned admissions professionals. If you find yourself feeling like it may be time to gain some fresh, new perspective, take a couple of days to invest in your professional success and attend MMI next summer. You’ll be glad you did.