As a Vice President for Student Affairs, I am a big game talent hunter. Most VPSAs are because, while they are working to develop staff within their division, the smart ones are also on the lookout for incredible talent they may be able to lure to their division. And when I am out there, I am hunting for the rarest breed of student affairs professional to populate my division—the Extreme Executioner.
While rare, the ExEx often look a lot like the dominant type of student affairs professional–the Hard Worker. At first glance, they are sometimes indistinguishable from one another. They are both hard working—they tend to take on a lot, work long hours, and they accomplish things. So, it is not surprising that at first glance they appear indistinguishable. However, the ExEx stands out as distinct because they do not just accomplish things; they accomplish practically EVERYTHING they commit to. They take on a task, make it their own while maintaining the core expectations of the task giver, and, quite often, then produce something beyond the imagination and expectations of the person who gave them the task in the first place. Additionally, they do it within the agreed upon timeline; and often they accomplish it ahead of the deadline. These are VERY attractive traits to a VPSA (or any supervisor!).
One thing that distinguishes these two types of professionals is that ExEx have, at their core, an unstopability, a relentlessness. All student affairs professionals experience obstacles in their work that threaten to thwart them in their quest to complete tasks and projects. We all learn to deal with these. However, the curious thing about the ExEx is that they operate with the belief that there is no obstacle that cannot be overcome, co-opted, circumvented, avoided, bypassed, or abolished. They do what it takes to get the job done and get it done on or ahead of time!
ExEx are difficult to identify in the “wild” and one often does not know if you have one until you have them on your team. Too many times I thought I had an ExEx, but they turned out to be a Hard Worker—again, great to have, but not an ExEx. Given the difficulty of finding and hiring actual ExExes, the question for us big game talent hunters becomes—can Hard Workers be developed so that they can become ExExes? Based on my experience, I am not sure. So, I spent some time speaking with the three ExEx that currently inhabit my division to try to discern if they were born ExEx or if Hard Workers can be developed into ExEx?
None of the three had any magic answers for why they do what they do. A couple of them mentioned particular experiences in their upbringing, but nothing other people haven’t experienced. So, I am left without a clear answer as to whether being an ExEx is inborn or a conscious choice on an individual’s part. I do know that each of these professionals has won awards and earned promotions based on their accomplishments, so perhaps the key to being an ExEx is to act like an ExEx. Based on that, if you are interested in becoming an Extreme Executioner do these things:
- Develop YOUR vision for YOUR job. Many Hard Workers do the tasks that are laid out for them in their job description or as requested by their boss. ExEx go beyond that and have a bold, exciting, even anxiety-provoking vision for their job and what they want to accomplish. Then they set about pursuing that vision relentlessly. Fulfilling all or part of such a vision creates a legacy for them in that when they leave they will have left the position much better than when they started in it.
- When you receive an information request or relatively minor task from your boss or someone higher up that requires a modest amount of time (e.g., less than an hour), do it immediately. The person receiving your quick response will notice that you have done this, will appreciate that they will not have to follow up, and you will not have to worry about forgetting or having something happen later that causes you to be late. With one ExEx it has become a joke that it took her “almost 10 minutes to submit the info request” when I had given a two-day deadline. My joking is my way of showing I noticed and I appreciated the quick response.
- When you receive an assignment from someone — OWN it! Make it yours. Immediately consider what the desired outcomes will look like and seek clarification for any aspects that are unclear. Understand the SPIRIT of what is being asked, because you may be able to elaborate or improve on what was expected. The newer professional among the 3 ExEx was tasked with bringing a repurposed facility on line as a programming and meeting space. One of the things I asked was that the building be “spruced up” and painted if needed. When I came to inspect the facility ahead of opening, I was blown away by the fact he had gone well beyond my expectations and had student clubs and organizations do creative and elaborate bulletin boards and even had framed athletic jerseys hung in the hallways. He owned the project and when beyond the request to fulfill the SPIRIT of the project.
- Anticipate and take on the obstacles you are sure to encounter. Anytime you attempt to create something new or change something in an organization, you will encounter resistance. Work to overcome those obstacles first before calling on the support of higher-level people. In major projects, you are bound to eventually need the active support of someone higher up in the chain. The idea is to overcome as many obstacles as possible first so that it does not become a steady stream of support requests that turn your project into your boss’ project.
If you are a Hard Worker in student affairs, consider the relatively minor changes in mindset and performance that it would take to become an Extreme Executioner.
Follow me at @pglove33