Dr. Jill Arensdorf is a professor in the Department of Leadership Studies at Fort Hays State University (FHSU), and currently serves as the FHSU Provost and Vice-President for Academic Affairs. Before serving as Provost, she chaired the Department of Leadership Studies for eight years. Her research interests include civic engagement and leadership, leadership behavior and skill development, and the transfer of learning. She has published numerous articles on the effects of service learning on the development of leadership skills, as well as the transfer of leadership skills to the workplace. She has been active in civic engagement efforts at FHSU, co-writing FHSU’s Civic Investment Plan, and co-coordinated a freshman learning community at FHSU, L3-Live. Learn. Lead. for nine years. Dr. Arensdorf has received both the prestigious Navigator and Pilot Awards at FHSU for her exceptional advising and teaching. She completed her Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction at Kansas State University.
Dr. Arensdorf is extremely passionate about teaching and participating in leadership. Before her work at FHSU, she worked as a 4-H/Youth Extension Agent with K-State Research and Extension. Jill is originally from Hill City, KS. She and her husband Mike currently reside in Hays, KS. Dr. Arensdorf's interests include spending time with her family, music, golfing, reading, cooking, and water skiing.
Two Quotes From This Episode
Resources Mentioned in This Episode
About The International Leadership Association (ILA)
My Approach to Hosting
Connect with Scott Allen
Note: Voice-to-text transcriptions are about 90% accurate and conversations-to-text do not always translate perfectly. I include it to provide you with the spirit of the conversation.
Scott Allen 0:00
Hey, everybody. Welcome to the Phronesis podcast today, I have Dr. Jill Arensdorf. She is a professor in the Department of Leadership Studies at Fort Hays State University. Currently, She serves as the Fort Hays State University Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs. Before serving as provost, she chaired the Department of leadership studies for eight years. Her research interests include civic engagement and leadership, leadership, behavior and skill development, and the transfer of learning. She has published numerous articles on the effects of service learning and the development of leadership skills, as well as the transfer of leadership skills in the workplace. She has been active in civic engagement efforts at Fort Hays State University co-writing their civic investment plan, and CO coordinated a freshman learning community at Fort Hays. Dr. Arensdorf has received both the prestigious navigator and pilot awards at FHSU. For her exceptional advising and teaching, She completed her Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction at K State in Manhattan. I love Manhattan, KS! It's a great place. Dr. Arensdorf is extremely passionate about teaching and participating in leadership. Before her work at Fort Hays State University. She worked as a forage youth Extension agent with K State Research and Extension. Jill is originally from Hill City, Kansas. She and her husband Mike currently reside in Hays, Kansas. Her interests include spending time with her family, music, golfing, reading, cooking, and waterskiing. Jill, I'm so excited about this conversation. This is going to be a lot of fun. I didn't realize you were eight years as department chair before you moved into provost.
Jill Arensdorf 1:35
I was! It's good to see you, Scott, and good to visit with you. Thanks for inviting me to be a part of your podcast.
Scott Allen 1:40
Yes, yes. Well, okay, so what else do listeners need to know about you? Is there anything that wasn't on your official bio that we should know?
Jill Arensdorf 1:47
Oh, gosh, I think one thing that I did leave out that's really important to me is we have a 15-and-a-half-year-old black lab at home that is thriving through this summer heat. And that's an important part of my life that is not in my bio but very important to me.
Scott Allen 2:02
Oh, what is the black lab's name?
Jill Arensdorf 2:04
Her name is Maggie, Maggie. And she and a half years.
Scott Allen 2:07
Jill Arensdorf 2:08
15 and a half years, she's had a good life and probably won't, you know, be with us much longer, but she's lived a good happy life.
Scott Allen 2:15
Oh, that's awesome. That's when we saw each other a few weeks ago. And we were in Kansas City. We were I, and we were talking at lunch a little bit. And we were talking a little bit about your role as provost. And I thought, wow, we need to have a conversation because I really am super interested in understanding this, you know, as someone who taught leadership for so long, and the leadership theory and just immersed in all of that work. And then you're serving as provost, which is an incredibly complex role. It's not an easy role, especially at this time in the history of higher education. There's just a lot of complexity. And I was thinking to myself, Wow, we need to have a conversation. And I would love to get some of her reflections on that transition, like what holds from our theory? What, what holds up, what doesn't hold up, and just some general themes. And so I'm hoping we can kind of move in that direction today.
Jill Arensdorf 3:15
Scott, I've been looking forward to this conversation ever since you reached out. And I've been thinking a lot about this. In fact, at the conference that you mentioned, that we saw each other at, I did a roundtable discussion to talk a little bit about this with our colleagues to discuss what my experience has been like, but also hear from other colleagues in leadership education that hold leadership roles on their campuses and in their respective communities. And we had a nice, robust conversation. But I think more to come on this topic because it's important. And it's important for us as leadership educators to be thinking about not only how we serve our students in the classroom and how we teach leadership but how do we do the things that we're teaching? And not only higher education, but outside of that, and yeah, well, I tell you what, you know, this leadership is so hard. Newsflash, right? Newsflash, leadership is hard. And it's difficult, and it's messy, and it's challenging, but it's so rewarding. And so I hope today we can unpack some of the things that that I've experimented with and tried in this role and found to be really challenging but also really rewarding in the role as Provost here at Fort Hays, and I'm sure that many folks that are listening to this will be able to relate some of these experiences, even if they haven't served in a specific role as Provost or vice president at a university. Great.
Scott Allen 4:37
Okay, so let's start with what surprised you about stepping into the role? What were some things that surprised you?
Jill Arensdorf 4:47
So I had served, as you mentioned in my bio, and served as department chair at this university for a number of years prior to stepping into the provost role, and so I understood the university, so I thought I Yeah, what surprised me is how different the university looks and feels in a different role. And it's the same people, it's the same value system, it's the same, you know, fabric that's interwoven and connected. But in a different role, you have a different vantage point. And I was, I knew that would happen, but I didn't understand how challenging that would be to wrap my head around and really get to a, you know, 30, or 40,000-foot view of the university and step into a role where I had to lead differently, some of the principles that I used to lead are still the same, but they have to be deployed very differently because the team that I lead is different, the scope of work is different. And the level of complexity is different in this role, and those were very surprising, challenging changes for me and things. I'm still... I'm in my fourth year in this role, I'm still, I would call it, struggling with most days to just find that balance of what does leadership look like in this role,
Scott Allen 6:14
whereas you were just telling that story because it was, I think it was just beautifully said, I don't know if you've ever seen that, that book zoom, where you can look at something at the ground level, and then you look at something 10 feet up, and then 20 feet up, and then 30 feet up, and it's that it just zooms out. And I think I had that image in my head, I'll put a link to it in the show notes. But I just thought of that as an image. So you kind of zoom up to 40,000 feet. And how you lead shifts, how you have to view the institution shifts, what has to be a priority and not a priority shift, I have to imagine that's a huge adjustment.
Jill Arensdorf 6:54
Yeah, and my default was, I like to be involved in things I like to I'm a doer, and one of my strengths is in StrengthsQuest is "achiever." And so I have found that to be really challenging for me in this role because I am not necessarily always the doer; in this role, I can't be and shouldn't be. And that's not the best use of my time, even though that's my default. And so I've really had to challenge myself to see the forest and not get mired in the trees where I'm maybe more comfortable in the details so that I can check them off and say, Hey, we're accomplishing this today. And so that's been a really good challenge for me, but one that I've really had to stretch myself on.
Scott Allen 7:40
When I love the framing of that a good challenge for me. I mean, it's not my default. It's not my natural place. And I imagine just to how even how you define achievement is so much different than maybe how you define achievement, even as a chair. Right? What does achievement look like now?
Jill Arensdorf 7:59
You know what, Scott? Somedays, somedays achievement is...I've made it through all the meetings. And that's, that's the achievement of the day, or I answered a few emails today. And then some days, it's, Hey, we made progress on a really big challenge here, a really daunting challenge that we have at Fort Hays difficult challenges, we are revising our general education program. And just today, in a meeting that I was in, we made some really good progress with the team that I oversee on some of those changes. And so lets I'm going to call that achievement for the day. Even though it's the day has not ended, I feel like we collectively achieved something. Sometimes achievement is just simply, I made it through the day; we made it through the day collectively. And we made it to all the meetings, and we got through those, and we keep progressing forward. I like knowing a lot about I like digging into things. And sometimes, it's just not possible to do that. Because there are just so many things. And so that's something that that achiever in me, I've had to really work on.
Scott Allen 9:04
What else has surprised you,
Jill Arensdorf 9:06
Scott, I'm sure in the classes that you teach, you emphasize how important communication is. I always did in whatever leadership class I was teaching, communication was always a focus. Wow, is it difficult? And I know that, but the amount of information and thinking through who needs to know what, in what order, and what channels we should be using? What needs to come directly from me versus through the chain of command, what needs to be prioritized, and the different venues that my team or I might be leading in or communicating in that has been really difficult, and just when I think we're getting it, right. I recognize that I missed that one. It's been a challenge that has been more frustrating for me because I cannot figure out the best way to communicate with them. asses on things that are important to folks, we could send a mass email, right that means that would be the default. But is that the best way to communicate is that the best way to articulate the importance of the priority or whatever it may be. And so that has been a constant challenge for me, as well as just trying different communication strategies and experimenting? Yeah, I know you had a podcast; I can't remember who it was, but you talked about experimenting, and I have learned to live in the unfamiliar of experiments. And I'm not comfortable there all the time. But I have to recognize, you know what, we're going to try it this way. And if it doesn't work, I will, or we will collectively experiment in a different way. And we've had some wins with that. And we've had some losses with that. And I know with leadership, there's going to be wins and losses. The other piece that I think has been key is developing those relationships. can't emphasize that enough; when we're talking about doing leadership, I'm going to have the opportunity to teach this fall, I'm going to teach a class, and I cannot wait to talk about these kinds of things in a little different way than I did even three years ago, just because of my experiences, not because I'm better at it. Not because I'm perfect in the role, but I have had different experiences that have caused me to rethink and shaped perhaps how I might share with students what leadership looks and feels like and should be like, in a role.
Scott Allen 11:30
Okay, I want to talk about I want to stay on communication real quick. Because I mean, you added in some complexities there, which we rarely explore. As leadership educators, we can talk about the importance of communication, but kind of it ends there. We don't necessarily get into who, when, and how many times. Right. So what have you found that's worked? I mean, is it just a multi-front kind of endeavor? We're going to tweet this, we're going to put together a video, we're going to put together a meeting, it's going to be in an email, and we're going to reinforce multiple times what's worked based on some of those experiments? Yeah, so
Jill Arensdorf 12:09
I don't know that I've mastered I've figured out what's worked. But I've learned that the situation matters. And the context matters. That's my first; when I'm thinking about how to communicate a message, I go right to what's the situation? What's the context? We're on summer break right now. And faculty are not here, for the most part, because most of our faculty are on nine-month contracts. Not all but most of them. So summer is not a great time for thinking about situation and context; summer had a great time to be communicating out really important. university level initiatives. Yes, I haven't made that mistake. But my gut is sometimes to think, well, I can go ahead and send this out while I have time, well, that's not going to be best for the situation, thinking about the people that need to really read and understand the message. So situation and context matter. I have found that I need to be clear. In my communication. Sometimes I feel like I communicate clearly. And then I've learned just this past spring, I had a few situations where I felt like I was communicating clearly through meetings. And I wasn't. And I learned that we always learned the hard way where people had misperceived some things. And we're making some assumptions that were just incorrect. And so, having a forum where I could correct those. So that would be more of large forum-style communication. I'm not as comfortable in those. But I know those are important so that people can come together and ask questions and hear from me in real-time. I think that's really important in my role, I've done videos, I've done zoom coffees, where folks get together on Zoom and have a beverage or food of their choice. And we just have conversations, I do use email, not maybe more than I want. Because I know that that's not something that people but when you need to communicate out to the masses, that's the best way to do it. But what I haven't figured out how to do, Scott, but I'd like to do more of as the smaller group because I feel like that's where the rich learning can occur. And I'm getting ready, hopefully to experiment a little bit with some of those this fall, and thinking about bringing some groups of people together just to kind of have some conversation about what's next for Fort Hays State. How could you play a part in it? What's helped me diagnose the situation helped me think about what are the adaptive challenges and just do some small conversations that way. I'm really looking forward to that, to see if people might respond. You know, regardless of what I do, I know people see me in an authority role. And I have to be really thoughtful about that. Even though I want them to see me as just Gil their colleague, I am in a different role. And I also have to keep that as part of the situation and context when thinking about communication as well.
Scott Allen 15:00
I want to go to some of that. And but I want to touch go back to relationships real quick because I mean, you're so good at building relationships with people. And I know that you genuinely value relationships with people. So even that, at this level, that has to shift to mean, even you just said, I hope I can get with some small groups of people like the one on one piece is probably that much less realistic at times to just do a one on one with large factions of the faculty or large factions of individuals at the institution. So it's so interesting, even how you develop relationships because that's such a, we talk about that as a glue, like in leadership, if you have the relationship that builds trust, and that's just a glue. And when you can't spend the time or don't have the time to build relationships in that same way. Are there ways you've worked to develop relationships with different factions of the institution, even though it may not have been the way you would have in the past? Does that make sense? My question,
Jill Arensdorf 15:59
You bet it does. And I think it's been a little bit calmer. That's...absolutely. I think for, for my situation. Because I have worked at this institution for so long, the thing that's been challenging for me as a lot of those relationships were developed already. They're different now. And I recognize that, but I struggle with that because I was a department chair for many, many years and served with department chairs across the institution. And then, all of a sudden, I stepped into a role where, when you look at the org chart, I'm above them, even though I don't feel like I'm above them, but I'm above them. And so I've had to really kind of re-navigate those relationships, and unfortunately spend less one-on-one time, because of time, but also because of navigating the fabric of the institution. And so I've chosen to do department type visits, unit type visits. The first year that I was in the role, I visited every department unit under Academic Affairs, which took an incredible amount of time. But it was really important for me to learn about the institution from this vantage point. And to do that, I had to go to them, I feel like those relationships started to nurture that way. I also talked about I host those monthly coffees that used to be in person, and now we're getting much better participation on Zoom. So we've hosted them, I've continued to host them on Zoom, even though many of the people are literally across the campus. But people participate more in those conversations. I've done some small group interactions, where I've gotten to get to know folks at a different level by just asking questions like, What are you reading right now? Or what are you watching right now versus getting into the, into the nitty-gritty of what's going on at Fort Hays State? So those things have, those have been experiments. I don't know that I can say that they're working. But I think that they are; they have helped me learn the institution differently and show that those relationships are really important. I will meet with folks one on one if it's requested or if it's needed, but that's just not something that I could fit in my bandwidth to do, even though that would be ideal. It's just not possible.
Scott Allen 18:13
Talk about some of the shifts in you being in that position of authority. Have you Is there anything kind of in a general sense that you've noticed, as you've moved from the department chair to Provost, that shift and authority has to be, I mean, just felt it just has to be felt on your part? What can you say about that?
Jill Arensdorf 18:32
It is felt. In fact, that is something that I wish I could just flip a switch and change because I have I think I've struggled to accept them in this role. And I know that with the role comes lots of responsibility, and I accept that, but the shift in those relationships with people and how people view me and the role because I'm in the role has been very, a very hard pill for me to swallow, so to speak. So much so that I mean, I've, I've been talking to people about it, because I've struggled to balance that because it's felt like lost to me. Yeah, it really felt like a loss to me because I'm the same person. I have the same values. I have the same leadership philosophy, even though the way that I'm maybe doing leadership is different than I was doing four years ago, because of the lessons that I've learned and the experiments that I've tried, and some have failed and some haven't. But people see me differently because I park in a different place. I work in a different building. I have a different title. And I want so badly for people just to see me as Jill and it's it doesn't happen that way. In our organization, I don't think the title still matters in any organization. And I would love to change that.
Scott Allen 20:10
Well, then again, something that I don't know, we often give enough attention to as leadership educators. How do people transition? I mean, we talked about that on some level. But I think there's just a lot of dynamics there that it's hard to it's it is hard to prepare someone for. I don't know that we always give enough attention to that. Does that make sense?
Jill Arensdorf 20:36
It does. I don't, I didn't; when I was teaching full time,
Scott Allen 20:40
we just say, hey, the four eyes idealized influence, inspirational motivation, you'll be there, go for it.
Jill Arensdorf 20:49
Yes. But when it comes to doing it, my goodness, it's full of all these complexities and nuances and critical thinking that, how can you teach that and so experimentation and giving students opportunities, but also as faculty, giving ourselves opportunities to practice, the things that we're teaching, I think are so critical. We've got to as leadership, educators, educate, but we also have to continually develop ourselves and use the things that we're teaching our students, and I knew that, and I was in a role, I was in a leadership role as chair, I mean, we all serve in leadership roles, but I hadn't been thrust into one quite as big, and when, when the spotlight is more on you, and it's more complex, and there are more factions to work through, it has a level of complexity that I know that I never prepared our students, my students to handle. I don't know that I was doing a disservice to my students, but I think I'll be a better educator now. And the developer of people just because of my lived experiences, which we all are, when we have lived experiences, we have to use those in our work. I think we, as leadership educators are pretty committed to that. But I hope people will remain committed to that. And also, think about ways to step into leadership roles in higher ed, because higher ed needs really good people leading institutions and departments and colleges and organizations. And so I hope more and more leadership educators, as the discipline has matured, we'll find themselves in these roles because we have the knowledge.
Scott Allen 22:29
Well, let's talk about the other end of the spectrum. Now, you know, we're kind of talking about what surprised you, or I forget the phrasing I used, what's totally held up for you when it comes to Okay. Yeah, this is, this is just primary. To me, being successful in this role. I love how you've kind of referred to Heifetz's work a number of times, like, Look, I'm not going to put so much pressure on myself that this is going to be perfect. This is an experiment, we're going to try it we're going to see if this works in this situation where we are right now. So it seems like that's something that, for you is holding true. Like, hey, that way, this is an adaptive challenge. There's no clear-cut answer. Let's try and get the best understanding of what we're up against in the situation. And then let's try these three or four things with intentionality. And that's what we're going to. It's not going to be perfect, right. So I hear that in some of your answers. Are there other things that have kind of stood up for you? Wow, that's, that's really helpful when I'm actually in this role right now, this way of thinking or this theory. Does anything else come to mind?
Jill Arensdorf 23:36
Well, I have, I've read a lot of Barb Kellerman's work, and she's done a lot of work recently on followers and situation and context. Yes, that is holding up for me. And I've already mentioned that situation in context a few times, and that does connect to Heifetz's work. But that has held very true to me. That complex organizational situation in the context matters. And regardless of the size of the institution, higher ed is complicated. Yes, it's a complicated system. And I would say adaptive, and then the situational, you know that that emphasis on situation and context is has held up for me solidly, that doesn't mean I'm doing it perfectly, no. But those are two things that I'm constantly going back to as I evolve as a leader in my leadership role and as I do leadership and hopefully engage others in the process as well. I'm not thinking of a specific theory, but the whole concept of engaging others still holds up well in this role. I mean, I recognize I am in a role with power and authority, that influence still matters and getting buy-in and listening to people getting stakeholder involvement. That's so critical. Even if they're not the decision maker, they are still critical as a decision maker for me, and that has really held up.
Scott Allen 25:07
just the work of influencing and, and it sounds like you've been kind of CO creating with others, having them feel like they're a part of the process when possible. But then yes, I mean Barbara Kellerman, you know, leadership system, I think she calls it the leader of the followers in the contexts. And are we looking at those three I loved in her book, bad leadership, where, you know, she looked at one, you know, group, maybe it was the section on Bill Clinton, or the mayor of Washington, DC, his name just escaped me. But she would look at the individual, the leader, and the followers who were around them, and then what was happening in the context that allowed Marion Barry, the former mayor of DC, to kind of exist in that role after being convicted of drug offenses, and so forth. And I think that framing is super helpful because we tend to, at least in my opinion, lionize the individual, the great leader, when there's actually a lot more that's at play.
Jill Arensdorf 26:11
And I didn't mention that before. But what you bring up now, I have experimented a little with you know, I'm, I have to recognize that I'm still in a role where I can educate and develop other people. It's just different than being in the classroom. But I am working as I lead in this role to hopefully permeate the institution with more of these leadership concepts so that we do have more emphasis on stakeholder involvement and buy-in from perhaps unusual voices.
Scott Allen 26:49
And was that Kansas Leadership Center (KLC)?
Jill Arensdorf 26:55
Not sure. I think that might be KLC actually engaging those voices that may not traditionally have an opportunity to be heard. And so that is difficult, but it's really important to work, and I still have not mastered that. But it's really important, as I think through process and change, that those are factors that I need to be really cognizant of and that our systems here aren't necessarily set up for those voices to be heard.
Scott Allen 27:23
Ah, interesting. Very interesting.
Jill Arensdorf 27:28
So being more intentional about that and asking difficult questions of who's not the table that needs to be at the table? Or who's in the boat who's not in the boat that needs to be in the boat? Or depending on what author is on the bus? Not on the bus, right?
Scott Allen 27:41
If we go to college, yeah. Okay. So, as we wind down our time, what's been a pleasant surprise in this role? What's something that you weren't expecting? But it's been like, oh, wow, this is pretty incredible. This is interesting.
Jill Arensdorf 27:56
Something that has really surprised me about this role is that I can do this nicely. And I, when I was considering applying for the provost position, I had all of those thoughts that anyone would have when they're stepping into a different role. Can I do this? Am I equipped with the right skills? Will people be willing to work with me? Will they see me as a colleague and not an adversary? Some of those impostor syndrome things keep creeping in...but, I have, I have some days I've survived, and some days I've thrived. And I'm really proud of that. And I don't think that that's because I'm special. I think it's because I am so fortunate to have spent the majority of my career learning about leadership. And that has equipped me to step into a role and use a lot of those things that I've been teaching to students. And while practicing, practicing, those are so much more difficult than teaching and testing on them. It's so rewarding. And we all have that as leadership educators. And so I guess that's my call out to folks is to say, We can do this, and we need more leadership educators stepping into roles of influence, not only in higher ed but all over in organizations because we have unique knowledge that can carry us forward.
Scott Allen 29:27
Your answer reminded me of we were at a dinner party, my wife and I, and she was serving as an executive director of a nonprofit at the time. And she...we were introducing ourselves, and she said something to the effect of "Yeah, so I do leadership and he just kind of talks about it!" - and I looked at her and I said and "how's that work you?!"
Jill Arensdorf 29:53
No, we do leadership? Teaching is certainly doing. But That's funny. Good for her! I'd like to meet her someday.
Scott Allen 30:03
Exactly. She's awesome. She's awesome. Well, Jill, as we wind our time down today, can you share with listeners maybe something you've been listening to, or reading or streaming or maybe something that's caught your eye recently? It doesn't have to have anything to do with what we've just discussed. But what's caught your attention?
Jill Arensdorf 30:21
So I am right now reading a book called Anna. I, one of the things that I didn't share in my bio is that I love fashion. I have always been really interested in fashion. Anna is a biography about Anna Wintour evoke. And so, I am reading about her because I've always been fascinated with her style of leadership. I'm reading her biography right now. And I think it just came out a few months ago. So that's what I'm reading right now. I also just finished the book Quiet by Susan Cain is a little bit older book. As an introvert, I felt like I that that book was calling to me at this specific moment in my life. And so that's another one that I have just pretty much I've wrapped up recently as well. So those are the two things that are on my nightstand. back porch when it's not so hot to read.
Scott Allen 31:16
I love it. I love it. I have quiet. I didn't I didn't read it. But I have it. It's one of those, you know, when students walk in your office and say, have you read all of those? It's up there. But my answer is always a good portion of them. And then another portion, I got what I needed from it. And then some just no, right?
Jill Arensdorf 31:42
The books on my shelves are the same way!
Scott Allen 31:46
Jill, such a fun conversation. Thank you so much for being with us today. And I just really, really appreciate the work that you're doing. So much fun to get your perspective on your adventures based on kind of the history from what you enter into this role. And so, thank you so much for your time and for sharing your wisdom. And I am going to be excited to hear next summer when we're together again, kind of how things are going. I appreciate it. Thank you, Scott. Have a great day.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai