Friday, January 18, 2013

The best kind of colleague

One of my favorite collegial pairs, partly because I'm a descendant
 of the actual Butch Cassidy (aka Robert Leroy Parker).
“A good definition is almost impossible, but you know one when you see one. The connection is almost immediate.You know it's going to be a good day because you will be seeing that colleague.”                                                                         

-Anonymous



This morning, in her "A Kinder Campus" column that regularly runs in Inside Higher Ed+Maria Shine Stewart posed the question "What makes a good colleague?" The column is thoughtful, well-written, and inspiring--well worth the five minutes or so it took me to read it.  And, it invited me to reflect on what kind of colleague I am.  This assertion, from one of the colleagues Stewart interviewed for the piece, was particularly thought-provoking for me: a colleague is someone who listens and helps a peer when it would be easier just to focus on his or her own responsibilities." Far too often, I'm guilty of becoming wrapped up in my own to-do list or project and forgetting about or even consciously avoiding interactions with others so that I can be more "productive." My department (and my own soul) will be kinder when I finally kick that habit that has crept into my work over the last few years (I rationalize by blaming it on becoming absorbed in my doctoral study, which is probably a factor, but clearly not the only culprit).

In reflecting on Stewart's column and her description of collegial relationships, I recalled a Christmas gift I received over the break that initially only struck me as incredibly thoughtful, but which upon further thought seems to represent the best kind of colleague I could ask for.

My friend +Drake Allsop ordered me a copy of Dan Pink's newly released book (To Sell is Human) and had it delivered four days before it was even available in bookstores.  For someone like me who loves to read, loves social science-esque books, and is a fan of Dan Pink, it was a pretty cool gift to receive.  In that respect, it was the type of gift I might have received from any of a number of friends and family who know those things about me.  But, because of my relationship with Drake, the experiences we had when we worked together at BYU, and some subtle things he did in the giving of the gift, it was a uniquely collegial.  Let me explain.

To begin with, Drake was a student who worked for me in BYU's +BYU Office of First-Year Experience.  Consequently, our relationship should have been dictated by the traditional employer-employee norms, with me as the authoritative supervisor and him as the student who followed directions and did his work (a far cry from collegiality).  However, Drake very quickly became much more of a colleague because he engaged with me in ways that few other students have.  He read what I read, initiated enlightening conversations with me about academic ideas, challenged me when my thinking was off or he saw that I could make some kind of improvement (I'll never forget the day he told me my presentation slides for an upcoming conference were pretty boring--it's true they were and the revised slides were much better), and became a partner with me in my learning.  We also laughed raucously and irreverently almost every day we worked together, which I've found goes a long way towards building a relationship.  

I see a lot of the best parts of my relationships with good colleagues represented in Drake's gift.



1.  It recognized, acknowledged, and validated my intellectual interests.  Drake knows I like Pink and knows what kinds of ideas I enjoy being exposed to.

2.  It invited me to grow and expand my mind.  Drake knows I'm busy and that I'm probably not reading as much as I should now that the new semester has started.  Sending me the book was a subtle reminder to me that I need to continue to expose myself to new ideas, even when I don't think I have time or energy.

3. It challenged me.  A little context is helpful here.  Drake graduated from BYUs Marriott School of Management, and while he is definitely not your typical business student (case in point, he is now an elementary school teacher), we had and probably continue to have some philosophical differences about various issues.  He probably also knows that I shun commercialism, sales, and most profit-motivated ventures.  So, receiving a book that, on its cover (literally), is all about selling myself is a bit of a challenge to my way of thinking.  I appreciate that and it is something that the best colleagues do for their friends.

4. It was an invitation to engage in a conversation with Drake about important ideas.  In the text message Drake sent me a few days after I had received the book he mentioned that he is reading the book too, and that he looks forward to talking with me about it.  While that's the kind of thing acquaintances say to each other (kind of the grown-up or academic version of "hey, we should hang out sometime"), but don't really mean, Drake is sincere.  I fully expect to have that conversation with him when I finish the book.

I'm grateful for both a new book, as well as good colleagues.  They make my work, my learning, and my life (which are all terribly intertwined these days) much more meaningful.

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