The Modern Day AVP: Balancing Challenges with Rewards

by Amy Hecht, Ed.D. & Jason B. Pina, Ed.D.

Inherent Challenges
Being an AVP involves balancing challenges with rewards. As we reflect on the past academic year and prepare for what already appears to be a challenging year ahead, the AVP role often sits at the epicenter of our most complex issues. This final post will review two sections of “AVP: Leading From the Unique Role of Associate/Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs” that may help one reframe their thinking regarding work. First, the divisional structure (single versus multiple AVPs) not only impacts our ability to lead but also presents a key variable on how the AVP leads. Second, the concept of work/life integration with regard to the AVP will be highlighted. Leadership is a job that can never be finished. “AVP: Leading From the Unique Role of Associate/Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs” offers a framework for professionals to think about their work within the context of the rest of their lives.

Single vs. Multiple Structures
Authors Jeanine A. Ward-Roof and Ashanti Hands outline the importance of understanding organizational structures in their chapter titled “Single-Versus Multiple-AVP Structures.” The type of institution and the structure of the organization impact the role of an AVP tremendously. There are positives and negatives to each structure and it’s important to note that there is no “one size fits all.” Single-AVP structures can allow for things to get done quickly and for independent thinking and collaboration. But it can also be lonely, as there is no cohort of peers. There can be too much work to be done and too many hats for one person to wear.

Multiple-AVP structures can lead to equity issues (or perceived equity issues) among portfolios. For instance, is the work balanced or distribution of resources fair? This structure can lead to a hyper focus on areas, encouraging an AVP to develop a portfolio and perhaps lose sight of the larger picture. However, multiple-AVP structures provide a cohort of peers and also a broader diversity of talent that can be aligned with the needs of the organization.

While there is no best practice in terms of structure, AVPs must articulate the value they provide to the organization. Regardless of the structure, strong communication, supervision, political skills, comfort with ambiguity, a high level of emotional maturity, and the ability to multitask are essential for success in the role.

While an AVP does not have the final decision in an organizational structure, for those searching for a new position the structure should be something that a candidate factors into their process. Those already in the seat should reflect on the way in which they lead and the impact that structure has on that style.

Work/Life Integration
Stew Friedman describes life is an intersection of work, home, community, and private self. For many reading this blog, they have achieved success by focusing on “work.” The chapter titled “Beyond Balance: Developing Work-Life Integration” makes the case on how one could approach life through a more integrated process. The chapter is divided into four sections that set out a case for thinking in a more integrated manner.

The first section is focused on what an AVP can do to pair down one’s professional life. Rory Vaden’s research has focused on multiplying a professional’s time on work. Five components encompass this process. The first three stages are to eliminate, automate, and delegate as much of your current work as possible. This process begins to increase a professional’s bandwidth. A residual benefit of this process is the empowerment of colleagues beyond the current levels. The final two stages ask that you divide your time between what needs to be done now and later. The latter option is referred to “procrastinating on purpose.” This process focuses your time on only those activities that must be done by you.

The middle of the chapter focuses on guiding principles and guiding questions. From making it better to taking it personally to replacing yourself and staying fit, a professional must articulate to themselves what it means to work hard and how they can be successful in their respective roles. The process of prioritizing is a key to being effective in coping with work related stress. The final key is to remain open handed to new information, colleagues, and opportunities that will enable you to serve students. The guiding questions section begins to blend work and personal lives. When you answer the question of how you want to engage at home and work, an individual begins to be more conscious about integration and how choices can positively impact your wellness. The section ends with a discussion about how technology can be successfully leveraged.

The chapter concludes with a discussion on the construction of a “life path” and understanding of resiliency. Domains of resiliency are important to understand so one may continue to multiply their time, prioritize work, and continue life by guiding principles. The core to this integration work is one word, “why.” Before engaging in the integration outline offered in “AVP: Leading From the Unique Role of Associate/Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs,” professionals should examine their motivation to do so. A lack of commitment to a plan has the potential of doing more harm than good. While this process is involved, it will result in a more predictable and positive life path.

While this is our final blog, the collection of entries does not represent the full content of “AVP: Leading From the Unique Role of Associate/Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs.” The text attempts to offer content that will not only help individuals improve their practice but also to inspire future work. AVPs on our campuses straddle a critical line between departments and institutional perspectives. Supporting the vice president of student affairs is a primary goal of any AVP, but the process involves complicated activities that force individuals to be in a learning mode. We hope these blog posts give you a glimpse into the text and the professional lives of successful AVPs.

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