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OBSERVATION AND ANALYSIS OF LEADERSHIP

ARP 610: Educational Leadership


Observation and Analysis of Postsecondary Educational Leadership
Daniel Oliveira
San Diego State University

OBSERVATION AND ANALYSIS OF LEADERSHIP

Postsecondary educational leaders exemplify a variety of leadership


styles and approaches. Bolman and Deal proposed four different
organizational lenses through which managers lead their organizations:
structural, human resources, political, and symbolic. They suggest that
leaders who can use multiple lenses are more effective than those who apply
a single perspective (Bensimon, 1989). Varying situations and contexts in
academic institutions present opportunities to apply appropriate cognitive
frames. To be a successful leader, one must modify their approach to the
situation, context, or personalities of individuals. In observing a leader in the
Division of Student Affairs at San Diego State University, I observed a skillful
leader who exemplifies the use of multiple lenses.
I chose to observe Cynthia Torres, the Assistant Director of Educational
Opportunity Programs and Ethnic Affairs. I have known Cynthia for many
years. We were both student leaders at SDSU during the late 1990s. She
was President of MEChA, while I was President of the United Sorority and
Fraternity Council. We later became colleagues as professional staff
members in the Division of Student Affairs. My interest in EOP and Ethnic
Affairs as a potential career path and our longstanding peer relationship
made Ms. Torres an obvious choice. I have long admired her interpersonal
skills and passion for the empowerment of underrepresented students.
Recruiting her for my research was as simple as messaging her on Facebook.
This study offered an opportunity to reconnect as colleagues and old friends.
Her career path as an undergraduate student leader to professional staff and

OBSERVATION AND ANALYSIS OF LEADERSHIP

now to the brink of leading the entire department was also of particular
interest for me. This postsecondary educational leader has risen through the
ranks and makes for an interesting analysis of effective leadership.
Torres began working in this department as an undergraduate student
assistant for Student Outreach Services as a high school conference
representative. She was hired as a professional staff member in 2001 as an
Outreach Coordinator. She has since been promoted to Assistant Director of
EOP and Ethnic Affairs. Her primary focus in the department is Transitional
Programs which include Outreach, Recruitment, and Admissions (ORA),
Transfer Bridge, and EOP Programs and Events.
Cynthia Torres is the first person in her family to attend college. She
graduated from Hoover High School, less than 4 miles away from SDSU. She
attended San Diego City College where she attained her Associate of Arts
degree in Liberal Studies and Psychology in 1993. She transferred to SDSU
and was admitted through EOP as a Psychology major, attaining her
Bachelors degree in 1998. After several years on staff at SDSU, she attained
her Master of Arts degree in Postsecondary Educational Leadership - Student
Affairs in 2012. Her EOPS Counselor at City College was influential in
establishing her goal of becoming a high school counselor as Cynthia shared
that she wanted to impact and motivate students to want to attend college
because this was not done for her at her high school. Her EOP Counselor at
SDSU became her mentor and employed her as a High School Conference
representative for Student Outreach Services, which proved to be the foot in

OBSERVATION AND ANALYSIS OF LEADERSHIP

the door that led to her career in EOP and Ethnic Affairs. This initial role in
EOP offered her an opportunity to leverage her experiences as a student
leader in MEChA and Associated Students to work with many student groups
in developing workshops and coordinating high school conferences as
outreach efforts to recruit underrepresented students to attend San Diego
State. This work experience changed her focus from high school counseling
to working in higher education.
The information collected for this study came from a personal interview
of Torres, interviews of members of her professional and student staff,
observations of her interactions with other staff, observations of her role in
the department staff meeting, informal conversations with Torres and other
staff members while on a walk across campus, and my own observations of
Cynthias character and reputation as a leader through our collegial
relationship.
Torres is an example of a skillful leader that deftly adapts her
perspective and use of multiple cognitive lenses. Her dominant frame of
leadership is the Human Resource Frame. She also uses the Structural
Frame when appropriate for producing reports, communicating data, and
sharing programming statistics. She stated that one of her core values is the
empowerment of students. This is the basis for the departments mission:
The Office of Educational Opportunity Programs and Ethnic Affairs is
committed to supporting first-generation, low-income students through
innovative outreach and retention programs that encourage them to persist

OBSERVATION AND ANALYSIS OF LEADERSHIP

towards the goal of a university degree (SDSU EOP website). Empowerment


is the pervasive theme throughout this department and the Human Resource
Frame is the pervading leadership style and philosophy within this office.
Torres believes in people and understands that relationships among people
bring the EOP mission to life. Her staff members are the primary resource of
her organization. As a supervisor, she implements the basic human resource
strategies outlined by Bolman and Deal. She believes in hiring the right
people. The majority of staff in the office are former EOP students
themselves. They have a personal connection with the mission of the
program and its core values. She keeps the right people by rewarding them
and recognizing their efforts (Bolman and Deal, 2008). I witnessed examples
of this when she recognized her staff members for successful events at the
EOP Staff Meeting. On our walk across campus, Cynthia bought movie
passes as gifts for staff members to reward them for their success on a
recent initiative. She invests in her staff by creating opportunities for their
growth. She shared an example of a student assistant whose primary role is
computer programming being recruited to provide a tour for students visiting
campus. This student had been rather shy and reserved in the office, but
when given this opportunity to shine, he came through brilliantly. The
organizations diversity philosophy is well established and staff members are
encouraged to step out of their comfort zones and explore opportunities for
growth and cultural empowerment. She empowers her staff by giving them
autonomy to develop their programming and work as self-managing teams.

OBSERVATION AND ANALYSIS OF LEADERSHIP

She provides information and support but does not direct them to perform
their jobs in any specific way. I found it interesting that she does not have
regularly scheduled meetings with her individual staff. Rather, she checks in
with them informally throughout the week to stay informed and to offer
support.
Regarding her use of multiple lenses, she said The idea of treating
everyone equally is flawed because everybody is different. She adapts her
communication with individual staff members based on their personalities
and work styles in order to promote their own growth and development. She
stated, It is important to build relationships with people and adjust my
approach to their personality and our relationship. She discussed how her
professional staff are very skilled at what they do and have a great deal of
autonomy while many of her student staff are relatively inexperienced and
unsure of themselves, which provides an opportunity to provide structure
and guidance. She further embodied the Human Resource Frame when
describing the office climate: We really do have a family unit here. We stick
by each other through the good, bad, and the ugly. After spending time in
this office, it was clear that her staff truly find satisfaction and meaning in
their work. They are empowered to use their full talents and energy in
support of their collective mission of empowering students.
This department is a clear example of the Team Leadership approach
(Northouse, 2013). Torres often makes leadership decisions about
monitoring her team or taking action. In most cases, she monitors their

OBSERVATION AND ANALYSIS OF LEADERSHIP

progress and steps in only when necessary. At times she may intervene to
meet task needs. When necessary, her interventions occur internally within
the teams that she directly supervises. She may need to focus the team on
the goal at hand, or aid in structuring the task for less experienced student
staff members, she aids in planning and organizing events, and assists in
facilitating team decision making. Occasionally she takes external
leadership actions such as advocating and representing her team to external
entities. Her team consists of competent team members with clear,
elevating goals for their collective programs. Torres assists in developing a
results-driven structure that is based on data collection and reporting. Her
team is united in their commitment to their work and work in a collaborative
environment. The growth and development of the entire department is
testament to the success of their programming and initiatives to empower
SDSU students who might otherwise not be admitted to the university nor
persist to graduation. They have the data and results to support these
claims and continue to build upon them. An example is a new outreach
initiative to recruit higher numbers of American Indian and African American
students to San Diego State University. This effort is in support of the
universitys Strategic Plan of supporting diversity.
My observations in this study support the key principles of Northouses
Team Leadership approach and Bolman and Deals Human Resources frame.
It was interesting to observe these leadership principles in action in a highly
successful university program designed to empower underrepresented

OBSERVATION AND ANALYSIS OF LEADERSHIP


students on this campus. This department truly lives by their core values of
fostering communication that allows for growth and development of people
and programs, promoting an environment of diversity and cultural
empowerment, they function with respect and integrity, they cultivate a
community of lifelong learners, and are focused on learning outcomes and
accountability. It was inspiring to observe an effective team led by a leader
who is dedicated to empowering and developing the human potential of her
team members. She invests her energy in individuals who make up an
effective team and focuses on maintaining strong relationships with and
among her team members.

OBSERVATION AND ANALYSIS OF LEADERSHIP


Appendix
Interview Questions
1. Please describe your academic background, including high school,
undergraduate, and graduate degrees and experiences.
2. How did your education prepare you for this position and profession?
3. What were the work experiences that led to your current position in this
department?
4. How has your role in the department evolved over the years?
5. How has the department evolved since you have been here?
6. Describe how your current role in the department compared with your
original intent of becoming an EOP Counselor?
7. As a former teacher in the Sweetwater Union High School District, Im
familiar with the Compact for Success Program. Do you have a role in that
program?
8. What is your leadership philosophy? Core values?
9. How many staff members serve under you? Who do you directly
supervise?
10. What does a typical day in the office look like for you?

Itinerary
Day 1

9:00am - 9:45am
9:45am - 10:00am
10:00am - 10:30am

Personal Interview
Department Tour and Staff Introductions
Graduate Assistant Interview
Day 2

8:30am - 9:30am
10:00am - 10:30am
11:00am - 11:30am

EOP Staff Meeting


Campus Walk
Recruitment and Outreach Officer Interview

OBSERVATION AND ANALYSIS OF LEADERSHIP

References
Bensimon, E.M. (1989) The meaning of Good Presidential Leadership: A
Frame Analysis. The
Review of Higher Education, Volume 12 (No.2), pages
107-123.
Bolman L. and Deal, T. (2008) Chapter 7, Improving Human Resources
Management, in
Reframing Organizations: Artistry, Choice and
Leadership (4th ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Bolman L. and Deal, T. (2008) Exhibit 7.1 Basic Human Resource Strategies,
in Chapter 7, Improving Human Resources Management, in Reframing
Organizations: Artistry, Choice and Leadership (4th ed.). San Francisco:
Jossey-Bass.
EOP Website retrieved from - http://eop.sdsu.edu/Content/EOP.html
Northouse, P.G. (2013) Ch. 11 Team Leadership in Leadership: Theory and
Practice (6th ed.).
Thousand Oaks: Sage.