Annabelle Balor, University of St. La Salle

Leading, Learning, and Listening

Annabelle Balor placed herself in the position of leader and learner during the 2017-2018 academic year. She had assumed a new professional role at the start of that academic year, as vice-chancellor for academic affairs at the University of St. La Salle in the Philippines. She also was a 2017-2018 United Board Fellow, open to learning new approaches to leadership.

She found valuable lessons at the United Board Fellows Program‘s Summer Institute, held at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. “Something I learned at the Summer Institute has actually become one of my guiding principles” she said in a recent interview. “As school leaders, we do not always have control over the results, but we do have control over the conditions that will bring about success in our institutions.” Now, with a focus on “enabling conditions,” she is taking steps to put a more inclusive and deliberative decision-making process in place.

“After coming back from the Summer Institute, I have deliberately pursued dialogues,” she said. “I also have encouraged members of my administrative team in the Higher Education Unit to provide time and space for lots of dialogues or conversations. These conversations can happen in structured meetings, informal one-on-one dialogues, or during the administrators’ scheduled office hours.” Over time, this type of communication can build a sense of teamwork and a willingness to tackle problems together. “This process may not yield solutions right away, but it may bring forth information that helps team members better understand themselves, each other, and a problem situation.”

Open hours are an opportunity for Dr. Balor to connect with colleagues and students.

Dr. Balor also decided to revive a practice – called “Open Hours with the VCAA” – to let colleagues and students know their ideas and opinions matter. “I thought it would be best to intentionally carve out time and space for real conversations, especially with those who do not have the courage to speak in a public setting,” she said. “These conversations provide an avenue to discuss issues and concerns that, if left unattended, could hinder team success.”

When administrators take the time to listen, Dr. Balor finds, the response from colleagues and students is extremely positive. “They often feel valued that their opinions are sought out and that their views are heard,” she said. “The people we lead have valuable insights into the problems we are trying to solve, if only we take the time to ‘weigh’ it with them, and not think that the leaders always have the solutions. Other times, colleagues and students may not agree with an administration’s point of view in the beginning, but once we enter a conversation space, they can understand the reasons for the direction we are taking.”

“Higher education leadership must be characterized by a leader’s commitment to lifelong learning,” Dr. Balor wrote, soon after being named a United Board Fellow. Her fellowship experience showed her the rewards of connecting leadership, learning, and listening.