The University Record, October 28, 1998

Aspiring leaders should use 3Rs ‘plan for opportunities’

By Jane R. Elgass

We all are leaders in one way or another, but many of us don’t think about it consciously. That’s what we should do if we aspire to higher positions in our professional lives. We also must always be ready to take advantage of an opportunity, in 24 hours if necessary.

Sharing her perspective and experiences as a 27-year staff member at the University—one way of “giving back” to the community—Jean Watson Tennyson asked her audience to reflect on similarities of beliefs and experiences as she encouraged them to “Believe in Your Dream” last week.

Jackie R. McClain, executive director of Human Resources/Affirmative Action, introduced Tennyson as a personal and professional colleague who offers counsel, sage advice and comfort. She spoke at the annual Women of Color Task Force Woman of the Year awards ceremony.

Tennyson, who is director of Human Resources & Affirmative Action at U-M-Dearborn, started her U-M career on the Ann Arbor campus as a temporary employee in what is now Food and Nutrition Services at the Medical Center, deciding at one point not to pursue opportunities outside the U-M because she felt she “hadn’t taken advantage of the opportunities at the University.”

Over the years, she aggressively pursued her goals, which included taking a four-year educational leave to get an undergraduate degree, and taking lateral (and in some instances lower-ranked jobs) that would add to her skills and experience. “You won’t always get a promotion,” she noted. “You have to put a plan in place for the risks you need to take [to reach your goals].”

“That we are here today,” Tennyson said, “means we acknowledge leadership positions to aspire to,” adding that working to achieve those aspirations means following “Jean’s 3 Rs”: resumé, risk and relationships.

The first step is “inventorying your life. Take pencil and paper, write down your achievements and your goals, and then attach action plans,” she said. Be sure to include all the skills acquired from past experiences, and assess your willingness to take risks.

Your resumé should be kept up to date so you can respond within 24 hours should an opportunity arise. And the resumé should be accompanied by a cover letter. “This is usually your first introduction to a potential employer,” she explained, and should be top quality in both content and presentation. “It’s not whether a cover letter is right or wrong, but whether it is effective or ineffective,” Tennyson noted.

One must be willing to take risks to move onward and upward. “Risk can only be a growth experience. It helps overcome fear of failure,” she said, noting that taking the leave to attend college was a big risk for her at the time as the single parent of three children, one of them chronically ill. “When you try to help yourself, things will happen for you,” Tennyson said.

If you aspire to advancement, you also must “surround yourself with positive people and get rid of the excess baggage,” she said. “Our relationships matter, but it is a challenge to put them in the proper perspective. I had to work at putting each of my relationships in perspective. Some weren’t healthy for me.”

We need to remember, Tennyson said, that “each one of us can make a difference. There is enough [work] to be done for all of us to be successful, but you must plan for the opportunities.”

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