November 20

Finding the Authentic Leader in You: Owning your skills to inspire, engage, and motivate the people around you.

These are the notes I used to prepare for an interview. I was part of a panel #olcaccelerate2019.


I’m an artist. I am arrow’s mom, and I know a little about online teaching and learning. I’m the director of online teaching at Open SUNY (State University of New York). The largest public state university system in the galaxy.

  • We have 64 institutions from doctoral to community colleges
  • 462,698 students
  • 34,695 faculty

Today SUNY offers:

  • 68 Open SUNY+ programs from 20 campuses.
  • 535 online degrees or certificates from 44 campuses
  • 23,477 annual online course sections 2017-18
  • 177,000 + online student enrollments    2016-17

Along with the Online Learning Consortium (OLC) , SUNY and I are celebrating our 25th anniversaries.

I was the first online instructional designer in SUNY. It is estimated that I’ve trained over 5,000 online faculty.

I have trained more than 300 online instructional designers (ID) over the years in SUNY, and have worked to professionalize and institutionalize the role of the ID in SUNY.

  • I believe we now have at least one ID at each SUNY institution.
  • Our online instructional designer certificate program was adopted by the OLC in 2016, and has already been used to train hundreds of online IDs.  I encourage you to check that program out.
  • OSCQR, our online course quality rubric, was adopted by OLC as their online course quality scorecard. Go to to have a look around.
  • Our free, online and self-paced openly licensed online course “Interested in teaching online?” has been used by thousands to explore readiness and learn more about online teaching
  • We develop and share our online faculty development and course design tools and resources with open licenses for anyone to adapt/adopt. Check out our self-paced and self-serve resources and tools.

How does one balance wearing the ‘mask’ of professionalism while also striving to be our true and authentic selves in the work environment? (To provide context – We can often wear a mask of professionalism, how can we find the balance point between wearing the mask in order to advance our career, vs being our true selves in order to be approachable?)

I am a Sagittarius. So, I have had to work very hard to not say every random thing that comes into my head… but, the older I get the fewer ducks I give about what others think about me. I present myself confidently and professionally, but strive to be informal and approachable, so that I can make authentic professional connections. I am quite connected online via social media and, of course, I filter, because I want to have impact, and I want to connect with others that are as passionate about online teaching and learning as I am. But, I like a little “noise” in my signal, and appreciate that in others. It makes that feeling of connection feel real.

How can a person own their unique skills when facing pressure to adhere to other’s perceptions or ideas of a leader’s skill set?

I think this is a great life question, not just pertaining to work. Figuring out what you are good at and what your strengths are and what you like to do are key to being authentic and successful professionally, as well as personally. The problem is that if you’re really good at something, and are there for a while, you are likely eventually to be asked to stop doing what you are good at to manage, supervise, and lead others. Which is often a whole different skill set than what you are known for, or good at, and you may not be naturally good at leading/managing/supervising. So, you really have to think hard about what makes you happy/satisfied professionally, before you take on a different role that changes that. If you do, you then have to figure out how to get good at it, and still be able to continue to express yourself in a way that is true to your core values, while also accomplishing the tasks and responsibilities that you are taking on.  If you know yourself well…your unique skills that make you uniquely you, you can get professional development for things you are missing. This takes work. You can’t wing it – well, not well…

How can you know your actual strengths from your perceived strengths?

I take lots of quizzes. You know are you an empath? What Hogwarts house are you in?

I am an EFNP. I do every strengths inventory I can find and promote that at work, with my staff, and colleagues. The better I know myself and where my colleagues and staff are coming from, the more effective I can be in communication, getting things done, and being effective and successful. I think it helps to ask for feedback too. From those I supervise, and from those that supervise me. Of course, you have to trust and value the opinons of those you ask.

When should you hold back in order to let someone else who has similar strengths shine?

I LOVE this question and I think it is something you learn with experience. Being a parent has also helped me with this… See, this is a key learner-centered instructional design core principle!! The answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything. If you always tie their shoes, they won’t ever learn how to do it themselves. They will never be independent. They will always have to rely on you. They will trip and fall cuz they can’t do it themselves. You will get resentful that they can’t take care of themselves, you will become tired, overwhelmed, and then bitter about it. And you will die a mean, ornery very grumpy  person that is unpleasant to be around. It is counter intuitive… you have to let others fail to succeed. It is really hard to do… especially if you are really good at something…the impulse is to say that it would be quicker to do it yourself; or that if you want it done right, that you have to do it; that no one can do it as well as you –(all of which may be true), but if your job is to mentor, supervise, train, teach, or parent others, you are actually taking away their opportunity to learn, to get better, to accomplish something – by not letting them do something that you know they will fail at… and you don’t just let them fail, you coach, you guide, you give feedback…. So they can grow, so they can learn, so they can shine. And then, you make sure to give them praise/encouragement for their effort/accomplishment/growth no matter how successful (to cultivate a growth mindset). Another important piece of this is making sure they get the credit for their accomplishments with superiors, the organization, etc.

How can you use your strengths as an authentic leader to inspire your collaborators?

I want to be inspired. I look for that in my leaders. So, I want to be that for others. But, being inspiring can’t be the goal. I mean it is not a goal in an of itself. Its like saying I want to be famous… being inspiring is a by-product of true passion for something …seeing that passion – feeling it in someone, is what turns out to be inspiring.  

I get up in the morning because I believe that what I do matters/makes a difference. I believe that effective online instructional design and online faculty development is the answer to life, the universe, and everything, and that what we do as IDs is a super power that can change the world for good. We can inform and influence the quality of online instruction and the online educational experiences of the faculty and people of the State of New York. I know that a positive and successful online teaching and learning experience can result in academic success for people who may not have other options, who might otherwise be relegated to a life of poverty, and that an online education can change their lives and the lives of their children.  I know this … I have seen this. <<Mic drop. >>

How do you find your flow state in being an authentic leadership? 

You know when you are so focused and engaged that you don’t experience thirst, hunger, you don’t need to pee, you are not really aware of what is going on around you, you are just completely absorbed in something…? According to positive psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, (pronounced ‘ME-high CHICK-sent-me-high-ee’) what you experience in that moment is known as flow state. He defines as an “optimal state of consciousness where we feel our best and perform our best.”

So, to get at that state in your leadership activities, you can’t force it, but it doesn’t just happen either, you have to practice:

  • You should have clear goals about what you want to achieve.
  • You should concentrate and focus on the goals.
  • The activity has to be intrinsically rewarding.
  • If you are doing it right, you will:
    • Feel that your skills align with the goals of the task.
    • Feel a complete focus on the activity itself.
    • Lose feelings of self-consciousness.
    • Lose track of time passing.
    • Feel control over the situation and the outcome.

How do you manage stressful or challenging situations to avoid disruptions to your state of flow?

  • Don’t avoid. Listen. Engage. Ask questions. Use it to fuel your flow.
  • Breathe
  • Humm the song from Frozen, “Let it go!
  • Don’t hit send. 

How do you recover from disruptions to your flow state, while still being professional and authentic?

  • Breathe.
  • Belt out the song from Frozen, “Let it go!” in your head.
  • Don’t hit send. 
  • Take a break. Take one positive action to move past beyond. 
  • Practice motivated forgetting. (Let it go).

How can you stay in a mindset of authenticity without getting caught up in a competitive mindset when there are limited opportunities available? 

Do what you love, love what you do.. My privilege is showing with that statement, I know. Not everyone gets to have that.  But, I believe you can sometimes make your own reality and your own opportunities. Believing otherwise makes you a victim of a mindset that imposes limitations… be creative and think outside the box. You are only as limited as you believe you are.

How can you inspire and engage your colleagues to allow everyone to be authentic and successful both as individuals and as a team?

Love what you do, believe you can change the world. Tell others that you want to change the world. Tell them that you need their help to do that. Tell others that they can change the world too.  Others will be inspired by that and want to help you…and someday, they will inspire you.

Posted November 20, 2019 by alexandrapickett in category Uncategorized

About the Author

Alexandra M. Pickett

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *