Legend Of Wisdom: Danielle Wozniak — Transforming Higher Education

Do not rest in your discomfort. If you are uncomfortable, if you are not being treated well, if you’re not being respected, your gifts are not being recognized; you’re not in the right place. That’s OK. Move forward. Find another gig…You will land on your feet, so don’t be afraid of that change.” ~ Danielle Wozniak

This week we continue our profiles of Legends of Wisdom — those folks who in the arc of their careers demonstrate their value and the wisdom they bring to situations and challenges. (Legends of Wisdom is a mashup term taken from Chip Conley’s Wisdom at Work and Mike Tyson’s Legends Only League of retired elite athletes). 

As I’ve mentioned it’s our professional value that’s significant through the arc of our careers, NOT our so-called transferable skills. 

The folks profiled in the past four weeks embody the ability to transcend their skills to emphasize and employ the wisdom they’ve gained.

This week: Danielle Wozniak, PhD., Vice President for Global Strategy and Business Development at Yeshiva University in New York City.

Danielle Wozniak: Transforming Higher Education

Danielle is on a mission to transform higher education; especially small liberal arts colleges and universities. She blends her passion for student learning opportunities with the realization that colleges and universities are business units that must grow enrollment and maintain profitability to survive. 

Danielle aims to drive innovation and needed changes in higher ed. As an academic leader in the last 10 years, she has done so in four institutions. She is back for a return engagement at Yeshiva University in Manhattan, as the Vice President for Global Strategy and Business Development.    

In our conversation, Danielle noted that in order to be a successful Legend of Wisdom, a leader (in her case college presidents) must recognize that wisdom. She noted that a lack of leadership is when talent on the team is not recognized and heard and used to shape a desired direction. “If your leader has to be the smartest person in the room, your wisdom won’t be acknowledged or realized.”

What Mastery Do You Offer? How Do You Add Value To Your Work and Colleagues?

Danielle is very aware of her strengths and her limitations; and she shares them with her team — using humor — which provides invitations for others to step up and cover her limitations. She’s able to build teams that complement her strengths and shore up her liabilities and weaknesses. 

Her major strength centers around communication — connecting and empowering others to drive the team’s purpose. She also listens. A lot. She looks for not just what people say, but how they say it; how their words indicate how they’re feeling and what they’re concerned about. She’s mindful of expressed concerns and the anxiety behind them.

She also brings a toughness to her teams and their meetings. She keeps the discussions on track and doesn’t get derailed by counterarguments. 

What Are The Durable Traits or Qualities That Define Your Professional Reputation?

So, where did that ability to not personalize issues and to keep agendas on track come from? Danielle points to her broad educational background. Not only does she have a PhD in anthropology, she also has an MSW — a clinical degree in social work. And she began as an undergraduate English literature major. 

As an English lit major, she learned to look for patterns, meaning, connection, texts and subtexts. She brought those skills to social work where she looked for them in individuals and families. As an anthropologist, she learned to listen to people empathically and ask how they derived meaning — “what does that mean for you?”

Danielle feels it’s really important to take wisdom from every experience, even in raising backyard chickens. Her observations of the pecking order of her hens provide tremendous insight to human teams. 

So Danielle points to her clinical skills as a social worker dealing with victims of domestic violence for 10 years. “I use my clinical skills every moment of every day,” employing active listening, empathic listening, self-determination, and empowerment. Challenging people about their beliefs and attitudes, seeing things differently, and moving forward. 

As You’ve Evolved Into A Legend Of Wisdom, What Traits And Qualities Have You Had To Give Up?

Danielle noted that she can be extremely competitive and she’s had to let go of the binary thinking around win-lose, and find ways for everyone to win. Although, knowing that she has a quality program — much better than other schools — doesn’t diminish her competitiveness. However, within her organization, she looks to see how she can share recipes for success among departments and programs. 

Danielle is also aware that she works at a particular pace. She’s learned to adjust her expectations about others matching her pace. 

What Traits and Qualities Have You Repurposed To Be More Meaningful As A Legend Of Wisdom? 

Danielle refers back to her clinical skills as an empathic and active listener, understanding people’s affects and motivations, and making space for them to be “fully human” by meeting them where they are. 

The most important question she’s learned to ask is “what does this mean for you?”, which she believes is critical for leadership. “Until you can ask that question, as a leader, you will never figure out what’s behind people’s motivations and actions.”

What Would You Like Your Professional Legacy To Be? How Do You Want To Be Remembered At The End Of Your Career?

“I don’t want them to remember me. I don’t want a professional legacy.” 

While she may not want a professional legacy, Danielle does want to be effective in seeding the next generation of leaders. By empowering people, by helping them recognize their own leadership skills, she can ensure that when she leaves, five or ten people that can step into her spot and continue the work. So she would like a legacy of planting seeds for being creative, innovative, empowering, and collaborative.

“I do this work as a fulfillment of tikkun olam, from a Jewish perspective of repairing a fractured world…It’s my duty, my obligation to make this world a better place — to co-create to improve the world.”

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