Showing Up and Letting Go

Hear from Christine J. Sobek, Ed.D., President Emeritus, Waubonsee Community College

Default Image

The Courage to Show Up

By Christine J. Sobek, Ed.D.,Former President Emeritus, Waubonsee Community College
CampusWorks Executive Advisory Board Member

As I think about what courageous leadership means to me, I have been reflecting on opportunities and challenges I experienced in my nearly 22 years as a college president. There are many examples including the courage to be bold and innovative, as demonstrated in our 2020 College Master Plan and our Vision 2050 Project. There are the challenges we faced when a community member or a community group questioned the college’s tax levy or an academic program or service. Then there are the sensitive personnel issues and collective bargaining issues. Some of these were direct challenges to my leadership, and others were more broadly focused on the college. ind, erecting buildings that, decades later, would be revered as the “ivy-covered walls” cherished by many alumni.

Christine J. Sobek, Ed.D.

Dr. Christine J. Sobek’s 43-year career in higher education has been marked by exemplary leadership overseeing diverse academic operations. She has held various administrative roles in the community college setting, and as such, Dr. Sobek has mastered the intricacies of higher education administration. Most recently Dr. Sobek served as the president of Waubonsee Community College for 22 years and was named the president emeritus in January of 2023. Dr. Sobek’s contributions reach beyond the classroom into the community. She sits on the board of directors for the Conservation Foundation, Rush-Copley Medical Center, the Aurora Economic Development Corp., the Geneva History Center and the Greater Aurora Chamber of Commerce. She has contributed dozens of articles about education to local newspapers.

Dr. Sobek earned a doctoral degree from Northern Illinois University, a master’s degree from Michigan State University, and a bachelor’s degree, with Highest Distinction, from Purdue University. She is a member of Phi Beta Kappa and an honorary member of Phi Theta Kappa International Honor Society.

Maintaining courageous leadership in all these situations required three key traits. The first is professionalism, which includes maintaining integrity and demonstrating respect for all parties involved. The President is the living logo of the college. The Board, employees, and the community look to the President to set the tone and approach for launching bold initiatives and for resolving complex issues.

Next is resilience. This ability helps one stay committed to bringing an issue to resolution, even when faced with difficult choices. Staying laser focused on the problem at hand is key.

In today’s unpredictable and turbulent world, the greatest demonstration of courageous leadership may be showing up every day, letting go of what did or did not happen yesterday, and leading the college with a renewed sense of professionalism, resilience, and grace.

Finally, there is the art of giving grace to yourself and others. I have observed that presidents can be very self-critical about their responses in tough situations. Give yourself some grace and recognize there is no one perfect solution to a problem. Learn from the experience and share that knowledge with your team.

I would like to add some thoughts about communication. I have learned that in the absence of communication, people frequently apply their own meaning, which often has a negative view. Courageous leadership requires developing a communication strategy that fits the particular challenge. Always assume more communication is better than less. 

College presidents face daily successes and challenges at a relentless pace, which can take a cumulative toll on a president’s health, energy, and outlook. In today’s unpredictable and turbulent world, the greatest demonstration of courageous leadership may be showing up every day, letting go of what did or did not happen yesterday, and leading the college with a renewed sense of professionalism, resilience, and grace. 

Learn more about Christine and CampusWorksExecutive Advisory Board »