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An autobiographical review of experiences.


Autobiographical Description of Experiences in Management and Leadership

Daniel Adam Coursey

The University of Alabama

March 3, 2017

Autobiographical Description of Experiences in Management and Leadership

Leadership has never been a foreign concept to me. Coming from a home of disabled parents, and an ailing grandmother, my brother and I both learned to take on adult responsibilities early in life. I can remember balancing financial accounts and giving my father medication as early as age 8. Whether the result of divine reasoning, or simple misfortunate, I learned to take charge of situations, to lead and to manage early on.

Born Leader

My leadership ability was not necessarily good or bad, though my "take-charge" mentality meant for interesting situations in my family, academic, and work pursuits. I was a productive student early on, as teachers served as peers due to my particular home life situation and maturity. Concrete experiences were the catalyst for learning, and every educator the agent for many years. This approach became trying in my adolescent and young adult year since autonomy was expected and I ran out of adult-model resources with whom I could relate. My parents nor grandmother could perform much work, but they did instill in me the concepts of giving your all while remaining humble.

In my freshman or sophomore year of high school, I began to understand the concept of learning by teaching as a viable solution. I purposefully enrolled in courses with special education students who needed peer mentors, became involved in youth programs at school and church, and even assisted in ESL programs at the technical college. Helping others meant that I learned more, and comprehended better than on my own. It was then that I realized I didn't need to have someone hold my hand or model behavior for me, but that doing so for others could be just as beneficial. I was, after all, seemingly born to be a leader.

Volunteer positions in adult and technical education through the Technical College System of Georgia, and in youth and children's ministry at Grace UMC were excellent experiences, but were not financially lucrative. So, I found myself in a few work positions where I was able to lead, manage, and teach others. Though not sequential, as I found myself unable to work at times due to personal and family health concerns, these included positions in a peer group working for a local law firm, lead teaching at a private preschool, and in a customer service and shift management position at a grocery chain, and retail stores, as well as a position as Vice-President of an institutional service company, a position with various leadership and management duties and experiences entrenched in the job description which I took on at a pivotal moment in my adult life.

The "Grown-Up" Job

In March 2011, my grandmother and life-long caretaker passed after a long battle with pulmonary fibrosis. It was the summer after her passing that I re-enrolled in college to finish my degree, and when I took on a "summer job" at Final Touch Institutional Service, a small business owned by the father of my current best friend. I started off in a certain entry-level position, serving part-time in an evening housekeeping position at a local private school. To say that I gained appreciation for custodians would be an understatement, as I was indeed ignorant of the complexities involved with performing routine cleaning tasks.

Even as an entry-level, part-time worker, I had to understand the importance of time-management, inventory control, and customer service skills, necessary skills in a "grown-up" job. What's more is that this was a team position, and so it was important to learn to perform certain tasks in new ways, as clearly demonstrated by the team lead, Margaret. I had never known that there were many ways to clean something, that baby oil polished steel, or that window cleaner was an excellent multi-purpose spray for non-porous surfaces.

Over time, the summer got longer, and I eventually stayed on. Employees came and went, including my friend who moved away to finish her degree in speech pathology. I remained. The pay was adequate, and I had enrolled in an online program part-time. Margaret left after a year, and since I had been her reliable counterpart, I was readily able to take over as a team lead. The company structure also changed, however, and an expansion meant an almost immediate promotion. I had already been performing management tasks and had been well received by other employees and clients, so the owner decided that I should become partner, naming me Vice-President and giving me a one-third share into the company stock. Though elated to be so well received, I remained honest and humble, and strived to learn more and to work smarter. As such, the company president decided to invest in me personally, to "show me the ropes", and secure my spot as his successor.

Experiences within an Experience

As Vice-President of Final Touch Institutional Services, there were many concrete leadership and management experiences, each with their own benefits and limitations. I wore many hats in this position, and took on a plethora of duties in a short time. The company president and my particular experiences taught me about production management and service-sector operations, human resource tasks and management, the pros and cons of small business ownership, to lead teams and manage groups of teams, to plan projects and implement them, to negotiate contracts with clients, and to resolve the various conflicts that arise in the workplace. I gained a lot of insight into the service-sector of the business world, and there were many lessons learned about the benefits and limits of business management and leadership.

Operations Manager

In a service-sector business, operations management is vital to success and can be a beneficial experience. Productivity is measured by human performance, and opportunities to train people to perform better, to work smarter, and to help them acquire new skills and form new career goals is a rewarding experience. Service jobs are customizable, and so the operations management and individual team communication is essential, and relational.

Operations managers ensure productivity and good performance by customizing training and job descriptions to make best use of the overall areas of strength, and by avoiding tasks where performance is lacking or training is inadequate. Customer contact, too, is an essential aspect of service-oriented operations. Positive relationships and human interaction can be a great advantage for growing business, and for growing as an individual.

Murphy's Law can often apply in operations management. Since managing operations is a multifaceted endeavor, limitations and negative experiences are not only plausible, but are expected. In terms of production, service sector products are measured in the quality of its human capital. Excessive errors or limited ability calls to question if an individual employee or a particular team is truly effective, or an asset, which can mean limiting employee hours, or termination for those who underperform. Making a determination such as this can be a difficult process with moral implications and conflicts.

Further, the very reasons that service job customization can be seen as a positive aspect, are also causes for concern. There is a lot of work in training when a certain task or job is to be performed and where that task is applicable. Miscommunications and confusion come often when you have to explain that what applies for one client or location, is not what's expected at another. Other areas of communication concerns are in customer contact. In theory, "customer" should be an individual paying client or an assigned individual of an institution. However, clients are people or organizations made up of people. Client friends, families, colleagues, business partners, and neighbors might not understand contracted terms and obligations, and so communicate to employees and leads misinformation or personal complaints. This can be frustrating for the operations manager, team lead, employees, and the client.

Human Resource Management

As a senior manager of a small business, human resource tasks are often required of you. Benefits of this type experience include ensuring equal opportunities for a diversified group of potential employees, giving people new opportunities for personal and professional growth, recruiting people who are willing to work and who are in need of work, and the lessons in humility and empowerment that occur when you recruit people, train them, and evaluate their performance and reward them for their efforts. There is also a great benefit in safety training and building the employability and professional equity of an individual, as these lessons are applicable in other areas of their lives.

There are indeed limitations in human resource management. Managers only have so much control over the performance of employees, and there exist life situations and personal decisions that an employee makes that are beyond Human Resource governance as well. Decisions made by other managers that might affect the individual employee also arise. Lessons in humility and empowerment have their limits, and a manager cannot reasonably defend an employee to the point of creating conflict with other managers and clients. In terms of recruitment, what you see is not always truly what you get. Employee hopefuls can sometimes have inferior skillsets than claimed, do not meet expectations, and will consequently underperform.

Further, some employees will be indignant, will refuse to pay attention to preferred methods and training, ignore safety information, and these things can make labor relations difficult. There have to be methods to address grievances and for providing consequences, and these undesired tasks are often a human resource task. In certain situations, ending the employer-employee relationship becomes inevitable, which isn't always an easy decision or process.

Small Business Management

Managing a small business has its benefits. Market research is often more personal, small businesses can offer customized services at reasonable rates due to less overhead, and in analyzing competition managers can learn what services are being offered and strive to do them at better rates, or times, as a benefit to clients.

Conversely, larger businesses tend to have a greater resource pool, can offer large scale jobs, to a larger client list, and are likely to have better advertising to a larger demographic, at a faster rate. Though less personal and relational, a larger company's renowned reputation, greater number of client recommendations, and larger human capital capacity can outweigh what small businesses can offer.

Project Management

In service-sector management, temporary endeavors arise which can prove profitable if planned and implemented well. These projects break teams out of routine and mundane experiences and provide opportunities for learning new skills, to use new equipment, or to engage in new work experiences. Project management can be beneficial in that it allows the exploration of new ventures, and allows management to come into contact with different potential clients or partners.

Project management has its challenges as well, particularly in planning. Projects have to be planned precisely and reasonably in concert with daily routines of teams and employees. New tasks might require different training, and client expectations might be higher in certain projects. Projects in service fields can often require coordinating with more than one client representative, other service providers, and certain tasks must be re-performed or delayed, if contingent upon the completion of other work done outside of your organization. This is particularly true in projects involving new construction, site renovations, and special events.

Negotiations and Conflict Resolution

Negotiation and resolving conflicts are essential business skills. Managers and Leaders learn to bargain for best possible solutions, to strategize and adapt, to resolve conflicts by implementing new policies, procedures, and regulations when possible. Such experiences can be stressful, but rewarding. Objectivity, humility, kindness, accommodation, and accountability are essential for true success in resolving conflicts. It's my experience that the best approach to conflict resolution is simple empathy. Employees, managers, and clients are people first, are prone to human error, and better relationships and communication can resolve most issues.

In learning to negotiate, managers find that clients are human creatures predisposed to

personal perceptions, bias, and individual preferences. Conflict is inevitable, and not all conflicts can be resolved. Ineffective communication, a lack of accountability, and skewed personal perceptions sometimes outweigh logic and empathy in "strictly business" minded individuals. This inconvenient truth can indeed be a negative trait of clients, and makes for an unpleasant situation for employees and managers.

Leadership and Ethical Responsibility

Leadership is indeed a rewarding role. As a leader one must know how to better allocate resources, and to imbed the goal of personal empowerment for themselves and others into their job. Leaders can implement changes that benefit the team and the organization and build teams to accomplish goals. A good leader, in my experience, creates good vibes, a relaxed atmosphere, makes the relationships within the teams a priority, and considers the diverse strengths and personalities of the team members. Leaders know that a united front is the means to successful operations and outcomes, and consider the moral, professional, legal, and ethical implications of the decisions they make.

A leader has to be considerate, but effective. Change management is a requirement, and since clients and members can change their minds too, have personal preferences, and are looking to benefit themselves, leaders have to bear the brunt of this backlash, or non-resolution. Teams are made up of individual members, and not all days are good for all people. Team setbacks, client complaints, and individual underperformance can affect the team's reputations and morale. Clients and other leaders won't always understand individual team members as well as the team leader, and often rely on argumentum ad hominem fallacies. Consequences concern an individual's character or suggest a motive or agenda in complaints involving individual members, rather than considering alternatives or substantive reasons for issues. Resolving these situations and considerations are important to maintaining clientele and good members, even if they are unpleasant circumstances for the team and the leader.

Education and Career Goals

I believe we are all more than the sum of our experiences, and come what may, we should be intentional in our efforts to do and be better.

Finishing my undergraduate education is a milestone along my personal journey. At this point in my life, I have been afforded the ability to make undergraduate degree completion a near reality, thanks to few time restraints, support from family and close friends, and the format of UA's LifeTrack program. However, I have concerns about the financial limitations I may face, as enrollment in expensive online programs in the past nearly eradicated my financial aid, and I am only employed part-time in freelance positions, limiting my education budget. It is with these financial restrictions, and an honest inner urge to complete my undergraduate degree, return to the work force full time, and to be a societal contributor that I wish to make use of my various learning experiences and to seek prior learning credit.

Upon completing my undergraduate degree, life and finances permitting, I intend to pursue graduate coursework in management, leadership, and education/training. As indicated earlier, my teachers were my most prized role models, and so I naturally aspire to teach others.

I am particularly interested in adult education, especially career and technical education because students are taught valuable workplace skills that put them in positions to perform well, and possible lead and teach others. Of course, one must be well taught in order to teach effectively, and I hope that continuing my education and obtaining Masters, and possibly even Doctorate degrees, will ensure I've given my best effort to meet that goal.

The classroom is not the only platform for experiences or learning, and I indeed want to get back to full-time work in the future and so it is my goal to acquire an entry-level position in adult or career/technical education upon completing my undergraduate degree at The University of Alabama. There are a few limited prospects, as I live in a rural area, but I'm optimistic that I can at least obtain a part-time "foot in the door" position at one of the reputable technical, community, or research institutions near me.


My primary motivation for completing my undergraduate would certainly be validation. Added benefits are to positively impact the lives of others, especially family. While I have specific career and educational goals, my motivating factors are my desire to prove to myself and to others that I am indeed both capable and willing to be a productive member of society, and to show my parents that their disabilities have not negatively affected their children. I want them to know that their conditions and my upbringing do not indicate perpetual misfortune, and that love, hope, and determination can make all the difference. I'd certainly love to someday have a career position that honors them, that helps me provide for them financially, and to help them make and meet dreams and goals.

Manual labor and physical productivity has long been the legacy of my maternal and paternal families, insomuch that medical professionals admit that extreme work conditions are likely the cause of my grandparents' short lives, and quite possibly my parents' medical conditions. While I have much respect for those who do perform manual labor, having done so in the past myself, I want to break the cycle of hard jobs leading to health disparities and an early demise. So, I'd also like to show my younger brother that hard-work doesn't necessarily mean painstaking labor that compromises your health, but there are ways to financial freedom that don't require sacrificing your entire life to your employer, and that honest work doesn't have to be so negatively impactful.

My various life experiences have taught me the importance of organization, empowerment, humility, and playing one's strengths. Whether through motivating three and four year olds to learn the alphabet, or to use good manners, encouraging non-native speakers to immerse themselves in experiences where only English was spoken, demonstrating to disabled student peers and helping them to achieve goals and prove ability, I've learned to lead. In taking on adult tasks as a young child to help my parents and grandmother be healthy and to maintain a sense of normalcy in their lives, by leading and teaching youth and children in ministry programs, by showing your relatives your methods for medicating, bathing, grooming, or cooking for your dying grandmother (parent), I have demonstrated leadership capabilities. By remaining humble, staying strong, and being purposefully respectful when left out of Nanny's end-of-life and funeral plans because my birth certificate didn't entitle me to a say, or in running a schedule-C corporation with minimum time and inventory loss, rather intentionally, accidentally, or by example, I've demonstrated my ability to manage.

In conclusion, rather it be a natural propensity, interference by a higher power, or a major coincidence, my individual, often complex, yet certainly dissimilar experiences, have all required me to be a manager and leader. Some of my most significant learning experiences have been in management positions, particularly as Vice-President of a small corporation. As such, I intend to utilize the lessons learned through these experiences to build a prior learning portfolio in Management which correlates with my Leadership depth study in the New College LifeTrack Interdisciplinary Studies program. I feel that these many experiences have value, and hope to make use of that value by seeking academic credit. In doing so, I would be able to complete my undergraduate degree sooner, with less debt, and can pursue future career, education, and life goals.

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