Season 2, Episode 2 - Ricardo Villarosa

AnnmarieHost Annmarie Caño speaks with academic leaders at Wayne State University to learn how they have developed their careers while empowering themselves and others.

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Episode notes

Ricardo Villarosa is the coordinator of student life at Wayne State University. A self-described "solution-finder," he joins EmpowerED to Lead to offer his unique perspective on collaborative leadership. Villarosa, who follows the appreciative inquiry approach to leadership, will also share how a mix of in-person and electronic communications contributes to his dynamic style.

Ricardo Villarosa sitting in front of a microphone while wearing headphones

About Ricardo Villarosa

Ricardo Villarosa is the coordinator of student life in the Dean of Students Office at Wayne State University. In addition to the leadership roles he holds on campus, he has served on nonprofit governing and advisory boards such as the Law School Admission Council and the Michigan Asian Pacific American Bar Association.  

Additional resources

Gonzales, Laurence. Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies and Why (2003). New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company.

Follow EmpowerED to Lead on Twitter @WSUFacSuccess.

Transcript

Annmarie Caño:
Welcome to empowered to lead a Wayne state university podcast for academic leaders who are committed to empowering their community to succeed. I'm your host, Anne Marie Canio, associate provost for faculty development and faculty success at Wayne State. In this podcast, we'll explore the personal journeys of academic leaders, both current and emerging to learn more about how they've developed their careers. We'll speak with faculty and staff about their work and how they have empowered themselves and others along the way. By doing this, we hope to empower listeners like you as you continue on your leadership path.

Today we're speaking with Ricardo Villarosa Esquire. Ricardo Villarosa has been a coordinator of student life for the Dean of Students office since 2014. Prior to his current position, he served as the director of Student Life and Educational Outreach for the Law School for 13 years. Since fall of 2009, Ricardo has served as a member of the AAUP-AFT executive board as the grievance coordinator for academic staff and a member of the Union's Contract Enforcement team. An elected member of the Wayne state academic Senate, he serves on the Senate budget committee. He's also an appointed member of the steering committee of the Provost Academic Leadership Academy. Ricardo has held a variety of leadership roles beyond the Wayne State campus community. He has served on a number of nonprofit governing and advisory boards, including on the Law School admission council, The Detroit Metropolitan Bar Foundation, and the Michigan Asian Pacific American Bar Association. Welcome to the podcast, Ricardo.

Ricardo Villarosa:
Good morning. Thank you.

Annmarie Caño:
So we like to start the podcast asking guests what they love about their jobs. Can you share what you love about your roles?

Ricardo Villarosa:
Wow. In a short space that's hard to say. There's so many things, but I'll say two pieces. One is the ability to be on a beautiful campus for almost 19 years, longer from a time when I was a student, I was coming back. And for those of us who are able, even though this is Michigan and we have four seasons, sometimes in one day it's an amazing place to walk and there's always something changing. And there's to be able to get out and enjoy this on a regular basis is very energizing and that on the actual doing side it's different.

It's dynamic every day we have the cycles, the academic cycles. So we have kind of an overlay of things that repeat each year but it's always renewed, it's always different. And that variety of being able to work from my particular roles with students as we all do, but colleagues from around the campus as well as members of the community and be engaged in small conversations is very fulfilling. And it provides avenues for me to be of service and be a resource in ways that are enriching to me but also aligned with the organization, with the institution.

Annmarie Caño:
And often when I see you, you are walking the campus and you're on the phone. So sometimes you combine that strolling and those small conversations that you're talking about.

Ricardo Villarosa:
Michael Sasin and I from the Law library work together and he jokes he says, we talk about different spots where we may sit down to enjoy and then I'll take care of some phone business on my phone. [inaudible 00:03:31] different mobile offices, different colleagues. It's inevitable because there are a lot of us who get on a walk and sometimes it's just out of necessity moving from one side of campus to the other, and I find that I will on any given walk, we'll often have conversations, these quick interactions I've seen you, seen Boris, others colleagues where we'll stop and have that five-minute piece that sometimes resolve something, sometimes leads to Oh we need to get together and talk. And so it's a great way to take care of my lifestyle changes but also have it be effective for work. And it's a lot more fun than just having meetings in the offices, which we tend to do.

Annmarie Caño:
Yes, we do tend to do that. So I actually want to ask you another question about that. So we have our meetings in offices and we also try to handle a lot of things through email communications and you are known for someone who either does the in-person or the phone call rather than automatically going to email and I was wondering if you could talk a little bit more about that.

Ricardo Villarosa:
Yes. Emails, texting I use those, they have their place and they are oftentimes a convenient way to make an initial contact, but we often, we know we lose so much. It's hard to, when we're interacting around different identities, different cultures we talk with the Leadership Academy with others about when you're in person and you can see body language and cues, how challenging that is when you strip away additional layers. I think of email is great for initial outreach but not for a discussion. If I have a student or a colleague who will send a series of questions, my typical response is, here's my direct line. When you have time, can we have a quick call? The call may lead to a meeting or somebody will say, send a lot of questions. Say, can I make an appointment?

It works in both directions. If somebody says they want to make an appointment and come all the way to my office. If we can get on the phone for two minutes, it may save them the time of scheduling, coming over, so it goes in both directions. Email is definitely an important tool. It's good to document a lot of times and so very often I'll have meetings or conversations where we may after the fact recap with an email. So it's good for that. It's, I'm not against email we use all the time, but it's a tool like any other and if you can have a lot of different tools for how you reach out and communicate, especially if you're trying to ask somebody to do something, to collaborate with you, to do something where you might need to provide more information. If you provide as much information as you think you'll need, they probably won't read it because none of us have time to read four-page emails.

Annmarie Caño:
Right. Yeah. The wall of text that appears in your inbox. All right. Now you've had many different leadership roles before you went to school. We were talking before we started recording during your education in your roles now, and I was wondering if you could share a little bit about maybe the leadership tidbits you've learned from these different experiences.

Ricardo Villarosa:
Yeah, I jokingly said it's the first time I've described it. For those who know the Brad Pitt movie Benjamin Button, that from a traditional path of having titles, long titles, formal responsibility for others and for dollar amounts and budgets and those things. I actually had more of that in my twenties. I was a very nontraditional students, started my undergraduate degree at 30 at OCC and then transferred here and came out, was one of the first JD MBA graduates a long time ago. But I had those more formal roles and then I went to school and my degrees in business and learned that there was theory and education that supported the things that I was just doing and learning on the job which was interesting.

And then working in legal education and then the Bar community, those roles that you mentioned with the Michigan Asian Pacific American Bar with the Law School Admissions as a trustee, it was taking those experiences, the educational pieces showed me that there's, leadership, as we discussed in the Academy, is sometimes tied to title, tied to management responsibility. Oftentimes those different pieces of leadership that you have to exert when you don't have title or positional authority can be used with that but can be used even without that and are oftentimes more essential because if you're a nonvoting member of a committee and you have to be on the committee and find ways to be effective.

Things like Marcus Dixon mentioned referent authority referent power being a resource. And I found that when we're working now we work with volunteer organizations or student leadership, it's amazing for me to have worked with 18 then 20-year-olds who are in these leadership roles. When you're in an organization where prioritization for your members and maybe fourth, fifth or sixth on their list of priorities, but what you need from them is for it to seem like it's their top priority for us to do the tasks or the effort that we're engaged in.

And so finding ways to get people to work with you and to walk with you without that authority is something that can going backwards, now my titles are fewer and shorter whenever possible and there's the saying that a leader without followers is just going for a walk. I guess I look like that because I've able to move things and have the benefit of working with a lot of people to make things happen. But I don't have direct reports. And even on teams, it's usually collaborative peer-to-peer or with people who are higher ranked in the university or the organizations. That's a long answer but...

Annmarie Caño:
So, in the Academic Leadership Academy, as you were saying, we are trying to help people see that you can lead without a title, but then there is still the people who are chasing after titles as if that will transform them into a leader. And what you're saying is that's not necessarily the case and that you're at the point where the title doesn't matter as much as the work that you get to do. It's what I'm hearing.

Ricardo Villarosa:
It does and that's for me. So the path I've taken, it's not necessarily one that people would model, but hopefully, some of the characteristics and the insights into if you are a leader, I think it's great. And we need people who are aspiring to the titles of the positions. So I don't want to give a message that it's not important. For me, it's been a different path. But you're very, it's very correct that the message is that, if you don't have a position or title, and even if you're not aspiring to move into an administrative position that leadership is necessary and needed and can be practiced absent title. It's always great when they come together. But it's not, I don't see them as, as being co-requisite.

Annmarie Caño:
So the being able to influence others or work towards some more just or compassionate solution to a problem that still requires leadership. Speaking up...

Ricardo Villarosa:
Absolutely.

Annmarie Caño:
Convincing other people why this is important.

Ricardo Villarosa:
Influencing others or even tapping into something so that you can identify where you both have combined interests, so that you may walk together for a while, you may work together where you haven't really... Sometimes it is influencing very much. Sometimes it's opening up and being open to perspectives of being able to see where we have connecting points where what we're doing for this time will help us both reach this point for our goals, which may be lined, may diverge later, but we can come together and that those strengthen in those networks.

Annmarie Caño:
Can you give an example of what that looks like so that we have something concrete for listeners?

Ricardo Villarosa:
Yeah. In the Law School would come together and work with colleagues from different departments might I tell them it was often director of stuff and so I would tap into efforts in the admissions' office sometimes it was with development. I was in the Dean of Students office and we were working with students on academic and non-academic issues and being able to work with a colleague who needed to have students working with alumni for example. They having the ability to work with the relationship so that when the alumni wanted students to get together with alumni, that we made sure that it was beneficial for both the students who were there and the alarms. So it met both of our interests, our needs.

It was a short term they would go on to different things, but we would have that be appearing that wasn't just beneficial for one side where for example, the students felt like, okay, I showed up for this, but what did I really gain from this? I felt more like a prop than a participant or engagement or the other way around where the alumni came in and they felt not just was I here to come and tell, but I've been able to have some lasting impact even before I make a donation. It's contributing in different ways. And so that was, I guess one example.

Annmarie Caño:
So part of bringing people onto a team or bringing people on board to say, Hey, we need to work together. We're going to lead together is to find that mutual common, what's in it for both of us.

Ricardo Villarosa:
Yes.

Annmarie Caño:
To be able to work together to add this task to our list of things that we need to do, but it's going to benefit both of us or both of the teams that we work with.

Ricardo Villarosa:
And recognizing that it may be different for you and me. So we oftentimes with collaboration we identify, Oh there's a goal, student success or this goal that we both agree on and then we say, yes, we want to work together towards that and we're both going to bring things. And we often look for team members that way. Like, Oh, who can bring this piece? I'm missing this. That's an essential piece. But then if this person's bringing the piece that's missing, what are they going to get? And it can't always be the, Oh yes, we'll have achieved this bigger goal. Because in the meantime, that's the longterm. Everybody has to survive the short term. We all have measureables and deliverables that we need in our own day jobs, so to speak. And so being able to be open to not just, you have something I need, we can work together towards this big goal, but what is in this for you? And being open to asking that to the other. So it's not so much influencing, it's opening yourself up to what's in it for them too.

Annmarie Caño:
Yeah. And so as leaders, we also need to be open to being influenced or to learn or to shift what our original idea or goal might've been based on who we bring together into our teams.

Ricardo Villarosa:
Yes.

Annmarie Caño:
Yeah. Great. So tell me more about student leadership and how, how you think faculty and staff can learn from some of our student leaders.

Ricardo Villarosa:
Wow. And this goes back to when I was first on campus as a student. For me, getting engaged as a student leader was a way for me to... Even before I knew things about the series on engagement for myself, I said, I can't go through all this school and have this speech it looks like where I'm coming in and punching in and punching out. So I took advantage of opportunities to be engaged in the business school student Senate and Delta Sigma Pi. And I saw, again, I'm in my thirties, I saw 18-year-olds, 19-year-olds who were demonstrating amazing leadership skills, interpersonal skills, and abilities. And so it gave me very early on in that time a respect for the individuals who are different than me, who might seem to be, have less experience and not discount the power of positive mental attitude of being present in the moment and then that being present and being here now allowed them to be completely engaged and then shift and take care of school, family, work.

Those other, other priorities as well. I have also seen it with returning students over the years between coming back and in the Law School. A lot of my responsibility was also with student leaders there as well as the academic and non-academic side. So I would see them performing on their academic side and their commitment to the community, the Law School community and beyond and being able to juggle and manage all those multiple responsibilities and again, doing it without some of the traditional levers that we have in management roles where we have hiring, firing, support. There's so many mechanisms that are there that doing that without that really takes, it takes some skill development, some awareness.

Annmarie Caño:
Yeah, and it seems like from your observations and working with students in the Law School, being a returning student yourself and now in a Dean of Students office, just seeing that resilience and action, being able to coach, but also learn from the students that you're working with.

Ricardo Villarosa:
Yeah, absolutely. You have to be open. We often talk about, well, what's the most recent book you've read? And those are great. There's so many out there. But learning from individuals, learning from both positive experiences and negative experiences, it being open. I think for me, leadership and perspective I think is a skill that I value as a strength. Being able to look at people and situations and embracing the complexity and having an appreciative approach to all those encounters, whether there's something to be gained from pretty much every encounter if you have that mindset and are open to that and it's valuable to transfer that.

Annmarie Caño:
So you mentioned the appreciative approach and I'm not sure if all of our listeners will know what appreciative inquiry is. I was wondering if you could share a little bit of what that is.

Ricardo Villarosa:
It comes from, its academic roots are in positive psychology, which is more your area than mine. But I see it come up in coaching and I work with transformational lifestyle change coaching. And I also I've seen it as a practice, it's taking situations whether you're interacting with somebody else or with yourself. And when we're trying to have a mindset that doesn't go to what's the problem. And a lot of times in my roles people would say that I'm a grievance officer. I'm a problem solver. I like to think of I'm a solution finder. That's an example of how we when we frame things around the negatives, which is oftentimes what brings us together as a crisis or a problem and we can get focused and stuck in that mode. And that's very limiting. So trying to find the positives in the situation and it's not just thinking that everything is glass half full and unbounded optimism. It's a realistic and a practical approach, but it's choosing to focus on the potential and the possibility in a situation or in a colleague or in yourself.

Annmarie Caño:
Yeah. And I came across that approach only maybe two or three years ago and it really resonated with me. And so when you go into a meeting, instead of saying, okay, what's the problem? How do we solve it? What's going well and how can we do more of that?

Ricardo Villarosa:
Yes.

Annmarie Caño:
And it changes the energy in the room. People feel more hopeful and optimistic. They come up with more solutions. Then if you start with that, everything's fallen apart, what are we going to do and everyone's in crisis mode. So I've found it very useful and the way I think about my work also.

Ricardo Villarosa:
Sometimes it's as simple as not even asking how did your week go? That seems like a neutral, on its face. That's a neutral question, but if you know that we're in a time of dynamic change in crisis, we'll often go to the negatives because those are the things that pop up as our pain points. If we ask that same question, what was the best part of your week? You're going to have a completely different beginning and maybe a direction of that conversation.

Annmarie Caño:
Yeah, and a book that I found useful that it's just a very short introduction is the thin book of Appreciative Inquiry by Susan Annas Hammond and if you have only a very short period of time, that would be like a very short introduction to that for listeners who are curious to learn more.

Ricardo Villarosa:
That's great.

Annmarie Caño:
So what advice would you like to share with listeners about leadership in general?

Ricardo Villarosa:
Wow.

Annmarie Caño:
What resources might you recommend? Books or websites about leadership?

Ricardo Villarosa:
Well, as our colleague Marcus Dixon mentioned, leadership there are thousands and thousands of books, so I do have a book that I refer to colleagues. It's not one that would be listed in a bibliography of typical leadership books, but it's one that I've used and I've referred it to others when I'm in mentoring and coaching and it is called Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies and Why. It's a book that was written by Lawrence Gonzalez who was the son of a world war II fighter pilot, and if people may have, this may bring up images of some of the shows like Naked and Afraid or Bear Grylls or Survival. It's not that, although I enjoy those and I'm a backpacker kayaker, I like to get out. My brother and I first started reading this book that came out in the early 2000 and it is a story of individuals who go through things like plane crashes or being lost in the wilderness or different places where they're lost injured survivals at sea being.

There's sometimes movies around some of the anecdotes, but it looked at for each of these individuals who lived and who didn't and look for common pieces. And there's a lot that it ties in with, for individuals, for businesses who find themselves in, not lost in the wilderness but maybe lost in their path at work in a relationship, in a business situation. And what's the difference between individuals or organizations who come out of that who survive those things and who don't? And the book goes into that. It brings together a lot of psychology, neuroscience, you've got something about being out in the wilderness that starts to talk about the Amygdala and the hippocampus biomass. And at the end of the day, some of the takeaways from it are that what survivors have in common is around buying fullness and some of that acceptance.

So this, the phrase "Be here now" is very much about not dwelling too much on the past, not worrying too much about the future to the point of it being paralyzing or anxiety-inducing, which oftentimes is a challenge. And if you're leading in those times, having that for yourself and having it for others, it's about accepting, being able to in that moment accept the beauty. So if you're walking around campus for knowing it doesn't matter if it's snowing, if it's raining, finding wow, what's amazing about being here right now? And then translating that to your leadership roles has been something that in the difference settings that I find myself in I draw in it as much on a day to day basis as I do when I'm out in the back country in terms of the benefits. So it's not on anybody's leadership list, but it's one that I often refer them to.

Annmarie Caño:
Yeah, that sounds fascinating. So this is reminding me of something that you said earlier, so you're talking about a coaching program that you're involved in and it, this all makes me think about wellness for leaders and how sometimes people find themselves in leadership roles and just completely frazzled or they burn out and sometimes it only affects themselves and their health. Other times it affects the way they treat other people. And what kinds of advice or suggestions you have around wellness for leaders?

Ricardo Villarosa:
Well, people who know me from around campus know that four years ago I was about a little over a hundred pounds heavier EMPA beyond weight, different metabolic markers. I used that some at times. I'd walk around with a cane, different pieces from inflammation. I had gone up. My journey has been out of a kind of a rollercoaster for probably the 15 years before that. And a lot of it had to do with going back to school at 30 and changing right at the time where my body was saying, okay, it's time to pay up for your 20s that I shifted to being very sedentary and eating things out of machines. And it took a long time. But so as a leader though the energy, the ability to feel good getting up, the positive outlook, we all have stressors.

Being able to deal with that growth both from your mindset nutritionally. Activity-wise breaking up, sitting time. We all spend too much time in meeting. That's why people have been at meetings with me always see sometimes that in 30 minutes I may stand up, I may walk around. I'm always the one who's first to give up a seat if possible. It's not because I'm just so polite. It's because I'm looking at opportunities to break up my sitting time whenever I can.

For me, the level of energy that it's given me and I can see, and I've seen it with others who we work with, we work with a local business person who attributed over a million dollars in increase in their business. And it's a multimillion business just from his personal change. And I was over a hundred pounds. So weight is part of it, it may be that you have 20 or 30 pounds that you're looking at, but, but the way we eat and what it's doing to the insides of our bodies, there's 80 million Americans who are pre-diabetic and don't know it. And so they're not necessarily obese. They're not. And how that affects your performance, your outlook, your temperament is huge.

Annmarie Caño:
Yeah. So part of leadership and being effective is taking care of yourself.

Ricardo Villarosa:
Yes.

Annmarie Caño:
Right. And not just your mental state, but your physical body that is taking you around to all of these experiences.

Ricardo Villarosa:
Yes.

Annmarie Caño:
Right. Yeah, definitely. And I only started really exercising in may of this year, so it's been six months and I see a difference. Although it was, I think probably for eight years I was saying I got to exercise, I got exercise and then never really doing it. But then once I, something clicked, I do feel like I have more energy that I'm able to walk up several flights of stairs without being totally winded. And even just being able to do that makes me feel good and I think I bring that to the work that I'm doing. Even if I don't happen to be meeting with someone at that particular time, it just, it does affect my mental energy.

Ricardo Villarosa:
We'll and with this time of year, people are thinking about this is we're coming up on a new year's resolution time and everybody's in that mode. And I guess what else say is that if you're in a place of looking to make a change, oftentimes we set up the expectation that he needs formal exercise or I've got to start and if we talk about that starting, just like starting that big paper if it seems like a [inaudible 00:28:42], I'm going to procrastinate cause I can't do anything until I can fully commit to writing this paper. I can't do anything until I can join the gym. I'm going to go and renew my membership at the RC. I'm going to start doing this again. You can do it today just by standing up a little bit. There's studies that show that breaking sitting is really the new smoking and breaking up the time.

It doesn't mean you have to stand all day. My colleagues sometimes say, well why? You're sitting down, you've got to stand up and as I said, it's up and down. That counts. Not just chronic standing doesn't help either. Right. Up and down and stairs. We've got the four flights of stairs and fab. If you walk up one flight and then take the elevator, two flights, it's amazing how quickly you can build that up. You can look, if you look at and go I just couldn't get to the fourth floor today. Yep, you'll never start, but you can. It's the incremental that really, I lost 60 in my first a hundred pounds was just from walking. I didn't start doing anything that would look like formal exercise until later and for maintaining it, just walking and getting up is probably the biggest factor in my being able to maintain that, that lifestyle change.

Annmarie Caño:
Yeah. Well, thanks for sharing that. What does it mean to empower someone to lead?

Ricardo Villarosa:
Well, we've heard how it is if you're in a role of formal leadership and how to empower others to develop leaders. So I'll speak from my vantage point of maybe being more senior experience-wise, but not formally in terms of title at this point. And when I'm looking at empowering colleagues and for me, it's being able to help them find and clarify their strengths. And there's a lot of assessments out there, but not just their strengths in the context of where they are, but help them translate those into transferable skillsets so that they can communicate them to other settings. We cross from career paths and all the data out there is that we don't fall into a single career path.

That's just a ladder that's clearly defined. Less and less that's the reality. And so it's incumbent upon somebody to if they want to be a leader, to be able identify their skills, which we've always focused on. But then how do those translate into other contexts that might not be as apparent. And so if I'm working with some that try to do that. And then the second piece though is once you help them do that for themselves, be opened to helping them network. So when I'm meeting with variety of people on campus, I have the benefit of the different roles of coming into contact with people from all different sectors. I'm going to be at the school of medicine, pharmacy different places and keeping my openness to when somebody is looking for something, when a colleague is looking for that team member or that that referral to identify folks who might not be as readily identified because they're not in the standard bullpen, they're not in that waiting area to be tapped.

And so that's for me, that's very much, and the nice thing about that is it can also go up in the organization. So there may be, I may have got colleagues who are positioned in different places, but I've had the advantage of work with them in a different capacity than sometimes it's, they're typically, or what they're known for in terms of area for area of expertise. And so I try to be open to connecting for that too. And I think that, so helping individuals identify those transferable skills and then helping them connect whenever you have the opportunity.

Annmarie Caño:
Yeah. And it sounds like you're empowering people at different levels too, which is great. Well thanks so much for being here today, Ricardo.

Ricardo Villarosa:
Thank you. This was fun.

Annmarie Caño:
Where can listeners find you online?

Ricardo Villarosa:
Well, I'm not on Twitter. My wife asked me this morning why I'm not. So I may be in the future, but for now, Ricardo.Villarosa@Wayne.edu or AB0151@wayne.edu.

Annmarie Caño:
Thank you. We're glad to have you listening to empowered to lead. To learn more about our podcast, follow us on Twitter at WSUFAC success.