Dean Lisa Ordóñez made history becoming the Rady School’s second-ever dean in 2019. Previously Vice Dean and professor at the University of Arizona’s Eller College of Management, Ordóñez is the first woman and first person of color in the role.
Ordóñez, who earned a bachelor’s in psychology, a master’s in marketing, and a Ph.D. in quantitative psychology all from UC Berkeley, is a recognized expert in the field of ethical behavior in organizations. She received a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to support her work, and her research has been cited in numerous media outlets including New York Times, Forbes and The Economist. While Vice Dean at Eller, she also co-chaired the university-wide strategic plan.
A “double first gen” graduate—Ordóñez, who grew up in rural California, was the first in her immediate family to graduate both high school and college. Early in her career, she says that she struggled with impostor syndrome, feeling like she did not belong in academic and professional settings where her achievements had landed her.
Ordóñez is frequently asked to speak about her expertise and experiences, including many discussions of women in leadership. “There have been so many women’s leadership conferences over the past several years. This indicates that we are working on changing organizations to support and encourage more female leaders,” she says.
“We as women may unconsciously go into these discussions and think we are the problem. I don’t want us to think that we need to be ‘fixed,’ and that doing so would make the issues we face go away. Change needs to occur on multiple levels: 1) supportive organizations; 2) male colleagues as allies, 3) and yes, where we have the most direct control, develop ourselves as leaders.”
Recently, she presented a talk called, “Advice for All of Us,” at the 2021 WACUBO Women’s Leadership Forum. Inspired by the advice she says she needed to hear when she was younger—Ordóñez shared the lessons below for other women who may be feeling alone in their leadership journey.
You belong and you are entitled.
I grew up in rural California. My parents did not finish high school, and I became a first-generation college student. When I got there, I didn’t feel like I belonged. Even in graduate school, most of my classmates had parents who were professionals. I doubted if I should be there.
The truth is that you do belong. You are entitled. Why do I use the word entitlement that often has a negative connotation? Malcolm Gladwell discusses the positive side of entitlement in his book “Outliers.” Everyone should feel entitled to information and help.
You are entitled to ask questions and get answers. You are entitled to ask for help and to receive it. You are entitled to feel like you belong.
Learn to accept help.
When I was a new professor, a colleague Terry Connolly wanted to do research with me, but I was afraid that others would not see me as competent if I worked with a senior researcher. So, I initially said no. Luckily, he was persistent and we became great research partners. I owe him a great debt as an early mentor.
A friend of mine, a highly published economist and the current Provost at the University of Minnesota Rachel Croson, received an NSF ADVANCE Grant. She put together a networking and mentoring program to help women faculty in economics rise in the ranks. She received too many applications, so, being the excellent research that she is, she randomly assigned women in and out of this program and then measured the results. Women were more likely to receive tenure and move up the ranks who completed this program.
As women, we might have to ask for help. It’s important to make connections and receive it. No one does this alone.
Put people first and empower others.
When I was first appointed Vice Dean at the University of Arizona Eller College of Management, my husband asked me how I was preparing for this new role. He laughed at me when I said I was working on a new time management system so I could get more done. He reminded me of the leadership expert Marshall Goldsmith’s famous book title “What Got You Here Will Not Get You There”, which meant that I had to do more than get tasks done.
One of my faculty members came to me complaining about her salary. I was not prepared, and I said something to the effect of not being able to do anything for her then. She left the conversation upset with me for not taking the time to listen to her. I quickly learned that it wasn’t about getting work done– it was about considering people and their needs. They needed to know that I cared more about them than anything else.
You got this!
When I was interviewing for my current role, the recruiter asked me if I was nervous about my upcoming campus visit. He seemed surprised when I confidently said, “no.” I told him that I was just going to present me—if “me” worked, great. If “me” didn’t work, that was fine since I had a great job already with people who cared for me.
It’s not that I am hubristic about my abilities in my new position. I just know that I am prepared. I know what data I need and what questions to ask before making big decisions. More importantly, I now know how to listen.
Leadership can be hard. People do expect you to have the answers. How do you truly listen and take advice while “having all of the answers?” I don’t pretend to know everything. Remember that you set the tone as a leader. If you push or cross the line, so will those watching you. You don’t need any advice from people on what to do when you feel that pang in your gut. Do the right thing.
Lessons Learned as a Leader
- Never act on the first story you hear– triangulate with others.
- Staff and some faculty do not have tenure and often need coaxing to share their opinions.
- No one cares how much you get done if they don’t think you care about them.
- Make integrity your true north– everyone is watching and will mimic your behavior.
- Learn how to be comfortable with conflict and how to find solutions that benefit the organization.
- Be comfortable not knowing everything by working through the expertise of others.
- Remember to laugh and have fun– we spend too much time at work to be miserable.
- Show up as your authentic self.