Lynne B. Scarboro, LMU’s senior vice president for administration from 2002 to 2016, has served as the university’s inaugural executive vice president and chief administration officer since 2017. Lynne and her teams are responsible for the administrative areas and resources that serve the core operating needs of our university, including but not limited to, human resources, information technology, finance and accounting and public safety. Lynne will be retiring from her long career in higher ed administration in June of this year. In honor of Women’s History Month, I spoke with her about her path to leadership and what can be done to further encourage women’s leadership today.
Kerstin Fisk: You’ve had quite an impressive career path and trajectory, having served in several significant leadership roles, most recently as LMU’s inaugural executive vice president and chief administrative officer. What inspired you to become a leader?
Lynne Scarboro: For me, and probably for many of us, there’s not a particular moment that stands out. I think it’s just a drive to achieve. Having some good role models and mentors along the way also helped, but the drive to be a leader comes from within. I want to make a difference, and I want to do things better, and it comes from that.
KF: What do you think are some of the main benefits of having female leaders?
LS: Generally speaking, I think that women don’t necessarily see achievement as a zero-sum game. I think that we’re more inclusive, and we see things as the more the merrier. And I think that men more often see things as singular achievement. I think both of those are good, both of those drive an institution. Having a blend of different ways of approaching things, having diversity in general, is healthy. But I think women are more likely to invite people in and to see things as a “we” and rather than an “I.” That’s one of the things that’s key to me.
KF: I’ll follow up with a more personal question. In line with these recognized benefits of having women in leadership roles and achieving more inclusivity, more diversity at the table, what do you think are some of the more significant barriers to women’s leadership?
LS: One of them is our own confidence. I’ve done it myself, but I’ve seen women earn a position, get the role, but then they’re at the table and they don’t have the confidence to be a player at the table. And they think that the only way you can do that is to be angry or a steam roller. I think to me this comes back to having the confidence to be there and to ask a question rather than pretend you know the answer. It’s important to remember that there’s a reason we’re there and we have a responsibility, rather than start to go down the path of believing that we don’t know what we’re talking about. And, if it appears that everybody else does, then ask them because what you find out is that half the time, they’re just faking it. They don’t know either, but they’re not brave enough to say so or they’re not smart enough to know that they don’t know.
This is where our instincts and emotions matter as well. I think women are more in touch with their emotions. I’m very emotional and if I don’t cry sometime during this interview, it’ll be a miracle. I once had a career coach, and she really helped me understand that my emotions were a gift. They were a tool. They were an early warning signal. You can’t let your emotions rule you, though. So, if you find yourself getting angry or scared or hurt or whatever, then you almost have to observe it and think about why you’re feeling that and then act based on that knowledge. But if you just give into the emotion, then that’s all your colleagues see, and I think that’s a trap for women. What people remember is that we were emotional. They don’t remember what we said. I mean, think about how many meetings you walked out of and talked about someone’s behavior rather than what they were mad about or what their point was and why they were upset about it because we don’t, first of all, we don’t make our points very well when we’re emotional and people just remember the behavior. So, we can misuse the very tool that makes us strong. I learned to observe my emotions, what’s going on with me, and then speak up and ask questions. I find questioning, helps because it levels me back out. It might signal that I’m thinking of something that someone else is not thinking about but I think is important, or they’re talking about something I don’t understand and I need to catch up. It also invites in other perspectives, and I think that goes back to being more inclusive, to achieving more inclusivity. I believe what my coach told me, emotion is what makes us strong and use it for good rather than letting it defeat you.
KF: My next question is related to what you highlighted as one of the most significant barriers for female leaders, confidence. Earning that position, but then not really believing you deserve to be there, and not fully embodying the role due to a lack of confidence. So, I’m curious, how have you built that confidence and resiliency?
LS: Having good bosses and mentors has really helped a lot. Those who were brave enough to see potential and actually give me feedback, who would say, you’re better than that, or you’re, phoning it in or, yeah, you screwed up. They’d say, let’s talk about it, let’s unpack it. Let’s understand how you could have done that better. I mean, if you get somebody in your life that will do that for you, it’s a real gift. It’s hard to get people feedback. And to receive it, you really have to trust the person giving it to you. You have to believe that they love you, that they’re giving it to you because they’re rooting for you.
I’ve also heard this before, and I think it’s true, that if you post a job and it says these are the requirements, women will look at that job and say, oh, well, I’ve got nine out of 10. I don’t have number 10. I’m not qualified. While men will look at it and say, I’ve got two of those. I’m going for it. And so, part of this is about putting yourself out there in the first place. A lot of times by the time a woman will apply, she’s overqualified. My resume did not match the job description when LMU hired me. Father Lawton hired me because he looked past the job description and resume match to the traits are important to get this job done. And he talked to people who knew me. So networking was key. I didn’t know him, but we both knew same people and they told him that she’s the one you want. Those same people also talked me into applying. I would have gone down the path of thinking I wasn’t a match and I will not get even an interview and they said, apply. I mean, what’s the worst can happen?
So, I think you have to adopt a little bit of an attitude towards risk. Whether it’s applying for a job or working on projects, you’re responsible for the risk, but it’s a mistake never to take a risk and none of us are perfect. You’re going to need to be a little experimental. So, you don’t put in a whole new system, you first try a beta test, little things, and see if they work and then get bigger and learn from them and tweak them. I think one of the things that builds resiliency is trying things and being successful, but also trying things and having them fail. And then you say let’s unpack this, let’s do a postmortem on this, even the successful things, so you work toward constant improvement. How can we have done that better? What do we know now that we didn’t know when we started? I think being honest in a post-mortem can lead to great lessons. Your first risk is little and the next one’s a little bigger and the next one is a little bigger. Along the way, your confidence grows, your reputation and your judgment grow.
So, you don’t just land in a big job without having practiced that bit by bit and having and people trust you when they see that your judgment is good and that you’ll own your mistakes, because things are likely to go wrong. Nothing goes perfectly. But the whole thing will be steered okay, we’ll be okay and as things go wrong, we’ll fix them as we go because we’re not going to point fingers, we’re not going to deny that anything’s wrong. We’re not going to cover anything up and we’re not going to lie about it. We’re going for it and we’ll do it honestly and resiliently. Maybe it will take a little bit longer, maybe it’s not going be exactly like I explained it. But the bottom line is we’re going to deliver on what’s important here. We’ll learn. We’re human, we learn every day.
KF: You mentioned that you’ve had good mentors who encouraged you when you may have not otherwise taken big steps in your career. I’m wondering how you were able to find these people, how they came into your life and made such an impact.
LS: There are a lot of people that I owe a lot to, but the biggest person coming to mind is my first and only female boss, Kathy Jones. This was when I was at Georgetown and she taught me so many things. What Kathy taught me was, first of all, you’re better than you think you are and how do you know how good you are if you don’t put yourself out there and of course you’re going to struggle. Another one of the most important things she taught me was laughter and fun at work are important. It is not wasting time. It is not anti-work. It adds to work. It adds to our feeling of camaraderie. It adds to our confidence, it lets us be ourselves if we can laugh. But she was also one of the most serious, most driven, most achieving people I’ve ever worked with. But what she told me, that humor and fun at work enhance, they don’t take away, and having confidence to do that was wild to me at the time. And it really influenced how I manage. We have to have fun and, and it’s not a by-product. It is a part of it. We will have fun and we don’t apologize for it. We strengthen our bonds, and then the team is stronger.
President Snyder has also been an incredible person for me and supported me through some tough times. He also calls me on things. We don’t always agree but he is visionary, which lets us work with context. He encourages us to achieve under that vision and when things get tough, he listens and he will back us up and he’ll also change his mind from listening. And I love that he is confident enough to do that. For a leader be confident enough to listen and then make a decision and stand behind it, that’s not always easy to find. He’s a great boss.
I’ve found mentors when I met them and they sparked something in me. So, I called them up and asked them a question. And then the next time it’s like, hey, can we have coffee? And then the next thing is suddenly you realize you’re kind of friends. You want to find people who can inspire you and the real gold is challenge you and tell you you’re full of crap when you’re full of crap. You want to find people who say, you put yourself out there and you didn’t get the job. This legitimately hurt your feelings. So let me hold your hands and let’s talk about this and how you pick yourself up and go forward. Cry this weekend and then Monday go back to work, you know. Celebrate the fact that you put yourself out there, and also ask yourself,
why do you think you didn’t get this job? You know, are you being honest with yourself about why you probably didn’t get this job? Then you put yourself out there again.
KF: How do you balance your career, personal life, and passions? Do you think there’s such a thing as balance?
LS: Well, I just think there’s life balance. I don’t think there’s work-life balance. I think we all are responsible for finding the things that give us joy and achievement and feelings of fulfillment.
I think all of us to try to find the balance that is the right balance for us. And there are many different things that will do that and many, many different paths to do that. I find a lot of different ways that my work fulfills me. It’s hard for me to relate to people who will say that they hate their job. I’ve always loved my work and it gives me joy and, and I think we all are responsible for finding those outlets for how to recharge our batteries. So I like to travel. I like to spend time with my friends. I love to cook. It’s a creative outlet for me. I grew up with music, I’ve always had music in my life. I have dabbled with piano, trumpet, hammered dulcimer, several different instruments. I won’t say I’m good at it and it’s one of the things I want to pick back up when I retire. But probably what gives me the most joy is being around people I love, and a lot of those people are my colleagues, regardless of what the problem is we’re working on. I love doing it with them. I love that they teach me things and that I teach them things and that we can cry together and we can laugh together and we can be irreverent together and yet I know that we’re still serious about work. I just like my people.
KF: You’ve touched on some key ways bosses and colleagues in general can impact women’s professional success and satisfaction. How can women in particular support other women in their organizations?
LS: I have to say I am very, very proud of where LMU is at this moment. I mean, you look at the, the Dean’s Council, and it’s predominantly made up of women. The number of women in leadership has changed dramatically in my time here. And I’m really proud of that. But I think one of the things is that you don’t just look at the Dean’s Council or you look at the cabinet. Look at the whole pipeline, look from entry level to supervisor to manager, to director, to all of the levels. And ask, are we growing our own? Are we growing our next generation of leaders right here? None of this has to be done at the expense of our male colleagues. It’s not a zero-sum game. But the more there are of us in leadership, the more there are models for women to look at and say, I see myself there, the better. I think LMU in particular has done a very good job of this and there’s a lot of men hiring those women. So, yay us, yay the big collective us. It’s a celebration for all of us.