Advising Styles

Advising Styles

Your advising style is the way you interact with the students. An advisor may identify with a particular style or use a combination of styles. At different points in an organization’s formation and development, an advisor may play various roles. It is important to determine what role an advisor would like to play in the group, and if that role will meet the needs and expectations of the students.

Educator: Advising is situational, and the advisor may act as a teacher, coach, consultant, policy interpreter, continuity provider, and crisis intervener at any given time. The “educator” allows organizations to take risks and make mistakes while providing support. The educator’s philosophy may be: “Students have the ability to meet their goals; however, my ability to empower them will enhance their natural abilities.”

Good time to be an “Educator”: The educator style is valuable in all stages of the group’s development; however, there are times when being a combination of one of the following styles and an educator will prove to be more effective. Being an educator is essential for working with a STUDENT organization; every experience can be a learning one.

Overseer: The overseer stays at a distance and does not attend all meetings or events, and only intervenes when called upon. This is not a very popular style because the organization may misinterpret your distance as lack of attention.

Good time to be an “Overseer ”: The only times where it is suggested to be an overseer is when the group is functioning so effectively that they just need to occasionally check in with you, which is a hard stage to reach, or when the members of the organization are not following through on your expectations of them. It is not generally beneficial to adopt the overseer style; try to work with the organization to correct the problem before it gets to that point.

Referee: The referee educates and oversees while handling organization disputes.

Good time to be a “Referee”: An organization that may need this type of advising style could be at a stage where organization norms have been established, though the organization discovers individual likes and dislikes regarding these norms (i.e. storming). Organization members discover that every member in the organization does not share the same opinion. The advisor should introduce conflict resolution, team building, and meeting management activities. The advisor should seek to empower the organization members to transform themselves as he/she facilitates.

Boss: This style is very authoritative, and people who use it believe they always have the right answers. The boss expects the organization to take orders and “fall in line.”

Good time to be a “Boss”: If the advisor balances this style with “educator,” the resulting style is not as bad as it sounds. In fact, the style can be persuasive and motivating if the advisor has strong interpersonal skills. When the group is new or if there are internal leadership problems, the boss mentality can move the organization forward. This style is ineffective if the advisor is threatening or intimidating, or if the president of the organization leads in the same manner.

[Adapted from: Copeland, T.R. (1996, November). Successful Matches Depend on Adviser’s Style, Group’s Stage. The Bulletin, 8-12.]

Another perspective on the student-advisor relationship looks at the developmental stage of the organization and what type of advisement is best for each stage. This theory also suggests that the advisor can adjust his/her advising style to fit the organization. This might be more difficult to do, but it has the most impact. Determine what level the group is at, and modify your style accordingly.

Description of Organization Development Levels
1. Infancy: Students demonstrate low levels of commitment to the organization, programming skills and responsibility for their actions; however, they are enthusiastic.

2. Adolescence: Students demonstrate moderate programming skills, interest, commitment and responsibility.

3. Young Adulthood: Students demonstrate competency in programming skills and increasing commitment, plus a willingness to take responsibility for their own actions.

4. Maturity: Students demonstrate a high degree of competence in programming and group skills. A strong commitment to the group and a willingness to take responsibility for their own and their group’s actions.

Matching the most effective advising style to the students’ stage of development becomes an exercise in deductive reasoning. The advisor’s styles and major role functions are described as follows.

1. Program Director: High concern for product, low concern for process. Best used for students in the infancy stage. The advisor takes on the following roles:
-Member: takes part in group activities much like a member, becomes a part of the group.
-Programmer: identifies, plans and implements activities with the student group.

2. Teacher/Director: High concern for product, high concern for process. Best used for students in adolescence. The advisor takes on the following roles:
-Advocate: persuades students concerning the appropriateness of activities.
-Authority: monitors students’ compliance with legal requirements as well as institutional procedures and regulations, and programming.
-Expert: offers suggestions to students based on experience or specialized knowledge.

3. Advisor/Teacher: Low concern for product because students take over this concern when they reach young adulthood, high concern for process. The advisor roles are: – Educator: encourages student participation in developmentally powerful experiences.
-Resource: provides alternatives and suggestions to group leaders or members on request.
-Evaluator: assists the group in collecting data to be used in decision making, program planning, evaluation, etc.
-Process consultant: assists students with increasing the effectiveness of group functioning (e.g. problem solving); tends to be content neutral.

4. Consultant: Low concern for product and process because students assume responsibility for both. Best used for students that has reached maturity. The advisor roles are:
-Reflector: serves as a “sounding board” for students’ ideas and plans.
-Fact-finder: provides information to students upon request.

[Kathleen Allen, Choosing the Effective Advising Style, Programming Magazine, vol. 16, no. 1.]


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