Conversation with Dean Deb Tyksinski

I first met with Dean Deborah Tyksinski (Founding Dean of the College of Professional Studies at Villanova University) a year ago when she attended an informational session on Toastmasters. I was working on founding a Toastmasters club for faculty and staff at Villanova and was conducting demo sessions. When I got an email from her stating that she would attend the meeting, I was thrilled. I never expected a dean to come to that meeting but there she was, sitting in the front row curious and eager to learn about the format and other aspects of the Toastmasters Educational program. My first impression of her was that she is a lifelong learner and when I met with her recently for this interview, I realized I was right!

Deb was a working student and has never allowed herself to get comfortable no matter where she was on her career path. Although there were short phases in her life where she would convince herself “this is it” and try to settle, she miserably failed. She would soon find herself setting up new goals and trying out something new. Her pursuit often made her uncomfortable but she loved it because “being uncomfortable is a part of growing process. Growth is an ugly process but what comes out of that is beautiful.” That’s her philosophy and thanks to some of her peers who pushed her to get uncomfortable (grow) on the rare occasions when she got too comfortable for longer than usual. Deb also told me that it is very important to have a peer group that shares your goals and interests as these are going to be the people who will inspire and guide you when you are sidetracked. She also said that not everyone is lucky to have such peer groups at their work place or in the neighborhood but that shouldn’t be an excuse for not growing. Her suggestion is to seek volunteering opportunities and to look for more leadership roles like being a board member. “There is so much you can learn from these opportunities.”

As our conversation was progressing, I also realized that Deb is not a woman who would like to highlight her gender. She thinks women have the same opportunities as men but many a times women don’t want to work hard or get uncomfortable. While some women are socio-economically disadvantageous and face genuine difficulty in advancing, others who have reached great heights were able to do so because they worked tirelessly and primarily because they had self-actualization. When I disagreed with her and suggested that women actually have more challenges than men in their career paths and it’s not just a matter of self-actualization, I was again awestruck by her down-to-earth attitude and willingness to hear my viewpoints.

I never had this kind of a two-way conversation with a woman leader before and I am so grateful to her for this opportunity. Had her schedule not been so tightly booked, I am pretty sure I would have been there all day. I have included excerpts from our conversation below. Hope you enjoy reading it!

Sonali: Describe your journey so far?

Deb: I will say it was iterative. I always found myself reaching for something else. I didn’t know I wanted to be the dean of a college when I graduated from college but I always knew I wanted to grow and have an impact. As you transform, you must keep asking yourself questions and be willing to be uncomfortable. I think I am adventurous and don’t hesitate in taking calculated risks. Our limitations are internal and if we can get rid of them inside our mind, we can accomplish anything.

Sonali: How would you define your leadership style?

Deb: I am more of a facilitator and I think I adapt my style based on the staff I am working with. People are different and processes vary from one place to another. I am sensitive to what people need and try to lead them in that way. I don’t like micromanaging as I consider myself an ‘ideas’ person and would love to spend more time thinking about those than looking over people’s shoulders. However, if it’s a new team or a new process, I don’t mind getting my hands dirty initially before letting the team take over.

Sonali: What advice do you have for young men and women who are not sure which career path to pursue?

Deb: Life is a journey and not a sprint. So many things in life will be revealed when you explore. There are so many treasures within us but we don’t find those unless we dig.

Sonali: What are some of the things you love doing or would love to do?

Deb: I love to walk and I enjoy yoga. I want to do some social work which has taken a back seat in the recent past. I love to be outdoors and gardening is one of my passions. I also have an antique business with my husband and I think I am obsessed with it.

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