A Better, More Balanced Leader Every Day | Dr. Daisy Gonzales

Leadership and Other Lessons from Dr. Daisy Gonzales

As much as we enjoy coaching and supporting change leaders, we equally love learning from them. We’re excited to introduce you to several inspiring change leaders in our community and share some of the lessons we’ve learned from them.

A Series Spotlighting Change Leaders and the Lessons They’ve Taught Us

Dr. Daisy Gonzales, Acting Chancellor, California Community Colleges

Dr. Daisy Gonzales is driving one of the most ambitious and complex change efforts we’ve ever seen or supported. As the Acting Chancellor of the California Community Colleges, she is leading the nation’s largest system of higher education. The system’s 116 colleges serve 2.1 million students. The colleges are incredibly diverse, and support students at all stages of life and career. In doing so, they are a critical contributor to California’s economy; the fifth largest in the world.

Dr. Gonzales and her team are working to modernize this system, creating clearer pathways for students, more comprehensive and effective support both in and out of the classroom, streamlined access to financial aid, and innovations in teaching and learning that result in better outcomes for all learners. They are doing all of this with a relentless focus on equity that is core to her personal journey, professional accomplishments, and vision for the future. She is leading all of this at the extraordinary age of, let’s just say, less than 40.

Her personal story is inspiring in itself, and is worth reading in detail here. She was born to an immigrant family, entered foster care at two, and lived in foster care homes across Los Angeles. She left foster care early and was taken in by a teacher who believed in her and expanded her perspective on what was possible. (Read more about their relationship here.) Still, navigating higher education was a challenge, and one that informs her perspective and decision-making on a daily basis, putting students’ experiences, voices, and needs at the center.

In addition to being inspired by Daisy as a person, we have been privileged to support and learn from her day-to-day approach to change leadership.

You can tell from her bio that she’s moved up extremely fast, through various complex roles. One reason is that she never stops learning. Rather than repeating what worked in her prior role, she’s intentional about pushing into new spaces, even if it means shedding practices and leaving behind some of the very things that made her successful in her previous job.

This ability to size up a new situation, learn quickly and push and grow into new spaces is not only helpful for personal growth, but necessary for success in such a complex change environment where context is evolving daily. It also helps mitigate a major risk we’ve seen with change leaders. In an intense change process one’s greatest strengths can become th\”https://outsideanglelabs.com/blog/stop-trying-to-find-your-leadership-style\”e sources of some of their biggest vulnerabilities, and pose risk to the whole effort.

As Dr. Gonzales has transitioned into the Acting Chancellor role, she has been making a concerted effort to balance her natural strengths in process and problem solving, by pushing herself more deeply in the areas of vision, and relationship building. This not only makes her more balanced and well-rounded, it also models a growth mindset for her team, and positions her as the “lead learner”—a powerful place to be when leading change.

This balance is absolutely what the system needs. The Colleges have continued to navigate multiple crises that have impacted student mental health and financial stability, and the very way that education can be accessed and delivered. At the same time, there has been the need to keep the overall Vision for Success on track, which also requires, in parallel, shifting the role and culture of the Chancellor’s Office itself from its historical compliance-focused work to a new positioning as catalyst and partner. This is all unfolding in a shared governance environment that requires tremendous coalition building and strategy to change.

Dr. Gonzales’s personal development and striving for balance across the dimensions of change leadership allow her to fly at these different altitudes, while at the same time keeping equity, her personal north star, always in mind. We are so proud to know and have the opportunity to learn from Dr. Gonzales and her continued leadership.

Learn more about California Community Colleges and how the system lives its mission of “putting students first”.