Wonder Women: Diane Gayeski, communications thought leader

Wonder Women: Diane Gayeski, communications thought leader

By Jill Vitiello

Diane Gayeski
Diane Gayeski, Ph.D. and Dean at Ithaca College Park School of Communications

Wonder Women is a blog series that lets me introduce you to amazing businesswomen doing remarkable work. Meet Diane Gayeski, Ph.D. and Dean at Ithaca College Park School of Communications.

Diane made her career in academia and burnished her reputation in the media and communications industry as an insightful trend spotter and analyst. A professor and now dean at Ithaca College, Diane also runs a successful consulting firm, Gayeski Analytics, helping some of the world’s leading companies adopt new approaches to organizational communication and learning. Practical and passionate, Diane is an admired educator and respected executive, an author and dynamic speaker. I had the privilege of contributing to one of the books Diane wrote for the International Association of Business Communicators. With so many accomplishments of her own, read on to learn her interesting take on ambition.

Q: What is most exciting for you right now?

A: First, being a college administrator, it is deciding how to keep up with the very rapid changes in the communications and media landscape so that we can prepare our students to successfully enter and continue sustainable careers in that space. It’s always a challenge to predict where this field is going. Then second, trying to keep Ithaca College financially sustainable and affordable while maintaining all of the services and amenities that students demand. That is a part of the big picture of how do we position our brand Ithaca College and more specifically the Park School of Communications. How do we reach out to the students who will be a good fit for the experience that we can provide? How do we support them once they’re here and then how do we continue the relationship after they graduate? My role as dean is to look at those long-range challenges and goals.

Q: When did you first realize that you were doing your life’s work?

A: I went to graduate school right after I finished my undergraduate degree and I was given the opportunity to work in the educational technology center at the University of Maryland where I was doing my graduate work. I so much enjoyed interacting with professors and students and helping them think about ways they could use media to enhance the educational experience. Right from that beginning, I knew that I wanted to work in some aspect of educational or corporate media. Then at the same time I given the opportunity to start teaching courses and I really enjoyed it! I found that some intersection of working in educational or corporate media, teaching, using media technology, being able to investigate how people learn and communicate effectively while also exploring new platforms was going to be my thing.

Q: What would you say is the one word that best describes you?

A: Optimistic. I tend to look at challenges and problems as opportunities. I think working in higher education, where I am surrounded by really talented young people who are finding themselves places me in an optimistic environment. Students have the space and the time to explore their talents and passions and we help them discover that and build their futures. I find it both easy and necessary to be optimistic.

Q: What’s the one daily practice that energizes you the most?

A: I always try to look for successes that our students, faculty or alumni are reporting. These days it’s pretty easy to do that on social media and I make it a practice to find something cool that somebody is doing or something that they are proud of. I find that very energizing. I can see how their experience here has led them to their new achievements or some interesting opportunity.

Q: What can women do to realize their ambitions?

A: I think the first thing is to identify what those ambitions are. I would like to concentrate on their ambitions, because I see some young people who feel like they are driven by other peoples’ ambitions for them. They are living up to somebody else’s expectations. I see people who probably shouldn’t be in college or shouldn’t be studying what they’re studying or who are living out society’s expectations or their parents’ or teachers’ expectations of them. It’s really easy to fall into a pattern of other people seeing that you’re good at something and then conforming to those pressures rather than listening to inner voices.

The first thing is to be honest and brave about what your own ambitions are – and for that to be holistic, not just career-based. I see young women who are very focused on career and success, not only for themselves, but they feel they have to do their part in the movement. That can cause guilt that can be very damaging. From my vantage point, I see people’s mental health suffering — people may not be as happy as they could be.

I recommend looking at your own ambitions holistically and not just in terms of a career ambition. What kind of life do you want to lead? What do you find beautiful and interesting? Are there places to go and people to meet? How am I going to spend my precious time? When people are clear and honest about this, the rest falls in line. When I see when students admit what their real passions are it’s easy for them to get hired because we always ask: “What would you do if you weren’t being paid? If you could just spend your life doing whatever, what would you do?”

When people are honest about their true ambitions, they are driven and they’re good at it. They have insight and that’s irrepressible and so appealing to employers. Usually the career falls into place. And when people look at other aspects of their ambitions they should have the bravery to develop their own boundaries. If there are things that are important to them like a family or a hobby, then they take that seriously and are able to shape their work so that it fits with the rest of their life.

Q: What is the top communication skill leaders need?

A: Listening. Often people think that communication is how to send messages or make sure that people get information and that is actually not the definition of communications. When you look at communication being a two-way process, it is equally about influencing peoples’ messages and being influenced by theirs. If it’s not both ways, and I’m not able to understand and listen to what people are telling me, I’m not successful.

Q: Who is the most interesting influencer for you right now?

A: I really admire Bob Iger, the CEO of Disney — and partly because he’s an alumnus of Ithaca College. To me he is a model of a humble and gracious leader. We have the privilege of being able to Skype with him and he is just so funny, unassuming, and wise with our students. He is someone who is trying to navigate all of the very complex changes in today’s culture and in particular the world of communications and media. I find it fascinating to see how he’s leading a legacy company like Disney that has such great traditions that they don’t lose. They are still the Magic Kingdom with Mickey and Minnie — and that is timeless. He respects that but also is able to change Disney’s products and culture to be relevant in today’s society. I listen to a lot of his interviews and find him very insightful and I find him a great role model as a leader because he works with a lot of creatives and it’s sometimes hard to manage creativity!

Q: What motivates you?

A: Knowing that I can make an impact on young lives motivates me. When I was a professor I could see it more directly when I taught someone how to do something or introduced them to somebody who gave them a job. Now it’s at a higher level and it’s mostly creating a structure that gives students skills and confidence. It’s really interesting to see students gain a lot of confidence and learn new things; to move on and have really happy moments.

Do you have a question for Diane or me about pursuing your ambitions? Ask it here in our comments, or reach us on Twitter: @DeanGayeski; @JillVitiello.

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