Copy the Leader: Ash Wilson
Ash Wilson is the director of the Center for Sexuality & Gender Diversity at KU. We sat down with Ash to learn what leadership means to them.

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Jayhawks in leadership positions are everywhere you look, including through the Jayhawk Career Network. KU Alumni, in partnership with SumnerOne, is highlighting Jayhawk leaders who are models for others in their industries with our “Copy the Leader” program.

What do you do in your work?

As the Director of SGD, I ultimately work to advance our mission through the enactment of our pillars. The Center for Sexuality & Gender Diversity advocates for livability, fosters wellness, critically educates, and creates connections with and for queer and trans students, faculty, and staff alongside the broader KU community. The mission drives our pillars of advocacy, connection, education, and wellness.


In a more practical sense, I work with an amazing team of professional and student staff in order to make KU a safer and more celebratory community for QT people. In my role, I manage administrative pieces, collaborate with campus partners, plan events, supervise staff, and oversee the general day-to-day of SGD. Some of the work I find most exciting are the touchpoints I have with students. They ground me in our work and help me know that the long nights and countless hours do have real value and worth. I’ve also been able to develop new skills in the role, such as budget management, website design, grant writing, and donor engagement. No two days are the same, and I quite enjoy the consistent change.

What are the qualities of a good leader?

I think there are themes to what makes a good leader, but it is also so subjective. What makes someone a stellar leader to one person, might be terrible for another. Instead of letting others define what makes a good leader, I encourage everyone to think about their values and how they can demonstrate those through leadership. Think about the supervisors or mentors you’ve had and take the lessons from your relationship and incorporate them into your leadership.


When I reflect on what I believe are qualities of a good leader, I think of:


– Communication and transparency

I believe people work best when they can trust leadership. Little builds trust faster than timely, thorough, and transparent communication (especially when it comes to job responsibilities or pay). Take the time to bring people into the decision making process. Even if you might have the “final say”, help others understand how you’re making decisions. This can help with building trust and skills for those you’re leading. It also shows you are invested in their success and growth.


– Congruence of values and work
It is obvious when a leader doesn’t personally hold the same values as they are tasked to represent professionally. Working or leading is exhausting. Nights can be long, energy can be drained, and pay can be minimal. When you add these pieces with incongruence of values, fully functioning as a leader can be unsustainable. It’s important to find your values in as many pieces of your leadership as possible. Doing so will help group you in your role and remind you why you lead.


– Good supervisory/people skills
Supervision is our legacy. I believe this because I remember everyone I ever supervised and every supervisor I’ve had. Being a good supervisor or having good people skills is crucial to being successful. Hone your listening skills, be empathetic, and remember you are leading whole people with whole lives. People crave good supervisors, yet everyone defines that differently. Take the time to understand what each person needs and be able to work toward meeting those needs.


– Authenticity
Being authentic and honoring yourself as a leader is a must in order to sustain your role as a leader. Finding a balance between authenticity and hierarchical leadership (which many leadership roles are), can be challenging, especially when we layer our own identities into leadership. We’ve been socialized to understand leadership in very specific ways that can often times erase marginalized identities and the nuances we bring to leadership. This is real, and unfortunate. It’s okay for those of us with marginalized identities to lead in our own way that is authentic to us.

How do you practice leadership at your job?

Everyday is a day to practice leadership. Practicing leadership takes intentional effort and deliberate decisions. I work hard to embody the qualities I believe make a good leader, and some days are better or easier than others. The way I practice leadership most naturally is in my work with the staff at The Center. It is important to me they feel invested in, pushed, developed, supported, and cared for. Lastly, I believe anything can be a learning opportunity and I believe its important to share those opportunities when possible.

What makes a team or group successful?

A team that can continuously remove individual ego from the conversations and truly work to center their population and justice makes a successful team. It does no one (especially QT students), any good to work in a way that centers ownership of work or resistance to change. Queerness exists as both an identity and a verb. To queer our work and have collective responsibility helps us perform stronger and produce a better product with the goal of serving QT students more comprehensively. A team that can continuously ask “how can we do this better”, humanely critique ideas, and work together to find solutions, has the makings of a successful team.


It’s important to have a strong team who take individual and collective responsibility and ownership for their work. Having a team who is balanced in their dedication, passion, responsibility, and self-care is important to having a fully functioning, holistic, and sustainable team.


Lastly, a successful team always keeps their constituents in the forefront when making decisions and doing their work. Being rooted in lived experience, theory, and assessment are all important elements in leading the work, people, and projects.

How can leaders in your industry help their organizations adapt to change?

The QT community is no stranger to large waves of catastrophic deaths by new and unknown illness. We cannot talk about the current pandemic without talking about HIV/AIDs. QT people have and continue to live through a 40 year battle costing our community ancestors, history, culture, and more. We lost almost an entire generation of QT folks due to genocide caused by ignorance, homophobia, and transphobia. The literal criminalization of QT people and identities made it possible for HIV/AIDs to ravage the community with little care and action by those in power. We remember this history in our bodies. We remember this history in context to the current COVID pandemic. Research has shown that QT adults have higher rates of vaccines compared to straight/cisgender adults. We know what an unknown illness can do to a community, and we’re doing everything we can within our control to protect ourselves this time.


I joined SGD this past January and have been fortunate to come into a space that staff worked hard to shift due to the pandemic. In the practical sense, SGD shifted their social media presence to be more engaging, going so far as to hire a dedicated Ambassador to work on the social media presence. Staff worked hard in the height of the pandemic to continue to serve students, all while being understaffed and without a Director at some crucial times.


Currently with KU’s mask mandate having been lifted in most areas across campus, The Center works to help visitors make informed decisions about if they individually continue to wear masks in various spaces. Although everyone is able to make individual decisions, we frame decision making through a queer lens and encourage people to make decisions for the community rather than for the individual.


Lastly, the pandemic has shown us we can change the way we engage. We can challenge and push back against the traditional framework of higher education. We saw a majority of institutions across the country implement remote work, embrace technological advancements, and turn to virtual platforms in order to meet their goals. Although exhausted by the need to change so rapidly and for so long, I do believe we have learned some valuable lessons in how to adapt and change to make our services relevant.

The Copy the Leader program is brought to you by SumnerOne. SumnerOne is one of the largest independent office technology dealers in the Midwest, with offices in Missouri, Kansas, Illinois, Arkansas, and Oklahoma. We’re a family of respected companies united by ONE goal: to exceed your expectations and help you get the most from your investments in printing, IT, and document technology.

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