Shashea L. Adams-Guess, MBA, She/Her/Hers
Associate Vice President of Planning and Advancement Services
University of Texas (UT) Southwestern Medical Center
We caught up with Shashea Adams-Guess to discover more about her, what she’s up to, and what we can learn from her.
Briefly describe your current role.
As the proud owner of many hats, and, yes, I often wear all shapes and sizes in my role, the biggest and most intricate of all is leading strategy development and operations for the philanthropic arm of our growing institution to help expand its base of support and drive pipeline growth. This involves serving as a trusted advisor on organizational structure, infrastructure, climate, culture, and other matters of strategic importance and leading a dynamic and PHENOMENAL advancement operations team responsible for delivering a healthy foundation of support services and reliable base of intelligence to advance engagement and fundraising initiatives—and ultimately the mission of UT Southwestern. I have direct oversight of the Data and Systems Management, Engagement and Participation, Gift Administration, Project Management, Prospect Development, Special Operations, and Strategic Initiatives functions within our Office of Development and Alumni Relations.
Briefly describe your career journey and what led you to institutional advancement in academic medicine.
I often hear of colleagues who just so happened to find themselves working in a fundraising environment, and well, that is partly my story. My career here at UT Southwestern spans nearly two decades and launched in one of our academic departments, where I served as Management Analyst and IT Manager for over six years. During that time, I learned a great deal about the institution before transitioning to central administration and the Office of Development and Alumni Relations. The change was due in large part to an executive leader and sponsor who felt I would be a value-add to the office and a perfect fit as it had just created a new Director of Strategic Initiatives position. I had a strong advocate—something we all need in addition to being the biggest for ourselves!
In the five years I served in that role after joining the team and leading the office through one of the most transformative events in its history, which was a very complex conversion to a new constituent relationship management (CRM) system, I found the mission of the office and the art, science, and importance of aligning donor passion with institutional priorities and programs to be quite fascinating. Nearly 13 years later and after much personal and professional growth, here I still stand, and this is honestly where I enjoy contributing my talents. In terms of roles, my career journey has been full of intentionality and about as linear as one could possibly be (not sure if that is good, bad, or perhaps, both).
What achievement in your current job are you proud of?
I am most proud of my commitment and the efforts I have made to develop and assist colleagues on their individual growth journeys. We all have personal and career goals, and it has always been a priority for me to hone in on the aspirations of colleagues and mentees who are looking to me for support and guidance as they map out their career path and trajectory. While they are taking control in the driver seat racing towards greatness, I am excitedly standing by as chief of their pit crew and/or serving in whatever capacity they may need at any given time, all while loudly cheering them on.
Additionally, I take pride in the contributions I have made in our office’s strategic planning process, where I recently designed a comprehensive framework for long-range planning and successfully led the close of the planning phase, initiation of the implementation phase, and establishment of an internal steering committee charged with serving as an accountability arm to ensure our office uphold its commitments to achieve success through our Realizing the Vision: 2026 Roadmap.
What success have you achieved with limited resources?
I would like to focus on team success here: Our team has always been “small, but mighty” and but a fraction in size compared to some of our peers also doing amazing work in and for academic medicine. As a collective, we have managed to build a culture that is centered around a growth mindset vs. fixed mindset to elevate our profile and grow philanthropic revenue, despite our size. The result of many years of unwavering dedication and hard work was the banner year we experienced last year as we closed a major campaign and saw unprecedented levels of engagement and giving to UT Southwestern! GO TEAM!
What is a challenge that you/your unit/your institution are/is facing and how are you addressing it?
The strategic growth of our team has long been a challenge, but more so in the complex and competitive work environment we all find ourselves in post-pandemic. The first and highest objective outlined in our strategic plan is Investing in Our Talent – People First. We are keenly focused on developing targeted efforts to empower and support our people, including training, professional development, career growth, manager and leadership support, and retaining and recruiting the best talent. As part of this work, we have established an internal Strategic Talent Management committee whose charge is to ultimately build a comprehensive talent management program to help us become the top performing academic medicine development team in Texas and recognized as one of the best in the nation.
What was a mistake you made and how did you learn from it?
Early on in my career, I learned the importance of broadening my approach as it related to being a strong leader and serving in leadership roles. Leadership is not a one-size-fits-all model, and I quickly discovered the beauty and importance of situational leadership and how digging my heels in with “my leadership style being x” was filled with flaws and highly problematic. Each member of my team is different and has their very own unique set of needs. I am not able to support or help them without adapting my leadership style to meet them where they are.
Also, as someone who might be described as “guarded,” I lacked vulnerability as a leader. It took being completely honest with myself after performing an exhaustive self-inventory (tons of assessments) and working closely with an incredible executive coach to fully understand there are significant benefits to expressing vulnerability, being open, and building trust, especially with your team.
What innovation or trend in the field inspires or motivates you?
Ah, artificial intelligence (AI), but where do even I begin to explore and elaborate?
What is the best career advice you were given and how have you used it?
“Never settle for the path of least resistance…” Thank you, Lee Ann Womack! Over the course of my career (and life), I have grown a bit obsessed with the idea of never settling for the path of least resistance. I channel and model this by always upholding lofty standards (for myself, my team, and others), pushing my growing edge, embracing my “moxie,” and leveraging what I call “strong strategic moments” to power my unrelenting drive.
What advice do you have for other institutional advancement professionals in academic medicine?
During a recent meeting with a mentee, she said something that I found to be so simple, yet very profound. In speaking about growing professionally in her current role, she said “The job gets more interesting if you get more involved.” That would be my advice to fellow institutional advancement professionals. Elevate your engagement, get more involved, and find ways to get plugged into new and different aspects of the extraordinary work we do in this field. A great start is working with the AAMC, which I have found to be an amazing experience and a clear avenue to network, Learn, Serve, and Lead!
We want to shine the light on you! Please submit information about yourself or share this with another GIA member to help you connect, share stories, and highlight best practices. Learn more.