Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Don't be a Klutz, Boor, or ...

I am told stories of administrators (deans, provosts, even presidents) who sacrifice their authority when they talk to colleagues.
1. You may not want to give your colleague a raise, but it does you no good to systematically diminish their achievements in front of them.  You might say, I will see what I can do about it, and I'll get back to you by the end of the month. We do appreciate your contributions to scholarship. Our department has become much stronger, and so the competition for salary increases has become much greater. You are surely part of that improvement.
2. You may really wish your colleague to head this major task force, but they tell you their parents are in hospital and need attention. You do not say, I am sorry to see you sacrifice your career for transient family issues. You might say, Please give this a bit further consideration. I fully understand the demands of family, but perhaps in a week or two you will find the inner strength to serve family and institution. We wish you and your family the very best.
3. A faculty member may have caused you great trouble, and have set themselves up to be dismissed. Your letter to them should be circumspect, and include no insulting remarks or personal disrespect. Rather, you might say, We regret the need to separate you from the university, given your years of faithful service, but we have no choice.

You do not have to agree with your colleague. You may have to listen to them go on knowing that they are self-centered and mistaken. What you must do, and this is part of your job, is to listen, make sympathetic remarks, indicate objective constraints you face, and say you will get back to them. And then get back to them, even if you are saying the No you might have said in the conversation--with enough kind words to make you seem both appreciative and incapable of satisfying them.

You may feel inferior, even if you do not recognize that feeling yourserlf (others surely do),  to your colleague who is so strong as a scholar, much stronger in fact than you are. You are the dean or chair, say, and you are no longer evaluated on your scholarship, but on your leadership and administrative capacity. You want to have colleagues who are much stronger than you, and you want to be responsive to their needs, if you can. You want to come from strength, and that strength may be different than their strength.

You never indulge your anger, your resentment, etc. You get paid the big bucks, this is just at your pay grade, and your job is to be responsive and sympathetic while not letting their temper tantrums and special pleading get in the way of doing the best job you can. Moreover, ask your closest friends or your spouse, Am I considerate of those who work for or with me. Do I allow myself to be impolite or insulting to those over whom I have power or who serve me. Of course, if you are inconsiderate or insulting you may well needlessly hurt colleagues and staff. But even more significantly, perhaps, your reputation as a boor or klutz will follow (or lead) you far and wide. It's a smaller world than we believe, and gossip of this sort is the currency in the scholarly world. If you are a considerate and responsive person, that too will be echoed.

Moreover, if you and your colleagues create a welcoming and supportive environment, you will find it much easier to appoint new faculty, at whatever level. That reputation will be well known, and give you an advantage that money and perks cannot buy. On the other hand, if you and your colleagues and your department or university comes to be known as a place where unfairness and "politics" dominate, that too will be widely shared. Money and perks are unlikely to compensate for that. Keep in mind, You want to appoint and retain the strongest faculty you can recruit. Nothing you say will in the end do more for your institution's reputation than the work of your colleagues. If Coca-Cola did not taste good, no amount of advertising about how Coke makes your life wonderful will work.

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