Good Leadership

When my sister was trying to convince me to become Chair (she’s a professional recruiter and knows what jobs are meant for which people better than they do themselves), I told her that I can’t be in a leadership role if I have no disciplinary means at my disposal. Everybody has tenure. I can’t fire or punish them in any way if they don’t do the work.

“Ha!” said my sister. “What century were you born in? Disciplinarian management is outdated. These days good leadership is about inspiring people to do the work without any threats or punishments.”

That sentence spoke to me on such a deep level that I immediately agreed to become Chair. I discovered that my sister was right. As Chair, I began working closely with that Associate Dean I wrote about yesterday and found that simply observing his work ethic made me want to do better a lot more than any disciplinary threat ever could. I came out of every meeting with him energized and elated. Watching how elegantly he solved everything was pure joy.

If he were retiring, I’d say this all to him in person. But since he’s now a Vice-chancellor, it would sound like I’m brown-nosing. This is why I’m saying it here because otherwise I’d explode.

I have announced my retirement from the executive board of my professional association because our new president is the exact opposite of this Associate Dean. She’s about 30 years younger than he is but her leadership style is ancient. She wants to micromanage our every breath, treating us like suspicious characters who are constantly scheming to do bad things. As a result, people started resigning. Nobody wants some early-career untenured bit of fluff treating them like juvenile delinquents in a correctional facility.

You can’t force people to do a fantastic job. But you can do a great job yourself, and that will inspire them to do the best they can. Of course, in order to do that, you need to trust and respect people. You need to not assume the worst about them from the get-go.

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