Be a leader. Are you ready?

Academic leadership poses many challenges.  How can you facilitate short term wins and yet seed longterm change in a culture that is firmly rooted within the principle of tenure?  How do you lead colleagues who are older and have more experience?

What is the best way to meet and connect with hundreds of colleagues and thousands of students? How do those colleagues provide input into your plans? How will you communicate progress and effectiveness to them, as well as to other partners and stakeholders? Who are these partners and stakeholders?

Do you dare to be different?  How will you manage changes that meet our complex global and digital world head on?  How much do you value diversity, for instance of race, gender, ethnicity, cultural, socioeconomic, and of opinions?

The answers to these questions stem from answers to questions that you must pose to yourself. Why do you want to be a leader? Why do you want to do what you want to do?

Do you want to change lives for the better, particularly of the students you teach and the colleagues you work with?  Do you value equity and respect, and are yet committed to identifying and resolving conflict.

Are you invested or reluctant? Do you find yourself gazing outside, wistfully looking for other opportunities?

Empathy matters.  To be persuasive and motivational, you should be able to note that people laugh around you.

Leadership is not only about intelligence and fortitude, it also requires emotional intelligence. In a recent article in the New York Times, Daniel Goleman identifies four essential emotional aspects that connect leaders  with others. You should be self aware, empathetic, be able to manage your emotional balance, and have the ability to build strong relationships.

This means that you should be calm under pressure and be able to manage the hot buttons that make you angry. Trust others enough to delegate appropriately, be dispassionate when you review their progress, read their emotions and understand them well enough so that you can explain your expectations using a framework that they can recognize.

Leaders mentor other leaders. You must close leadership gaps.  For any plan to come to fruition, it is essential that you identify the leaders who will help you understand the aspirations of the people you lead. These leaders will in turn help you communicate your objectives and implement your plan.

The anecdote about Damocles in ancient Syracuse relates his discussion with King Dionysius.  Damocles persuaded Dionysius to switch places with him so that he could sit on the king’s throne. When he sat, he saw that a sword, suspended only be the single hair of a horse’s tail, hung above him.

Remember also that a leader not only assumes power and responsibility, but also professional and, sometimes, personal, risk.

(Recommended reading: How to Be Emotionally Intelligent. Recommended playlist: How to be a great leader.)


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