I once had a conversation with a colleague who was finishing up a term as a faculty administrator. I asked him what he thought his greatest accomplishment had been. His answer was revealing. He said that he had kept the department running smoothly and stayed on top of the paperwork. His assessment was probably accurate, but it pointed up to me the distinction between managing and leading.
As department chairs we do have to keep our units running smoothly and stay on top of the paperwork. Attentive management creates a healthy work environment, fosters confidence among the faculty and students, and even sometimes earns you political capital in the reporting structure of your institution. It is easy, however, to become too caught up in the managerial side of being chair. The culture of many institutions now is shifting a larger and larger portion of university bureaucracy onto the plates of chairs–what I sometimes refer to as the work of “administrivia.” It is easy to be consumed by this work and to make it our defining purpose.
But being an effective chair also requires being a leader.
There are, of course, many ways to lead and different leadership styles (and the graphic for this post is meant as a humorous aside, not a guide!). And these will be pursued in more detail in future posts. But for now, I want to make the perhaps obvious, but often-overlooked, observation that if a department chair is only a manager, and not also a leader, the department will suffer.
The trick then becomes finding the time, amidst the administrivia, to cultivate an effective leadership style and then to identify where you are going to lead your department.