Faculty Handbook 2023-2024

I.1.c. Developing and effective leadership style

Most faculty members recognize that becoming an effective department chair is a challenging process that develops over time. That is, although we all can list selected qualities of outstanding leaders (or at least “we can know it when we see it”), successful chairs not only possess many of these characteristics, but they also cultivate and incorporate these qualities within the context of their own personalities, traits, and skills to be truly effective. 

Qualities of effective chairs

  • Be sincere, trustworthy, humble, honest, collegial, and frank. In short, effective chairs show integrity.
  • Listen to others. Good leaders are aware that they don’t know everything and that good decisions are made when appropriate input is gathered from knowledgeable colleagues.
  • Maintain good organization and record keeping. Department members depend on the department chair to keep them informed of upcoming deadlines and events. They also depend on accurate records so that they don’t have to keep reinventing the wheel. The chair typically acts as the repository of this information.
  • Include others in the decision-making process, but show decisiveness. It is important to create an atmosphere of inclusiveness and transparency within the department. This means that members are aware of what is happening in the department and that their input is valued.
  • Delegate and prioritize tasks. Shared governance and inclusiveness require that the chair delegates tasks to those with the appropriate experience to complete them. A good leader resists the urge to micromanage and to do everything. Delegating not only helps make the chair job more doable, but it also helps build group cohesiveness and trust within the department.
  • Lack defensiveness. By not reacting defensively, the chair focuses attention (and places importance) on the issue, not on personalities.
  • Do not form cursory evaluations of the motives or goals of others. A chair should make sure to collect information directly from a person before making any evaluations for decisions. This makes it less likely that a biased or false impression is used for any decisions related to the individual.
  • Work well with the administration, but do not be afraid to bring up issues when appropriate. A good chair is not constantly at odds with the administration but does know when it is important to speak up. Being balanced and reasonable means that the administration is more likely to listen when there are issues.
  • Exhibit optimism, but also be realistic. Striking a reasonable balance between these two positions makes the chair credible and approachable.
  • Be available. It is difficult for chairs to do their jobs well if they are not on campus. Many times being readily available can circumvent situations that can become more problematic as time passes.
  • Be an adaptive leader. Adaptive leaders...
    • Facilitate issues as well as solutions.
    • Shift positions and viewpoints when necessary to work through issues with different constituencies.
    • Exhibit interest in (and respect for) others.
    • Accept that their knowledge is partial and foster inclusiveness for others’ knowledge.
    • Recognize that their responsibilities reach beyond technical solutions to engage in larger issues that have uncertain solutions.
    • Focus on the goals and invite critical engagement with the goals.
    • Recognize emerging leadership roles among your colleagues and nurture these for future development within your department. 

Self-reflection and analysis

  • Recognize your strengths and weaknesses. Understanding your personal qualities and skills can lead to being an effective chair since you can develop a leadership style that plays to your strengths. Similarly, recognizing your limitations helps you to decide when you need to seek help and/or advice from others.
  • Realize that you can and will make mistakes. Acceptance of this fact may help you to have humility and more compassion for others (qualities that can help a chair tremendously in terms of building consensus). Don’t be afraid to admit it when you are wrong...we all make mistakes. Realize that you may also face criticism for your work as chair. Try to not take the criticism personally, and where appropriate, use the feedback to become a more effective chair.
  • Critically examine your people skills. As part of this process, it might be useful to identify interpersonal situations in which you are both comfortable and uncomfortable. Such reflection can help isolate areas where you can improve on how you relate to and work with your colleagues and students as a department leader.
  • Consider how your colleagues and students perceive you. Misperceptions can rapidly erode the authority and ability to lead for even the most effective department chairs. While one certainly cannot foresee (or control) every possible perception that others might draw, it is extremely useful to consider how others might perceive your words, actions, and decisions as chair before you speak or act. 

Additional suggestions for tackling the job

  • Maintain confidentiality. The chair is, to some extent, an agent of the college. As such, chairs frequently encounter materials and/or situations that are of a confidential nature. While it would be impossible to give comprehensive advice on all of the areas where maintaining confidentiality applies, chairs should strive to stay informed about relevant matters involving confidentiality, and when in doubt, they should consult with their area chair, Associate Provost for Academic Affairs or the Provost.
  • Ask for help whenever you need it. It is not showing weakness to seek advice or to contact someone in administration if you have doubts about how to handle a specific situation.
  • Make friends, not enemies. Having some type of regular meeting with faculty members BEFORE an issue arises builds a foundation of trust so that when things do happen, you already know one another.
  • Talk with people rather than creating e-mail wars. E-mail communication can be very effective in some situations. However, it is not a good place for discussions that may become contentious. When an e-mail interaction looks like it is heading in this direction, the best policy is to ask to meet in person (but remember to take notes on the meeting).
  • Ask department members, staff, and students how you can help. Placing yourself in the position of helping others is a good way to remind yourself that you are performing a service as the chair.
  • Recognize the good work of others. Recognition of achievements of both department members and students builds a culture of excitement and good will.
  • Remember what you have accomplished each day rather than dwelling on what didn’t get done. This can be a difficult task even when one is “just” a faculty member, but it can be even more challenging when one adds administrative tasks. Keeping a positive perspective regarding your accomplishments helps to keep you mentally and physically healthy.
  • Do the job that you accepted. There may be days when things are rough, and there are difficult situations to handle. However, not taking care of these things only makes them worse. Stepping up to the plate and accepting the responsibility will make it easier the next time something happens.
  • Think carefully about when to make decisions on your own, and when to involve others in the discussion.
    Recognize that you are simply a faculty member taking your turn in leading the department, and that others have preceded you (and will succeed you). Use past history and whether you would want to be included on a decision if you weren’t chair as a guide. Err on being transparent and inclusive, but realize that some colleagues simply want you to “make the call”. Lastly, update your colleagues about upcoming decisions via email or announcements in meeting agendas, asking for their input (and later informing them about final decisions).