Monday, February 18, 2013

How to Survive as Senior Associate Dean

In my last post, I listed a number of experiences that would benefit anyone moving into this job I currently occupy. Those experiences are too many and too varied to realistically expect anyone to have them before taking on the job. Of course, I wrote that to give readers a sense of the breadth of issues that come through my office.

So, if adequate experience is not realistic, what is a more realistic expectation? I’m not sure, but here are some things I try to keep in mind.

I try very hard to be fair. Sometimes students think I am biased toward faculty and sometimes faculty think I am biased toward students. When I was as soccer referee, I learned that half of the people at each match generally disagreed with every decision I made. That doesn’t make the decision wrong.

When I make a decision that is particularly upsetting to someone, I try to communicate why I have decided the way I have. If possible, I will let the person know about it before it becomes public.

When necessary, I use the network of friends and colleagues I have built across the campus. Universities are full of very intelligent people. These people are a huge asset.

I try to listen to people. Even when I feel like I know what the person is going to say, I try to listen. Sometimes, just listening resolves an issue. All that the person wanted was to be heard. If you are forming an answer in your head before the person stops talking, you probably aren’t listening as closely as you should be.

I try to distinguish between urgent and important. Not all important things are urgent and not all urgent things are important.

I try to visit the offices I manage at least once a week just to see how people are doing. When I am not delegating a task to someone, it gives that person an opportunity to dictate where the conversation goes. Over time, people learn to take advantage of that opportunity and sometimes that allows me to address issues before they become problems.

I especially try to be honest with myself. If something doesn’t feel right, I try to take the time to re-examine the issue.

I mentioned humor in the last post. I try to retain a sense of humor and be pleasant. I’m not always successful, but being pleasant costs nothing and occasionally pays big dividends.

Finally, I try to remember that there are many things I have done in the past that I didn’t know how to do before I did them. In other words, we all have things to learn when we move into a new position with new responsibilities. It is important to learn and not repeat your mistakes. I feel if you do this and try each day to make your environment a little better than you found it, things have a way of working out.

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