Being the dean #5 – leadership and vision

The dean integrates processes and moves the vision of the faculty forward. This demands leadership and, even more importantly, it demands hierarchical planning. While some tasks are moved forward by the dean, all faculty needs to stand up to the role to move the faculty forward, since we all are the faculty.

Now wait a minute. Just in #4 I talked about how transparency is key, and now I talk about hierarchy? I this not a contradiction? Well, I think not. Lets see.

First of all, the dean reports and collaborates with the president and his team. Hence the system of Universities has a constructed hierarchy that is long standing and well established. A lot of information flows in this system, and not all information can be known by all. Hence does a hierarchical system demand that not all information flows towards the top. Coming to think of it, this gives lower parts of the hierarchy actually more possibility for action, which I think is a good thing. A hierarchy does to me not only focus onto the top, but enables also the broader basis. So far so good.
Why are the higher levels now labelled as leaders by me. This is first and foremost because of the necessity to take responsibility. I consider leaders to be simply people who do not only act, but also provide feedback on whether a certain line of action by people lower in the hierarchy of the system is ok. By doing this, a leader takes responsibility for their actions. These decisions can be often controversial, and sometimes even wrong. Yet inaction is not an option for most challenges. Many people want to be leaders, yet at their heart they would need to ask themselves whether they can take responsibility and live with the consequences. I can for instance say that I was often wrong as a leader, and can only hope that my decisions were more often to the better than to the worse. Personally I stand by my actions.
I believe that a system becomes problematic when people fail to or cannot stand by their decisions, or cannot even take the necessary decisions. While this may seem trivial, it is certainly not rare.
Another thought raised in the beginning is vision. As Helmut Schmidt famously said, whoever has visions should go see a doctor. This reflects his partly admirable stoic logic, yet I think that a certain vision of the bigger picture can be helpful as a goal and motivator. Often this is controversial since some people typically cannot identify with any vision, hence visions are prone to random critic. Still, I believe visions can reflect the focus on the main challenges, which can be helpful in hierarchical systems.
The last point that I raised was about the contribution of all to help the faculty. Most faculties show a Pareto distribution when it comes to contribution to the greater good, where 80% of the work for the faculty are made by 20% of the people. I can understand this. People have different goals, and not all have the same goals as the dean. Some focus on their individual research, which they consider most important. I could now at length discuss the reasons for doing one or the other, thereby pitching self interest vs. altruistic motives. I think this dimension is too complex to be answered here, if at all. However, if we stick to the empirical fact that few people shoulder most work in the Faculty, the core question is if we want to change this. Being the dean, I think our Faculty is much better as most Faculties I know, with the work load resting on more shoulders than average. Yet there is room for improvement. Instead of loosing myself now in arguments on why you should contribute to your institution, I simply reduce my argument to the question: “What would be your gain if you contribute?” If I get you to reflect upon this question, I think we are one step further.

 

 

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