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Ten Things a New Leader Discovers

By Kim Marshall, TIE columnist

07/20/2017

In this Chronicle of Higher Education article, Allison Vaillancourt (University of Arizona) lists some delusions people have when they’ve worked their way up through the ranks and won an administrative position: they’ll have the freedom to set their own direction, make their own plans, surround themselves with people who share their work ethic and point of view, and give orders.

Not true – especially in an academic environment. “New leaders are often surprised and disappointed by the realities of administrative life,” says Vaillancourt. “Missteps are easy to make, and you can be assured everyone will be taking notes when you stumble. Your motives will be questioned, your decisions challenged, and your personal integrity called into question – over and over again. If that sounds like something you can handle, you are ready for your new leadership role.” Some things to keep in mind:

• You may not have been the people’s choice. More than a few of your colleagues may have supported another candidate and regard you as a disappointing second choice. They may therefore be on the prowl for evidence that the selection committee blew it.

• A rival candidate may be a direct report. Outwardly polite, this person may be stewing with resentment. “Watch your back,” advises Vaillancourt, “and by no means take him to coffee to explain that you appreciate the difficulty of the situation – that will just make him feel worse.”

• You may be lonely. That old camaraderie will disappear and social contact will cease, or become more formal and guarded. “Your information sources will probably dry up,” says Vaillancourt, “and you will need to find a new support network.”

• Being the boss doesn’t mean you get to be bossy. Newbie managers sometimes make this mistake, she says. “Seasoned leaders actually pay attention to the research on employee motivation and know that most of us are inspired by having a strong sense of purpose, a fair amount of autonomy, and the ability to demonstrate our personal strengths on a regular basis. Savvy leaders seek to energize and inspire people, not terrify them.”

• Your people are probably smarter than you. Don’t get in their way as they do their work, and don’t try to micromanage them.

• Give credit where it’s due. “The minute you take credit for someone else’s idea is the minute you will crush any future demonstrations of creative or intellectual expression,” says Vaillancourt. “Phrases like ‘I have a great team’ are insufficient to demonstrate recognition and appreciation.” People need to hear their names and accomplishments shouted out publicly.

• Leadership is a series of tough conversations. Be honest, direct, and timely with critical feedback, Vaillancourt advises, but don’t be ruthless. She recommends three books: Difficult Conversations, Thanks for the Feedback, and Radical Candor.

• Don’t be afraid to demonstrate vulnerability. Admitting mistakes is a sign of courage and wisdom, not weakness. “If you fumble, own it,” she advises. “It is far easier to forge an emotional connection with someone who is fallible than with someone who is perfect.”

• Your best people are likely to leave, and that’s not a betrayal. Talented colleagues move on to new opportunities, and it’s normal, not a sign of your poor leadership.

• To be taken seriously, you need to work harder than anyone else. “If you dare to work less than those who report to you, you will be labeled an entitled slacker,” says Vaillancourt. “If you want work-life balance, make sure everyone else in your organization has it first.”

“Now You’re In Charge” by Allison Vaillancourt in The Chronicle of Higher Education, July 21, 2017 (Vol. LXIII, #14, p. B16-17), https://chroniclevitae.com/news/1797-now-you-re-in-charge; Vaillancourt can be reached at vaillana@email.arizona.edu.




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