Reflections Of A New Department Chair

Our semester is quickly ending. I think the way I am feeling right now is similar to how other faculty are feeling, exhausted. Every year at this time I always think back to the moment when I retired from Boeing and told our Academic Dean, my boss, that I could hardly wait to start full time at Warner Pacific, and maybe slow down a bit. Every year I reflect how wrong I was. I truly am working harder as a professor, and now department chair, than I ever did at Boeing. However, I am having so much more fun and feel much more fulfilled. I thought that I would take a few moments and reflect specifically on being the department chair of the business department.

I began the job August of last year. It was a little messy start, but I think as a department we accomplished a few things. During the Spring of 2013 we had an external review of our Business program at Warner Pacific. The external panel came back with several recommendations. Our department has acted upon those recommendations, and have initiated many of the changes, such as the revision of our traditional program and the distribution of responsibilities so each of do not have to work as hard. The last is still a work in progress.

I don’t want to bore you with a break down on all the changes but I do want to reflect on the role I have played this year. My performance was mixed: some things I think I did well while others not so well.

Think first, and talk later is one of the tips Barry Glassner and Morton Schapiro gave to College Presidents and CEO’s in the April 29th WSJ. I have tried to be a little more deliberate in decisions and what the “words are that are coming out of mouth,” but I am still talking too quickly. This has caused me to back track a bit at times. This may not necessarily be a bad thing.

Talk less and listen more. I agree with the author’s point that when a leader comes from the outside they need to take time to learn the idiosyncrasies of the culture, but in our case we needed to act quickly. This led to some hurt feelings, but we needed to move forward.

Show up. There are many different responsibilities that are associated with the department chair. Each group of people connected with those responsibilities want to hear directly from you. An email will never be as affective as a face-to-face encounter. This is an important lesson I have learned.

Engage veteran employees. Glassner and Schapiro said, “Spend time with those who have devoted their lives to the place, leaving their mark on future generations.” I have learned that those veterans may not be in one’s own department, but they will be a part of the organization. We also need to filter this by the needs of the moment. Those veterans may be the ones who have caused the problems that you are facing and will be defensive and resistant to change. However, at least in my case, there were many veterans outside of my department who gave me wonderful advice on how to deal with our situation.

Don’t ignore the staff. These individuals are the unrecognized heroes of our organization. The support folks make what we do possible. The academic advisers at our adult program, the people in admissions on our traditional campus, and so many more ensure that our Business program grows and is strong. I salute them and always thank them for their work.

The customer wants to be consulted. In our case the customer is our student. There is a difference between asking students what they think and students whining because something is too hard or they don’t like a professor. When students work hard I am more willing to listen to their whining than if they are feeling entitled because they are paying for their education. However, I think it is important to listen to the student and what they think. It does help your classes to become better.

Answer nearly all messages. I do try to answer all my emails. There are some that fall through the cracks, but I am working on this. I also try to answer messages face-to-face whenever possible.

The last two recommendations that I want to address are two sides of the same coin. Don’t take things personally and never believe the hype. Any leader, pastor, teacher, or manager, will always be someone’s lunch. People will whine, complain, and gossip about you. Don’t take those things personally. If you do, it will destroy you. “Many of the most spirited attacks have more to do with the attacker than with you.” On the other hand, those that like what you are doing will tell you that you are their favorite whatever. That pedestal is easy to fall from. Be careful and don’t believe the hype because if you do you will lose perspective. The Apostle Paul warns us, “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall.” And Proverbs 16:18 “ Pride comes before destruction, and an arrogant spirit before a fall.”

And that is my thought for the day!

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