Leadership Qualities For Academics…And Everyone
April 23, 2014

Leadership Qualities For Academics…And Everyone

Recently, I have taken on a leadership role at my college. I am the Faculty Senate President for the next year starting now. I have to admit I am simultaneously honored and scared to death. I will be the voice of the faculty, working on behalf of my colleagues, and leading them. What scares me most is the leading. I am, probably naturally, insecure about my abilities. But this is happening now, and so I must figure out a way to do so with honesty, veracity, and aplomb.

So, what did I do? I did what any good writer and researcher does – I looked up what others had to say about good leaders. I have been through leadership classes, academies, and conferences, but it was nice to find some online articles to reference back to. I found several articles that really helped, but the one that was most relevant to my situation comes from The Chronicle of Higher Education. For this first blog on leadership, I will focus on leadership in academia particularly pertaining to what qualities make a good academic leader.

The Chronicle of Higher Education article listed and discussed 14 characteristics of good leadership in an academic setting. Let’s take a look at these:

  1. Listening. A good leader doesn’t think he or she knows everything, or always knows better than other people.
  2. Inclusiveness. A good leader not only listens, but listens to lots of different people—and takes their advice and their views into account when making decisions.
  3. Delegation. A good leader recognizes the importance of giving up control in certain areas because other people know more about that area and/or bear primary responsibility for it. Inclusiveness and delegation, together, are the essence of shared governance.
  4. Sincerity. A good leader doesn’t just pretend to listen or pretend to delegate. He or she doesn’t merely pay lip service to the concept of shared governance or attempt to manipulate the process for personal gain.
  5. Decisiveness. Once all sides have had their say, and the decision-making ball is in the leader’s court, he or she will make that decision and accept responsibility for it.
  6. Accountability. A good leader is not constantly pointing fingers or blaming others for problems—even if they actually did create them.
  7. Optimism. Whatever challenges a unit or institution might face, a good leader is always positive (at least publicly), consistently projecting an attitude of realistic optimism about the future. A good leader can address issues openly and frankly without spreading doom and gloom.
  8. Realism. At the same time, a good leader is objective about challenges.
  9. Frankness. A good leader tells it like it is. He or she does not pat faculty and staff members on the head and assure them that everything’s going to be OK when it might not be. (Note: Most leaders I’ve known who liked to think of themselves as “straight shooters” earned that reputation by saying unkind things to people, often unnecessarily. To me, that’s not what being a “straight shooter” means.)
  10. Self-Effacement. A good leader not only accepts blame; he or she also deflects praise and credit to others. A good leader understands that, when others in the unit earn recognition, that reflects positively on him or her. A good leader does not always have to be the one in the spotlight—and, indeed, may actually shun the spotlight. A good leader is also not primarily concerned with moving up the ladder or making himself or herself look good. The best leaders want others, and the institution, to look good.
  11. Collegiality. A good leader does not place himself or herself above rank-and-file faculty and staff members but rather considers them colleagues in the truest sense of that term.
  12. Honesty. A good leader is scrupulously honest in all of his or her dealings. No lies, no dissembling, no double-talk or administrative-speak. If the situation warrants, a good leader simply says, “I can’t comment on that right now.”
  13. Trustworthiness. If a good leader commits to do something, then he or she does it, if humanly possible—and if not, explains why and accepts responsibility for failure. If one tells a good leader something in confidence, that information remains confidential.
  14. Morality. When all is said and done, a good leader can be counted on to do what he or she believes is right and best for all concerned, even if it is unpopular in some quarters.

As I read through these, I tried to decide what three I felt were most important to me. Though I believe in all 14 of these, and do my best to model them in all I do, I feel like the three that most inspire me are listening, accountability, and honesty, followed closely by morality, delegation, and inclusiveness.

A 15th trait that I believe must be included in this, especially for academia, is communication. A good leader communicates with her faculty openly, transparently, and honestly. A leader cannot lead if she is cryptic, silent, and dishonest. Like in all relationships, communication is key.

I will print these 15 qualities up and put them in my office to remind myself of those qualities I need and what my colleagues want for me to lead. These are also useful since we are all leaders in the classroom. We could all use a good reminder on how to be a good leader when we must lead.

Image Credit: Thinkstock

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Rayshell E. Clapper is an Associate Professor of English at a rural college in Oklahoma where she teaches Creative Writing, Literature, and Composition classes. She has presented her original fiction and non-fiction at several conferences and events including: Scissortail Creative Writing Festival, Howlers and Yawpers Creativity Symposium, Southwest/Texas Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association Regional Conference, and Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association National Conference. Her publications include Cybersoleil Journal, Sugar Mule Literary Magazine, Red Dirt Anthology, Originals, and Oklahoma English Journal. Beyond her written works, she successfully created a writer's group in rural Oklahoma to support burgeoning writers. The written word is her passion, and all she experiences inspires that passion. She hopes to help inspire others through her words.

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