Taking on a management/leadership role, even at the department level is a big deal. You might be really excited about the possibilities and have all kinds of plans for how you can make things better (for some value of “better”). But you also know that it’s a lot of work.
You are going to have to make some changes to how you do things if you are going to not only survive but thrive in this role. In this post I outline some of the basic things you need to do this. Let me know if there is anything else you’d like me to write about in this area.
You can do it!
You shouldn’t need a reminder but sometimes the gremlins come out and start telling you about all the reasons you really shouldn’t have this job at all.
No one would have appointed you if they didn’t think you could do it. Yes, even if it looks like you got it because there was a significant faction that didn’t want [name redacted] to do it, they still think you can do it and do it well.
You can’t please everyone
Leadership is hard. If you are doing a good job, someone is going to be upset. This is just a fact.
You make decision. You consider the collective over individuals. You make compromises. No matter what you do someone is going to be unhappy. You don’t need to go around deliberately making people angry. You do need to trust your judgement.
If people are going to be angry, let it be about the small stuff. Better to have people grumble that it takes you 3 days to answer an email. And yes, take 3 days to answer email.
Take your time: learn, build networks, act
Most leadership appointments are for 3 years. You can do a lot in 3 years. You don’t have to do it all in year 1.
I recommend that your primary goal for year 1 of a leadership appointment is learning and building networks. This is even more important if a lot of the people you will be interacting with are also new in their roles.
You need to get a feel for what this job involves on a day to day basis.
You need to figure out how the decision making processes work in practice.
You need to build a good relationship with whatever administrative support you have in this role.
You need to build relationships with others doing the same role in other departments, both within your School or Faculty and beyond.
You need to develop relationships with those beyond your department who can help (or hinder) you in doing what you want to do in this role.
Observe. Ask questions. Master the basics. Then, about 6 months in, you can start using your knowledge and networks to make some decisions about your priorities in this role and plan how you are going to achieve those things.
Put your own oxygen mask on first…
You are not required to burn yourself out nor to completely neglect your own scholarly needs during this time.
Be ambitious. There are good reasons you want to do the things you want to do in this role. But …
Look after yourself: sleep, food, exercise, time with friends and family … all of these are important and need not be sacrificed for this role.
Make time to write. Your research and writing are central to your status in the institution and amongst your peers. It is also a big part of what makes this job meaningful to you. You might not be able to write as much as you did before, but you should be able to write.
You can do it
I said it before. I’ll say it again. In fact, I’ll say it as often as you need to hear it.
It will be painfully slow. You will have to make tough decisions. It will be really hard work.
You can do it.