Developing Faculty Leadership Skills

Leadership is not restricted to those in formal leadership positions. Rather, all faculty members in one way or another fill leadership roles and may eventually become formal leaders. Therefore, it’s important for them to develop their leadership abilities.

In an interview with Academic Leader, Mariangela Maguire, associate professor of communication and former academic dean at Gustavus Adolphus College, and Laura Behling, associate provost for faculty affairs and interdisciplinary programs at Butler University, provided advice for developing faculty leaders.

Reach out to senior faculty. “When asking for volunteers, we tend to go to the usual suspects. For instance, we have a mentoring program for our incoming tenure-line faculty. It had been going on for several years, and it was OK but not terribly dynamic. When I became academic dean, I realized that there were a lot of senior-level faculty who we assumed were disengaged, and we didn’t ask them to be mentors. So we changed that. It changed their perception because we were saying to them, ‘Remember, you are a senior faculty member, and you have an awful lot to offer incoming faculty. You’re the history of the institution. You’re going to help them understand the culture of this place.’ That, I think, was a powerful change that we made. Of course, you have to be careful—there are always difficult people you don’t particularly want mentoring your new faculty. But there are a lot of people who maybe don’t know that they’re valued any longer, and I think it’s important to reach out to them,” Maguire says.

Provide low-stakes leadership opportunities. Effective department chairs don’t take full responsibility for every bit of programming within the unit. There are low-stakes projects that could help faculty members become leaders. Leading a meeting with alumni from start to finish, for example, could help a faculty member learn how to work within budget, work with food services, reach out to stakeholders, and, most important, build confidence for future leadership roles, Maguire says.

Form groups thoughtfully. “Look for ways to group people together so that perhaps newer faculty can learn from more experienced leaders about how a small group can bring something to the larger department,” Behling says. “I think what that really requires is for the department chair or committee chair to be thoughtful, to really think about the ways that a group gets put together. We’re not just trying to complete a search, for example, but this is grooming the next generation of faculty. Sometimes that’s hard to do, and sometimes we’re pressed for time, and that’s the last thing we actually have time to do or even want to think about. But I think it does make a positive difference in the health of the department. This is an educational process with our colleagues rather than just with students,” Behling says.

Expect conflict. “I think you’re going to have more conflict because people are going to be more aware of issues, priorities, and processes. But I think it will be productive rather than unproductive conflict. It will be informed conflict. It will be sharing ideas and thinking up better solutions in these incredibly difficult financial times rather than people just being entrenched,” Maguire says.

Excerpted from “Developing Formal and Informal Faculty Leaders.” Academic Leader, 26.4 (2010): 7-8.