Leadership

There seem to be many ways to lead an organization. There is leadership by example. A past Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Indiana University Bloomington, Mort Lowengrub, used this method. The entire time he was Dean he taught for the Mathematics Department. Rumor has it that it did not always work out so well; the department had to carefully assign a graduate instructor to shadow him to substitute when he had to be absent due to duties of the Dean taking precedence over his duties as a teacher. However, this is a prime example of leadership by example. Old Bloomington Faculty Council minutes relate Mort emphasizing the importance of teaching to Indiana University and how everyone in his office, the Dean’s office, taught. His words carried the weight of the moral authority of someone who leads by example.

There is leadership by peer pressure. This form of leadership most likely works best for leaders who can read a room and determine the consensus opinion without having to take a vote. Thus, instead of having the loudest voice in the room dictate the outcome, the leader guides the conversation so that the voice of the quiet majority is heard over the din of the few. This is especially helpful if the leader agrees with the quiet majority. If not, the conversation can be guided around the din. A former Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Indiana University Bloomington, Kumble Subbaswamy, I am told, led Chairs and Directors meetings by discussion, making all parties feel like their input was valued, and undoubtedly, taking in the consensus opinion in the room.

There is leadership by force. For this to be effective, it is good to have a clear sense of what things you control and what things are in the control of others. Here it is also good to understand consensus opinion and to clearly communicate why one is forcing an outcome. It is a leadership style that is unfortunately necessary at times, but I would recommend limiting its use. Dean Subbaswamy tried to use force on me to get me to move from the Department of Mathematics to the newly formed Department of Statistics. He did not have the power to do so, so his use of force failed.

There is leadership by manufactured crisis. You declare that the ship is sinking, things have to change immediately, you have the vision of how things should change, and everyone should jump on board immediately in order to save the ship. Academia is a Behemoth. If you nudge it to the right when you meant to nudge it to the left, you have made a terrible mistake that will be hard to undo. Is it really necessary to declare the ship is sinking? Do you not believe in what you have been doing enough to stand by it for a little while, giving time for some calm reflection on the state of higher education? There is a guest column in today’s Herald Times (6/2/2015) by James Hart, Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies, about the history of academia, its role in asking intrinsically important questions such as whether there is a robust sense of “knowing” that goes further than having an opinion. There is intrinsic value to an institution which asks and tries to answer such questions, one that teaches students to ask and answer such questions for themselves, one that teaches all of us not to accept the wisdom of experts but to question it in the pursuit of new knowledge. The economic future of the United States is closely tied to universities successfully instilling such values in the next generation. When saving the sinking ship of Higher Education in the United States, it would be worth remembering the important role Colleges of Arts and Sciences should play in teaching the future generation how to question; it is an important skill in the education of our future leaders.

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