Leadership FAQ: Why?

Why would any one choose to take on a leadership role?

I was recently on a panel for graduate students to discuss optional careers beyond the traditional academic path. I was there to represent the administrative choice and, in preparation, I thought about the reasons one might chose to take on a leadership role.  I wasn’t asked that question, so I get to answer it here.

For the state of context, I’m considering leadership roles that would be the equivalent of 25% or higher appointment for a year or more.

You might want to take on that role if:

  1. You have leadership skills. By this you have some abilities that make it easier for you to get the job done, or at least better than others. It can be challenging for an academic to evaluate their non-academic skills as they live in a world of the top 0.1% (or higher) in terms of their academic skills. For leadership, you just need to be in the top half or top quarter in terms of your skills and you can make a difference.
  2. You want to make a difference in a broader context. This starts with some thought that you have a good way of doing something. Then you have to have the thought (or arrogance) that your good way might be a good way for others to get things done. Leadership often expands your influence both in terms of power and in extent. Hopefully, you actually do have some good ideas and you use your added power for good.
  3. You have ambition (or AMBITION). Some people want to be in control, to lead others. Some view this as a responsibility to their academic unit: senior faculty are expected to take their turn in a leadership position. Some may have always wanted to lead and may have aspirations for even higher leadership roles. Basically, you become a leader because you want to, or feel you have to.
  4. You want to expand your circle of colleagues. Leadership roles always involve working with new people. They may be within your own unit or from other units on campus, or even from other campuses. They often have very different perspectives and interests. These give you a different view of your institution as well as new ideas about your own discipline or unit.
  5. You want to do something different. The academic career is unusual in that it is possible to basically be doing the same thing the last year of your career as you did the first. Leadership provides a chance to do something different at your same institution (no need to move, find new insurance, etc.) and for possibly a short period of time.
  6. You want to expand your career opportunities. Leadership positions usually have a relatively high level of turnover. At some point in your academic career, you see you have limited options. But as an administrator/leader you have many other options both within your institution and at other institutions.

Later, I’ll list some reasons why you might not want to take on a leadership position.


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