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Leadership Succession: How New Deans Take Charge and Learn the Job

Article excerpt

Executive Summary

Deans usually come to their positions without leadership training, without prior executive experience, without a clear understanding of the ambiguity of their new roles, without recognition of the metamorphic changes that occur, and without an awareness of the toll their new position may take on their academic and personal lives. This study investigated the socialization process academics go through to get settled into a new deanship. The succession of the new dean followed a predictable pattern similar to the corporate executives as they "took charge" of their new positions: (1) taking hold; (2 immersion; (3) reshaping; (4) consolidation; and (5) refinement (Gabarro, 1985). While the overall length of time of incorporation was similar, the phases mirrored the structure of the academic year.

Academic leaders may be the least studied and most misunderstood management position anywhere in the America. The transformation to academic leadership takes time and dedication, and not all faculty can make the complete transition to leadership. This study addresses the personal challenges academics face in successfully responding to "the call" for academic leadership.

The Call Without Leadership Training. To become an expert takes time. Studies of experts in the corporate world who attain international levels of performance point to the ten-year rule of preparation (Ericsson, Krampe, & Tesch-Romer, 1993). In the American university, seven years represents the threshold for faculty to attain the status of expert in order to achieve tenure and promotion at the associate professor level, and another seven years for to achieve the rank of full professor. If it takes seven to fourteen years to achieve expertise in our academic disciplines, why do we assume we can create an academic leader with a weekend seminar? Of the over 2,000 academic leaders I have surveyed, less than 10% have leadership development programs in their universities. As many of us have come to appreciate, we need a radical change in our approach to leadership development in higher education.

The Call Without Administrative Experience. The time of amateur administration is over. Department chairs, for example, often see themselves as scholars who, out of a sense of duty, temporarily accept responsibility for administrative tasks so other professors can continue with their teaching and scholarly pursuits. Nearly 80,000 scholars in the United States currently serve as department chairs and almost one quarter will need to be replaced each year (Gmelch & Miskin, 1993). Deans serve an average of six years and university presidents four years (Gmelch, 1999). We have already established that opportunities for individual skill development through training is woefully inadequate, but what are we doing to provide preparatory leadership experiences for our next generation of academic leaders? Even with systematic skill development opportunities available, if you ask managers where they learned their leadership abilities, most will tell you from their job experiences. In fact, a poll of 1,450 managers from twelve corporations cited experience, not the classroom, as the best preparation for leadership (Ready, 1994). The same would hold true for managers in higher education. One should not draw the conclusion, however, that formal training and education are of limited value. Academic leadership training, in combination with experience and socialization, can heighten a faculty member's appreciation for leadership and strengthen their motivation to develop leadership capabilities.

The Call Without Understanding Role Conflict and Ambiguity. Caught between conflicting interests of faculty and administration, trying to look in two directions -- academic leaders often don't know which way to turn. They promote the university mission to faculty and, at the same time, they try to champion the values of their faculty. As a result they find themselves swiveling between their faculty colleagues and university administration. …