"I CAN'T BELIEVE HOW OFTEN MY WORDS ARE MISINTERPRETED," said a former student, recently appointed dean. So I gave him my Administration 101 lecture about the Eureka! moment that comes to every first-time administrator when he realizes his relationship with friends and colleagues is altered, and they suddenly identify him with the position and authority he holds. The new dean found this difficult to accept, and assured me he would never Lose his "faculty stripes." He hadn't yet hit his Eureka! moment.
But my young friend will quickly develop a coterie of detractors who are critical of his decision-making and the words and methods used to convey his decisions. People will repeat and discuss what he says with reinterpretation fallout. In time, his detractor list will grow. Whatever it was that endeared him to his colleagues and helped him win their approval as a Leader will be quickly forgotten. And oh, how it will hurt!
In fact, tomes have been written about the interstices of power relationships. But they all boil down to that something in the human psyche that resents any assignment of authority over us-whether by way of election, appointment, birth, or force. Think about it: How much conversation about administrative Leaders is praise, and how much is criticism? George Washington labeled criticism "the unfailing Lot of an elevated station."
The reason this happens so often, British sociologist Herbert Spencer reminds us, is that we view people in authority as though they have "the same desires, hopes, fears, and restraints as ourselves." Yet, on campus, there can be a world of difference in the perception of what matters to a department program versus the university as a whole. And there appears to be a short step between disagreement and demonization; it's just easier to attack a decision-maker than to rationalize a decision. At the very Least, motive or method will be attacked.
Unfortunately, many administrators exhaust themselves trying to please critics. Many feel a desperate need to be understood (Loved?) and spend more time trying to assuage critics than Lead supporters. Here are six suggestions to help you Live with criticism:
* Base your decisions on some workable operating principle so that it is rooted and easy to restate. Such principles may vary from the profound (academic freedom) to the mundane (personnel policies). Either way, when disagreement is voiced, you can honestly say, "I consider this an issue of [this or that] principle and regret that you do not see it the same way."
* Don't get caught in the "we were never consulted" trap that accompanies almost every campus dispute. …