Learning Academic Leadership – Finding my feet

One symptom of just how busy I have been over my first 8 months at Man Met Uni has been my neglect of my blogging.  I had great plans to continue my series of reflections as I began my new role at Man Met but these have been blown away by the speed at which I have had to learn to adapt to both a new Institution – full of new people, processes and ways of doing things – and to a new senior role.

So how has this last 8 months been and what have I learned that I could share with other academics in the same position?

Well,  its been a bit of a roller coaster to be honest.  I think I started well; I  made my primary focus that of building really good relationships with people and concentrating on two key maxims of leadership – enthusiasm and integrity (John Adair).  I made myself as visible as possible within the Faculty, built  my Education team within the first 2 months, aimed for a couple of quick wins and Chaired my first Faculty committees.  All of this was a massive learning curve; overwhelming at times but by focusing on each day in turn I made it to Christmas and then to Easter without any great mishaps or mis-steps.

It was then (6 months in ) that I realised the honeymoon was over.  I found myself completely overwhelmed, having to deal with a couple of very difficult situations, and being pulled in too many different directions by too many different people.

The very best thing I did here was to admit that I was struggling and ask for help from my boss (the Dean of the Faculty), my counterparts in other Faculties and my predecessor in the role – all of whom were amazingly supportive and good leaders in their own right.

Lesson Number 1:   Never be afraid to ask for help.

The second best thing I did was to learn to manage my energy levels. See On Form: Managing Energy, Not Time, is the Key to High Performance, Health and Happiness for the best book on how to do this).  Even 5 minutes down-time between meetings can recover sufficient energy to keep going thorugh a very busy day. A walk outside has a similarly beneficial effect.  Another really helpful recent blog post on this can be found here

Lesson Number 2:  Preservation and recovery of physical, mental, emotional and spiritual energy is essential to be able to survive and thrive in a big job. 

The third best thing I did was to ruthlessly prioritise – focusing the majority of my energy and time into three Faculty priorities – Progression, Employability and Teaching Quality.

Lesson number 3: Ruthlessly prioritise – accept that you cant do everything: there will always be unanswered emails and a long to do list.  It is only ever possible to have two or three wildly important goals – which must be prioritised and worked on each day if possible.  Everything else will generally have to wait it turn in the queue

With these three lessons, 8 months in,  I really do feel as if I have turned a corner.  That I can do this role effectively, that I can make a difference, that  I am developing into an effective leader – but that all of this takes time.

I’ll finish here with the best metaphor I have for that of developing in a leadership role.  Its not my own; it comes from this blog by Bishop Stephen Croft.  He likens a new leadership role to going to high school aged 11, in a blazer that is initially several sizes too big for you.  Yet gradually and imperceptibly we grow into that blazer.  I have learnt most of all, that I too began this role in a blazer that was too big, but 8 months later I am slowly but surely growing into it.

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