Thoughts and Experiences Concerning Leadership
On September 1st, 2019 I assumed the responsibility of Department Chair for the Department of Life Sciences at Texas A&M University – Corpus Christi. The Department of Life Sciences has 30 tenured or tenure-track faculty, 5 professional assistant faculty and over 1,200 science majors. It offers B.S. degrees in Biology, Biomedical Science, and Clinical Laboratory Science, M.S. degrees in Biology, Marine Biology, and Fisheries & Mariculture, and a Ph.D. in Marine Biology. New degree programs planned include Biomedical Science M.S., Marine Biomedical Science Ph.D. and Fisheries Ph.D. The selected faculty and associated laboratory will be housed in a new state-of-the-art three-story building, Tidal Hall, which will support 9 new instructional labs and 34 research labs.
My philosophy of leadership has evolved over my thirteen year involvement as a tenured faculty member, program chair director, Principal Investigator on several funded research and teaching initiatives, and four years as assistant to the life science department chair. I’ve helped different department chairs who each had their own styles of leadership. And I’ve worked with leaders who are in much higher places than myself in the academic hierarchy and observed how they lead. I’ve experienced some awesome examples of leadership, and have seen some examples that had little success. I’ve found that leadership is not something you are born with or something you decide you have. Real leadership takes courage. You will know failure, disappointment, setback, and sometimes even heartbreak. Real courage in leadership is rare – you are vulnerable and it’s not about winning or losing. Real leadership means you show up when you can’t predict or control the outcome.
Seth Grodin (2008) wrote that, “Leadership is scarce because few people are willing to go through the discomfort required to lead, making leadership valuable. It’s uncomfortable to stand up in front of strangers (or those who were once your colleagues and friends – and now are being evaluated by you- CM). It’s uncomfortable to challenge the status quo. It’s uncomfortable to resist the urge to settle. However, when you identify the discomfort, you’ve found the place where a leader is needed. If you’re not uncomfortable in your work as leader, it’s almost certain you’re not reaching your potential as a leader”. So, with all this discomfort, how do you find your comfort zone as a leader? The following has worked for me.
First, remember I’ve been here for 13 years – these faculty and staff have been my friends and allies over the years. I realized what was needed in our department was a change in culture where we could work together to make our department stronger. This requires a culture of honest, constructive and engaged feedback. Without feedback, there can be no transformative change. When we don’t talk to the people we are leading about their strengths their opportunities for growth, we begin to question their contributions and our commitment. Disengagement follows.