What is Academic Leadership?

There are few terms as used and abused as leadership. After all, who doesn't want to work for good leaders or themselves be that good leader with whom others yearn to work. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of academics and practitioners espouse divergent theories of what leadership is and should be. Lofty statements about one's own leadership philosophy are just so much talk unless they are supported by evidence. Thus to me, leadership is an act.

I was fortunate to train with the Kansas Leadership Center (KLC) while at FHSU, and their curriculum taught me a core concept of leadership that makes the basis for my approach: that leadership is an act more than a position. Leadership is what we do and every precedent that leads to it. Our orientations, the choices we make, the values we hold all contribute to our decisions to act, and those actions are how we demonstrate our leadership. In a large organization like a university, it is easy to believe that there are other people willing and ready to do the hard work. But to lead, we must act. And we must not rely on titles exclusively as the impetus and justification to act. As the KLC teaches, any person can engage in the act of leadership from any position within an organization. To be ready to act when the time comes, people need guidance in becoming well-informed, having a perspective, and being confident in the ability to act. To me, in an administrative capacity, encouraging and empowering people to be ready to act as a leader when their time comes is one of the most important things I can do to contribute to an organization.

Academic leadership thus means building relationships with colleagues and students that create trust in me. If I can earn their trust through regular communication, listening, and follow-through, I can inspire them to have the self-confidence to prepare and act when their time to lead arrives.

From a technical perspective, one of the most effective methods of measuring an individual's leadership contribution is committee participation. In shared governance environments committees do high-level work and represent significant elements of a university's strategic and tactical plan. I have served on - and led - a wide range of departmental and university committees from the rank and file as well as the chair.