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Plays Well with Others

While crisscrossing the country this year doing workshops on work-life balance and leadership for faculty groups, I have been shocked to find that most academic leaders in department chair or program director jobs have no formal nor informal preparation for their leadership positions nor have they shadowed those they are succeeding the semester before they take on the job; no one even suggests that they take a one day workshop in leadership 101 or a workshop in basic people management skills. As one dean commented to me: “The problem with this place is that it is run by amateurs.”

While many business executives may have majored in business management as undergraduates and have even gotten masters degrees in management, most academic earn their degrees in a content area such as physics or sociology or English. When it comes time to be honored or cursed with a chance to chair a department or direct a program, nothing in those content areas prepare the academic leader for the challenge of a leadership position.

There are three areas that the new leader must get up to speed with immediately: time management, resource management, and people management. While leaders have background in managing their own time management successfully and can apply prioritizations skills to their new tasks, fewer leaders have experience with managing resources such as budgets, space, equipment, and scheduling of course. Very few have any formal course of study in basic people management skills. This lack of skills hurts them and their institutions the most since the number one reason faculty give for leaving academic positions in a poor relationship with the chair.

This newsletter begins a several part series on the skills necessary to manage the people part of academic leadership jobs. I very much appreciate the feedback I have gotten from faculty attending more leadership workshop entitled “Plays Well With Others: Leadership Skills for Academics.” Their comments on how the workshop helped their skills develop, helped this material deepen. Because these skills are skills they must be practiced to be mastered. I would like to offer a holiday season special, a half-hour complementary session with me to practice and deepen your skills. If you sign up before the winter holiday break, I will give you a full hour even if our session is scheduled for January. In this issue I am going to cover some basic principles about people management and introduce the networking skills that you need for “greeting and meeting colleagues.”

Skill Development

Many faculty tell me they hate to “play politics” on their campuses. This concept is a mistaken and dangerous notion – mistaken because getting along with people is a basic human need and does not usually involve running for the US Senate and dangerous because an attitude that social skills are a game played by phonies locks you out from a world of fun and fulfillment in your work relationship. Instead of thinking about campus “politics” consider that there are strategies that help you connect to your fellow humans in ways that smooth out the tough work of the academy and increase your work satisfaction. Since the number one factor in faculty retention is the quality of the relationship with the department chair, both faculty and their chairs owe it to themselves and to their institution to establish as good a working relationship with each other.

Humans are wired to be social. Survival of the individual and the species depends on our ability to connect to others for mutual benefit. Our cave fathers and mother lived in communities for safety and specialization of function. All depended on each other to provide services that no one person could provide for him/herself. Thus, we are hard wired to live and work in communities. No matter how much faculty like the autonomy of their jobs, we must not forget the reality of doing better when we get the support of others. Some of the autonomy that attracts faculty to academia can be our downfall when we try to specialize in being all things to all people. It leads to overwhelm so in academia, supporting and creating mutual harmony in our support systems decreases our own overwhelm and helps each other succeed. It is not game playing or Machiavellian to spend some time and energy building mutually supportive work relationships. You do not need to be best friends with these people. You just need to work with them towards a common goal related to your values such as education or the welfare of the students or the discovery and promulgation of research.

Success depends not on what you know or even who you know but how well you can work with those you know. The research on leadership and social intelligence shows that across diverse fields it is clear that success is 1/3 dependent on technical knowledge and skill in a field and 2/3 dependent on your social skills and how you use them to build professional alliances.

Good professional relationships lead to access to resources. A department chair who can talk to his dean can easily negotiate for resources such as lab space, funding an adjunct positions to further the goals of a department … a faculty member in a good relationship with her chair is in a position to have … favorably. As one chair told me in a workshop this fall, “I try to be fair in the distribution of resources but I find myself saying yes more easily to those faculty who treat me well.”

Networking and keeping in touch with colleagues outside of your department and institution brings new opportunities to you without having to work hard to seek them out. When people have a project for which they need a collaborator with your skills, they are not as likely to think of you unless they have had contact within the last 30 days. With email it is easy to drop quick notes of encouragement and information to appreciative colleagues. Even introverted professor can connect with others without leaving their offices very often.

Loose new associations are valuable because of exposure to differing resources and opportunities. Target an occasion or new group or event to appear at to meet new people.

Meeting and Greeting

When professors take the Myers Briggs Type Indicator, a personal preference instrument, they often score higher in introversion than extroversion showing their preference for hanging out with people they are already acquainted with instead of taking on the energy to meet new people. What they need is an easy to follow system to meet people that is not too anxiety producing.

4 low stress networking principles for introverted professors:
no small talk
no groups
no strangers
no forgetting


When procrastination anxiety plagues you, act and accept your way to progress and success.

© Copyright 2007 Susan Robison. All rights reserved. The above material is copyrighted but you may retransmit or distribute it to whomever you wish as long as not a single word is changed, added or deleted, including the contact information.

CONTACT INFORMATION: Susan Robison, PhD.; 3275 Font Hill Drive; Ellicott City, MD 21042 Voice: 410-465-5892; E-mail: Susan@ProfessorDestressor.com Website: www.ProfessorDestressor.com

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