You’re not a volunteer

conceptual picture with keep trying and quit road signs

You are now the Head of your Department, or an Associate Dean, or an Area representative, or Chair of the university’s tenure and promotion committee….. Although you might feel like a volunteer, don’t act like one. And by that, I mean, don’t act like you can quit anytime you feel like it just because you’re not being paid (or paid commensurately).

Although you might feel like you’ve been dragged kicking and screaming into administrative leadership, you still agreed to it. You’re an adult; and probably a tenured adult. No one forced you to do anything. So own it.

Don’t use the threat of quitting your leadership position as a bargaining chip when you’re not getting your way. That’s not leadership; that’s a tantrum. For people to follow you, they must feel like you’re invested in managing the problems of the group. That you’ll be there when times are difficult. Those are the times when leaders are necessary. You are shouldering the burdens of administration so others are free to pursue their work unencumbered.

You are not entitled to hold people hostage just because you happen to hold a job no one wants. The threat of abdication is a sign of self-involvement and immaturity, which is the antithesis of leadership. Ask yourself why you chose to do the job. Was it to make change? To help others? To fix problems? These are laudable goals that are for the benefit of others. People are willing to work with you if they think your aims are the same and you are willing to self-sacrifice to achieve them.

Alternatively, did you choose to do the job because you don’t know how to say “no”? To look good? For respect? These are goals focused on the self, and if those are your reasons, you are destined for a breakdown. Don’t expect accolades for taking on a leadership role that others don’t want. Most people are ultimately focused on their own problems, especially when under stress. What distinguish leaders from others is their ability to focus on the needs of others, even at the expense of their own well-being.

Leadership is tough mostly because you are responsible for others–for their well-being and for their actions. And these same people will probably not thank you for it. But it can be a gratifying experience if you are truly interested in the well-being of others and you can find a way to make their lives better. It will also tell you something about yourself and whether you really are the selfless, empathetic, helpful person you think you are.

Leadership: Do it. Don’t do it. But don’t say you’ll do it and then abandon your post when times get tough. You ultimately cause more harm than if you said “no” in the first place. Not just because people have to spend time filling the vacuum you’ve left when they didn’t expect to; your actions are negatively affecting students–directly or indirectly. Those are not the actions of a leader, let alone an educator.

 

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