Since spring is a time for resurrections, or so my Christian friends tell me, I thought I would come back to the bloggy world after almost a year’s absence. If you can’t tell, my administrative position has represented an incredibly difficult and time-consuming shift. I used to try to blog once a week, but I had trouble finding the time to do that in my new job. I have also struggled with not using this blog as a place to discuss work-related issues, because that would be unfair to the people I supervise and the students who are part of the program I oversee. How Matt Reed, aka Dean Dad, does it, I will never know. All I can fathom is that he is far more skilled, has more years of experience in administration, and follows a routine better than I could ever hope to do.
I have learned so many things that you hear about in leadership trainings, but that mean little until the rubber meets the road... or you spend more time with the university counsel. Here is just a list of things I have learned over the last two years in my administrative role:
- Having to work in an office during work hours is a blessing and a curse. It is a blessing because you can get what you need, when you need it, thanks to staff, cabinets of supplies, student workers, colleagues, and other folks. You can also have opportunities to catch up with people and shoot the shit, or you can hide out and work. At home, I could do what I wanted, but I was occasionally lonely. Unfortunately, it is a curse because sometimes I don’t want to come in, dress “professionally,” and deal with interruptions, requests, concerns, issues, problems, and just day-to-day dramas of working with people in a people-related business. I occasionally miss my private time and space to read, think, and write. And I miss working at home in comfortable clothes. I have had to learn to do things like grade, write papers, and analyze data in my office.
- You have to approach people in different ways, tailored to who they are and how they perceive the world, and you need to simultaneously be yourself. While this seems like a paradox, it is honestly not any different from what we do everyday. My in-laws are pretty old-fashioned in many ways, so I try to curb my cursing when I am spending time with them. I am not a different person with them, but I emphasize one part of my personality (the friendly, warm, loving daughter-in-law) over the others (the Jersey girl) in my interactions with the ‘rents. I have to do the same with the many folks I encounter all day: newbie faculty, established faculty, my staff, the Dean’s staff, undergraduate and graduate students, student services folks, etc. Just like my boss has to pull on his tie for meetings with the Provost, I can tone it up or down, depending on who sits in the other chair. I try to think of it as being my best self for whomever I am with, while not straying from my core values and beliefs. And if I occasionally curse in a meeting, everybody can get over it.
- Never underestimate how much time you will spend dealing with other people’s bad decisions. Whether it is the cheating student, the faculty member who cannot stick to their syllabus, the administrator who promises staff members one thing and then doesn’t follow through, or your own disorganization, bad decisions eat up administrators time like a flesh-eating bacteria. And there really is no need to get angry or worked up about it... It comes with the territory and nothing you do, no system you put in place, no set of rules or policies and procedures will keep these messed up things from winding up on your desk.
- There is probably someone else who ought to at least be aware of this information. This would otherwise be known as the “Communication is key” rule. Every administrator needs to spend an inordinate amount of time on two things: identifying who has information you need, and identifying people with whom you should share information. The information sharing needs to be timely, consistent, and widespread. Even confidential personnel matters usually involve 5-6 people and multiple offices (e.g., HR, legal counsel, the administrator(s) above you, unions, etc.). It isn’t even about “No man (sic) is an island.” It is like learning how to play telephone well.
- Administration is learning to manage your own worst traits. This week, I learned that I am controlling. “Come on, Lesboprof!” you may think, “You don’t seem so bad.” Well, folks, I am here to say that I am controlling about very specific things: anything with my name on it and anything that represents me (or the department) in public. I don’t care what you do, how you dress, or how you address me. I do care about the following:
- the website for the program is not full of errors
- the event flier for the department uses a limited number of fonts and looks attractive
- the joint conference proposal we submit reads like we are smart and thoughtful
- the faculty and staff treat students with dignity and respect
- the faculty and staff plays well with others on campus
All I can do here is manage. I can’t overcome my controlling nature. Honestly, it is part of what makes me a good scholar and administrator. But I have to keep a grip on it, because it can drive folks crazy and lead to bad outcomes if it gets out of control.
All told, I am still loving the administrative role. I get overwhelmed, sometimes, and I can be hard on myself because I hate the learning process as much as I love it. When I think ahead to goals for next year, I am hoping to learn to achieve a better work-life balance, focused on better eating, exercise, and time with my partner. I have to start moving into a creative role, rather than staying in fix-it mode. I need to relax a little of my control to allow those I lead to shine and blossom in their own rights. And, finally, I hope to resurrect Lesboprof in all its bloggy glory, and see what fun we could have this summer and into the future.
Happy End-of semester!