Inspiring Success as a Department Head
When I first began serving as a department head, it was the best of times . . . and the worst of times. In the first few months, there was a great deal of involvement and activity. There were several opportunities to make differences in the lives of University of North Georgia (UNG) students, faculty, and staff. I had a range of ideas that I felt would be helpful and well-received on all sides. I had discussions with an array of individuals who were not only eager to provide their input to me but also eager to hear my input on various matters related to the university.
A short while later, I began to see the other side of life as a department head. There are demands that come from students, demands that come from faculty, and demands that come from administrators. Their requests ran the whole gamut. Some requests were straightforward and practical. Some were nuanced and very involved. The issues and challenges came from all sides. Another department head compared the role of department head to that of a three-sided drum. The beats come from all sides.
It was at that point that I began to realize that the role of department head is somewhat similar to that of an umpire. In some instances, a department head has to provide responses that will be well-received, and in other instances, a department head has to provide responses that will not be received well at all. The goal is – or at least should be – to provide information in an objective, professional manner that addresses the needs of all constituencies as equitably as possible. A good umpire should make calls dispassionately, and a good department head should essentially do the same.
As I gained more experience as a department head, I ultimately came to the conclusion that the position was not as much about governing as it was about serving. The most reasonable aspiration for a department head is to put faculty, staff, and students in situations in which they can succeed and then get out of their way. Around that time my brother, a college basketball coach, introduced me to the concept of the “servant leader” (Greenleaf & Spears, 2002). He uses the concept within his program to inspire players to work harder and dedicate themselves to their team’s success.
The same applies to the functions of a department head. The goal is not or should not be to accumulate power. Instead, we have the opportunity and the obligation to improve specific aspects of the lives of individuals in our departments and our institution. That should be our top priority. By giving to others, we help them become more knowledgeable, more capable members of the UNG community. In the long term, this builds a stronger community and results in more efficient functioning of the department and the institution.
Greenleaf, R. K., & Spears, L. C. (2002). Servant leadership: A journey into the nature of legitimate power and greatness. New York, NY: Paulist Press.