College of Arts and Sciences

Departmental Culture and Chair Leadership Styles

Every department has a culture and culture tends to be self-perpetuating. Put another way, change is hard. If your department has been doing something the same way for decades, your colleagues may take offense when you ask the 'why' questions. We've been doing it this way forever; therefore, it must be right. Myths abound about rules that don't exist.

Many factors can contribute to the departmental culture: size, discipline, the number of long-time faculty, the number of tenure track versus non-tenure track faculty, and previous chairs' management styles, to name a few. Identifying which elements of your departmental culture are healthy and which need to be changed isn't necessarily easy. If you get out and talk to chairs from other departments or other universities you may find that practices you thought were the norm aren't so normal after all.

Some aspects of departmental culture you might want to ponder:

  • Are decision-making processes transparent?
  • Is teaching effectiveness a high priority or an off-limits topic? Somewhere in between?
  • Do your faculty share updates on their research?
  • How are advising and mentoring duties distributed?
  • How often are your faculty on campus? Daily? Do you have M/W/F faculty and T/TH faculty?
  • Does everyone engage in departmental service or do a few do all the heavy lifting?
  • Is there an expectation that everyone will participate in faculty meetings?
  • Do you have warring factions (concentrations) or is there an overall spirit of collegiality?
  • Do you have departmental social functions?

Your own personality and leadership style will impact the department too.

  • Are you more authoritarian or egalitarian?
  • Are you a hall-walker or do you prefer to conduct business by email?
  • Are you comfortable when faculty and staff approach you with personal problems?
  • What is your approach to handling conflict?
  • Are you comfortable delegating critical assignments?
  • Do you see opportunity everywhere or do you tend more towards skepticism?

Take some time to assess the lay of the land carefully before you tackle major changes. Before you go public you'll want to cultivate a few well-respected allies in the department who are willing to lead by example.

Part I: Overview

Text Only | Print | Got a Question? Ask TOM | Contact Us | Memphis, TN 38152 | 901/678-2000 | Copyright 2015 University of Memphis | Important Notice | Last Updated: 
Last Updated: 1/14/13