Departmental Culture and Chair Leadership Styles

Every department has a culture and culture tends to be self-perpetuating, making the move to new leadership hard.
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 management styles. However, breaking through this culture barrier is necessary for forward movement. Consult with other chairs and senior advisors to establish what is actual policy and what is department tradition.

Some aspects of departmental culture to examine:

  • Are decision-making processes transparent?
  • Is teaching effectiveness a high priority or an off-limit 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.