Journal of Nursing Education

Personal Reflections on Leadership 

Faculty Roles in Supporting New Deans and Directors

Lyn Reilly, EdD, RN; Karen H. Morin, DSN, RN

Abstract

Although the topic is not frequently addressed in the literature, faculty members are influential in leadership transitions within colleges. New leaders are chosen for their experience; vision; and ability to work with faculty, students, staff, and upper-level administrators to clarify and implement their vision for academic departments, schools, or colleges. However, a degree of uncertainty is involved when people learn to work with each other. Faculty play an important role in facilitating interactions and enhancing leader success. This article describes strategies faculty can use during these transitions.

Dr. Reilly is Associate Professor, Department of Nursing, College of Arts & Science, State University of West Georgia, Carrolton, Georgia; and Dr. Morin is Professor, Bronson School of Nursing, Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, Michigan.

Address correspondence to Lyn Reilly, EdD, RN, Associate Professor, Department of Nursing, College of Arts & Science, State University of West Georgia, Carrolton, GA 30118; e-mail: lreilly@westga.edu.

Abstract

Although the topic is not frequently addressed in the literature, faculty members are influential in leadership transitions within colleges. New leaders are chosen for their experience; vision; and ability to work with faculty, students, staff, and upper-level administrators to clarify and implement their vision for academic departments, schools, or colleges. However, a degree of uncertainty is involved when people learn to work with each other. Faculty play an important role in facilitating interactions and enhancing leader success. This article describes strategies faculty can use during these transitions.

Dr. Reilly is Associate Professor, Department of Nursing, College of Arts & Science, State University of West Georgia, Carrolton, Georgia; and Dr. Morin is Professor, Bronson School of Nursing, Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, Michigan.

Address correspondence to Lyn Reilly, EdD, RN, Associate Professor, Department of Nursing, College of Arts & Science, State University of West Georgia, Carrolton, GA 30118; e-mail: lreilly@westga.edu.

The arrival of a new academic administrator, such as a dean or director, is a time of celebration, as well as uncertainty. Faculty are happy that a void has been filled, but may wonder what changes will occur, what effect these changes will have on them, and whether they will embrace these changes.

Although the literature provides information about what prerequisite skills and characteristics make deans and directors effective and successful (De Young, 2000; De Young & Bliss, 1995; Redman, 2001; Short, 1997; Siler & Kleiner, 2001; Zambroski & Freeman, 2004), little information exists about the role faculty members play in facilitating successful transition. In fact, some may argue that faculty do not have a role in this process. However, we believe, and the literature supports (Hamilton, 2000; Slevin, 2000; Tierney, 2003), that faculty play a vital role in academic governance, including fostering the success of new deans or directors.

This article provides insight into the crucial leadership roles faculty play in enhancing the success of their leaders. A brief discussion of the development of a faculty member provides the context for suggested strategies that faculty can use to facilitate leader success.

The Development of a Faculty Member

Learning how to be a faculty member occurs in a variety of ways. Some individuals assume faculty roles after completion of their basic education in nursing, while others first spend considerable time in clinical practice. Typically, nurses practice clinically for a few years, establishing experiential expertise in a clinical specialty. Then, at some point in their professional practice, they consider that teaching nursing might be an enjoyable and interesting career. For example, a nurse may have really enjoyed patient teaching or staff development; the extension of that idea leads to consideration of becoming a faculty member.

Additional education is usually required when nurses decide to become faculty members. According to Siler and Kleiner (2001), new faculty are not prepared for the complex role they assume when they join a faculty. Most master's degree programs focus on a clinical specialization; less than 3% of all master's degree graduates in nursing have any preparation in nursing education (National League for Nursing, 2002). Because new faculty members are typically recruited from the ranks of new graduates of master's or doctoral programs, they enter academia with little idea of what is expected of them and what they must do to be successful (Siler & Kleiner, 2001).

Although the roles faculty assume depend on the nature of the academic institution, faculty members are usually expected to teach, provide service, and undertake scholarly works (Gregory, 2003). The emphasis placed on each of these activities varies by institution. Consequently, teaching and service may have greater value in a community college, whereas research and scholarship may be more highly valued in a research-intensive institution (Zambroski & Freeman, 2004). Regardless of institution, faculty success is usually predicated on individual performance, so teamwork tends not to be the norm—an important element to keep in mind regarding facilitating new leader success.

Faculty work is not limited to the individual pursuit of the tripartite mission of academia. Arreola, Theall, and Aleamoni (2003) indicated that faculty need skills and expertise in areas such as conflict management and policy analysis and development. In addition, a critical component of the faculty role is participation in shared governance (Hamilton, 2000; Tierney & Minor, 2003). Faculty expect to have a voice in how their department or institution function. As Bright and Richards (2001) indicated, “nothing irritates the faculty more than the suggestion that the dean ‘runs the college’” (p. 75). Given this, as well as faculty understanding of the academic role, how can faculty members demonstrate leadership qualities during the transition period of welcoming a new dean or director?

Demonstrating Leadership During Transitions

Faculty members and new deans or directors function in reciprocal roles that involve mutual interaction (L. Taylor, personal communication, June 14, 2004). Therefore, it seems reasonable to assert that faculty can themselves demonstrate leadership during a new leader's transition. An important first step in demonstrating leadership is being actively engaged in the selection of the new leader. Such an undertaking provides faculty with an idea of what goals the new leader hopes to accomplish, what areas of growth are possible for faculty and the program, and whether the new leader will “fit” with the corporate culture of the institution. In addition, asking thought-provoking questions during the interview process conveys faculty recognition of the dynamic and critical relationship between faculty and administrative leadership.

Engaging in the Selection of New Leaders

Deans and directors are selected for these leadership positions because they demonstrate the skills, abilities, and characteristics considered critical to a particular program or school (De Young, 2000). Deans and directors must be visionary regarding the future of the academic programs they oversee. New leadership provides an opportunity to reassess program goals and revisit the vision of the school so that faculty consensus can be obtained about future directions. New leadership may also mean a new and fresh start for a department, school, or college, or an opportunity to implement new programs. Thus, a critical element in leadership transition is faculty openness to new opportunities. Openness to new ideas does not mean that faculty abdicate their curricular or program responsibilities; rather, it means that leader success is enhanced when there is congruence between the goals of the institution, dean or director, and the faculty, and when faculty consider themselves partners with the new leader in program endeavors.

Deans and directors must be visionary because they play an essential role in the viability of their programs (Bright & Richards, 2001). As the administrative heads of programs, they set the tone for the environment in which programs operate and are responsible for assuring that the mission and goals of programs are met. In addition, they determine who is hired into faculty positions and work with current faculty to decide the type of orientation and mentoring needed for new faculty. Deans and directors are vested in promoting faculty growth and development, and faculty, in turn, have a responsibility to provide input about whom should be hired and to offer suggestions for enhancing faculty development. This means that faculty should share their perceptions of the strengths and weaknesses of the program with their new leaders. This is information the new leader may not wish to hear but needs to. Consider the following hypothetical example:

A new leader wishes to implement a change in program offerings. Although the faculty support the change, they believe they lack sufficient information. Consequently, the change is not implemented as quickly as the new leader wishes.

In this situation, faculty should provide the new leader with information about their curricular concerns, difficulties with clinical site identification, the need for clinical sites to be better informed about the proposed changes, and the need for students to be prepared more comprehensively prior to making the change. In this example, faculty could help the new leader by identifying problems and offering thoughtful and relevant solutions. In addition, faculty could seek clarification quickly about decisions the dean made or actions they were required to take.

Facilitating a Smooth Transition

The arrival of a new dean or director also provides an opportunity for faculty to feel good about what they have accomplished and contributed to the program in the past (A. McCaleb, personal communication, June 16, 2004). One way to build on these good feelings is by publicly celebrating the arrival of the new leader. Faculty are instrumental in orchestrating the welcome; they know other academic leaders within the institution and are familiar with the culture of the organization. In addition, faculty know influential community dignitaries, including nurse leaders, whose presence could enhance the celebration. Including community leaders becomes even more critical in multi-disciplinary institutions because introducing the new leader to the professional community of nurses conveys respect for the new leader, the school, and professional colleagues.

A new leader's ability to communicate effectively is essential because communication provides faculty with the opportunity to get to know what the new leader knows and how he or she presents himself or herself (K. Grams, personal communication, June 20, 2004). Faculty can demonstrate leadership by serving as a barometer by which to evaluate the effectiveness of the new leader's communication. Honest and open dialogue between the leader and faculty requires acceptance of responsibility and accountability on the part of faculty and openness on the part of the leader. Dialogue between faculty and leader builds trust, an essential underpinning of shared governance (Tierney, 2003). For example, faculty in a department of nursing within a larger multidisciplinary college demonstrate leadership and trust when they acknowledge that the dean makes decisions within broader contexts that require consideration of more than the desires of the nursing faculty. To encourage faculty understanding, new leaders may choose to share information or directives that have been generated by those to whom the new leader reports (K. Grams, personal communication, June 20, 2004).

Enhancing the Leader's Success

We believe faculty members are vital to enhancing the success of a new dean or director, thereby enhancing the success of the academic program. Faculty can also serve as allies for new leaders. According to Heifetz and Linsky (2002), allies share many of the leader's values and have a broad organizational perspective. In addition, because they have a variety of loyalties, they can help a new leader “understand competing stakes, conflicting views, and missing elements in your [the leader's] grasp of a situation” (p. 199). One director stated that she was lucky because the previous director of the program had remained as a faculty member and had been of great assistance in orienting her to the position. The previous director offered advice when asked and support when needed, and the transition was made with little difficulty (K. Grams, personal communication, May 3, 2004). This is a wonderful example of how senior faculty members can serve as allies for new leaders.

Transitions in formal academic leadership also provide faculty with the opportunity to clarify their personal vision, values, and goals (Kouzes & Posner, 2002), to evaluate whether their vision and values are consistent with those of the new leader, and to consider tangible ways to support the new leader. Faculty, individually and collectively, exert significant informal power and can be a hindrance if they do not agree with the direction their new leaders have chosen. Senior faculty members can significantly affect the success or failure of a new leader by influencing the rest of the faculty and generating unrest if they are unhappy with the actions of the new leader. Senior faculty members have histories in their institutions and an appreciation of institutional politics, and can provide an informed perspective on academic issues.

Even when the faculty relationship with the dean is not positive, we believe faculty have not only the right but also the responsibility to work with the dean to meet the goals of the program. Should faculty values continue to conflict with those of the new leader, faculty may wish to consider whether remaining at that particular institution is the best choice for them. Remaining may not only cause undue friction but also undermine the stability and reputation of the academic unit. Conversely, deciding to leave could demonstrate the leadership potential of the individual faculty member, while providing the new leader with the opportunity to implement needed changes.

Because any transition can be a lengthy process, faculty may question how much time should be allocated to facilitate new leader transition. It usually takes approximately 2 years for academic leaders to transition into the new position (A. McCaleb, personal communication, June 16, 2004). Thus, faculty can demonstrate leadership by allowing sufficient time for this transition. As one retired department chair stated, “the faculty needs to cut the dean or chair a little slack and give him or her a chance to succeed” (J. Barnhardt, personal communication, April 22, 2004).

Leadership in Unusual Circumstances

There may be times when faculty members must assume leadership positions because they have determined that, for the well-being of the school, a current dean or director can no longer remain in position, regardless of whether sufficient time for transition has elapsed. An example of this type of leadership is when faculty members, as a group, give “no confidence” votes to their deans (Redman, 2001), but such leadership action on the part of faculty is not undertaken lightly. Typically, faculty exert this type of leadership only under dire conditions, such as when proposed changes jeopardize the integrity of the program and the reputation of the school; when the continued inability of the new leader to make and act on decisions, or meet the requests of his or her administrative superiors impedes efficient functioning of the school; when the leader exerts undue pressure on faculty promotion and tenure policies; or when the leader's relationship with faculty members is so negative that the work of the program cannot be accomplished. These are areas typically under the supervision of faculty academic governance (Tierney, 2003).

Faculty demonstrate leadership by being knowledgeable about and following appropriate faculty grievance procedures. In some instances, this is made operational through a faculty organization committee. It is imperative for faculty to share their concerns with their leaders before they seek alternative solutions. As Tierney and Minor (2003) indicated, “When constituencies have differing perceptions regarding what role faculty have in governance, there is likely to be less trust” (p. 11). Effective faculty interaction with new leaders is difficult in an environment of distrust.

Conclusion

Deans and faculty members can energize each other when working within the framework of shared governance. Both have expectations of the other that should be openly expressed and respected. Faculty cannot function without a leader, and deans, as leaders, need strong, committed faculty to fulfill the mandate of nursing programs to prepare competent, professional clinicians. When faculty and leaders work together, they create a synergy that can have a profound positive impact on education and health care. Working together moves a tenuous situation into the realm of reality and opportunity. The challenge is for faculty to embrace their shared governance responsibilities through positive and growth-producing behaviors that yield a win-win situation for students, faculty, administrators, institutions, and the profession.

References

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10.3928/01484834-20041101-09

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