Serenity and Academic Leadership

Academic Leader

In an exercise I often use in administrative workshops, participants are asked to select one of their favorite words and then to reflect on what that word might reveal about their philosophies of academic leadership. It inevitably happens that the participants ask me to do the same, and the resulting discussions are always interesting. As it happens, my favorite word in the English language is “serenity,” and, as one workshop participant phrased it rather bluntly, “If that’s what you’re looking for in life, you’ve chosen the wrong profession.” That conclusion certainly seems reasonable. Academic administration frequently requires leaders to enter into situations fraught with conflict, strong emotions, hurt feelings, constant change, confrontation, and moral indignation. At times, academic leaders are lightning rods for anger, simply because they happen to be in charge, and people often have a need to direct their anger at something. How can a person who values peaceful co-existence survive in, let alone succeed at, this type of daily challenge? Is there any role for serenity in academic leadership today?

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