September 3, 2019

5 key resources of leadership

Your new team is all ears. What would you say?

When I became a department chair over a decade ago, I was asked to hold a “first day” meeting with my team – faculty, staff and others, all of whom would be looking to me for leadership over the coming months and years.  I spent a long time thinking about what I should say to the team.  What follows is my best recollection of what I covered in my opening remarks that day (edited by time and memory).

My term as department chair will be determined a success or failure, in my opinion, based on three things:

  1. Whether I am a good steward of the resources entrusted to me.
  2. How well I communicate my vision for where we are going and persuade you to go there with me.
  3. The way in which I treat people – at all levels of this organization.

I want to start today by explaining to you my understanding of stewardship, because it forms the basis for how I will make decisions going forward.  The way I see it, there are five resources at my disposal as a leader:

  1. People and their time and effort – you are the greatest resource I have access to, and that means the way in which I treat you is critically important. You can make or break our collective success.  I can do nothing as a leader without you.
  2. Space – one of the operational challenges (and opportunities) of this role is that I do in fact have the resource of space to share – room to do your work, room for us to gather as a team, room for others to come together with us to accomplish things.
  3. Equipment – like space, the ability to procure and deploy equipment in the service of our collective vision is a valuable tool in helping us achieve the vision I set out and that I hope you buy into.
  4. Money – this resource actually makes it possible for me to pay for the first three resources, as a first order of business. Beyond just “paying the bills,” securing funding to invest in our future and to make strategic expenditures that get us further along the road we want to travel is a key task for me as a leader.
  5. Good will – you might be surprised by this one. There is a certain amount of good will that you all have created by the work you do, and that previous leaders have created by their stewardship.  I must invest in keeping that good will and growing it.

You might wonder why I am telling you this.  I share these thoughts for two reasons.

First, there is something that those resources have in common.  The only one of them that I (or you) can create de novo is good will.  The rest depend on our track record, our political savvy and the vagaries of time and resources within the larger institution.  But each of those resources can evaporate in an instant, leaving us with a very difficult path to rebuilding them.

In light of all of this, here is the second reason I am sharing this with you.  Each of you will come to me, from time to time, with a request for resources (time, money, equipment, space).  I won’t always be able to say “yes.”  But I can promise you this.  You can trust that I will make my decision from the perspective of being a good steward for all the resources at my disposal, and if I must say “no” to your request, I will commit to helping you understand why I made that decision.  That promise is one that the best boss/leader I have ever met made to me, and I pass it along to you.

From that framework, I hope that we can craft a vision together for where we want to go and how to get there.  Thank you for the privilege of working with you.

Your perspective

What are your thoughts about these resources?  Are there others I could have mentioned?  And does that approach to transparency still seem strategically appropriate today?

Last updated September 3, 2019

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