As a typical professor of Science, I know little about effective management skills, except what I have been able to pick up along the way by experimenting on students and postdocs. Most of my faculty colleagues have had similar experiences (i.e., a lack thereof), including those who find themselves in charge of committees, departments, and so on. I should therefore have sympathy for these colleagues when they struggle to "manage" us faculty, surely a difficult task for anyone.
And I do have sympathy, to some extent. What I hate, though, is the Scold Approach of management used by some chairpersons of various academic groups. I have recently experienced two modes of the Scold Approach:
Mode 1: in which someone in charge of something scolds a group of people in advance of their having done anything wrong. That is, the scolding is proactive, based on the assumption that some or all of us are likely to screw up, do something annoying, or waste the chairperson's time. This assumption may well be based on experience, but is it effective? Does it in fact decrease the chances of people doing the things they are criticized in advance for hypothetically doing?
Mode 2: in which someone in charge of something scolds certain unnamed people (typically, just one or a few) in a larger group of people, most or all of whom are blameless of the incident provoking the scolding. Recently, while sitting in a group that was scolded for something rather strange, I then spent the next 5-10 minutes sifting through the possibilities to understand the reason for, and the targets of, this criticism. I concluded that one or two people who were at the meeting were being scolded for possibly not being at the meeting, although they were definitely there and had not missed any meetings for months. As far as I could tell, all of us at the meeting were vaguely warned that we should all be at the meeting because 1-2 people might not have attended even though they did.
Is the Scold Approach an approved management technique, widely known as an example of best practices for persons tasked with producing deliverables whose outcomes for stakeholders need to be assessed? (for example)
This approach doesn't work well on me, perhaps for the same reason that use of the terms stakeholders and deliverables in an academic context makes me queasy. That is, being proactively scolded does not inspire me to be a better person who follows the rules in a timely way.
In place of mode 1, I would instead prefer being made aware of the rules/guidelines/deadlines/policies and politely reminded of what is required, and in place of mode 2, well, I would just get rid of mode 2. If there is a specific issue that potentially affects a small number of people, why not just talk to those individuals and not bother the rest of the group unless it becomes relevant to do so?
Those would be my preferences, but perhaps my approach would lead to misbehavior and chaos. I haven't found that to be the case with my gentle, non-scolding approach to parenting, which may or may not be different in important ways from being in charge of an academic committee or unit.
Perhaps mode 1 does decrease problems and makes a committee or unit run more smoothly? And perhaps mode 2 is a good way of reminding the group about procedures and expectations? I am hoping that readers will chime in and say "No no no, those are terrible ways to lead a group of people. It is much better to be nice and efficient than to be scolding and random. The next time someone proactively scolds you like that, you should snarl at them and show your fangs."
But feel free to dash these hopes.
9 months ago