Like in any large organization, appointed leadership within Christian higher education can result in temporary havoc among faculty and staff, negatively affecting the working culture and climate.
One reason for arriving at this state of havoc is the fact that leadership can often be chosen based on personality. Even when this is true, followers get used to the personality traits of those in charge and learn how to negotiate idiosyncrasies and tendencies. However, when a leadership style is incompatible with the department, or when poor judgement and bad decisions surface, faculty might enter one of three coping behaviors: retreat, resistance, or restoration.
All three have the potential for harm and for growth and recovery. Therefore, mid-level leadership should not react harshly or quickly but use self-reflection and introspection to aid in the process of moving forward positively.
When Faculty Retreat or Resist
Here is some insight on these three behaviors to help with that self-reflection period:
Retreat – Authoritarian, rather than authentic and caring leadership, is one kind of leadership style that tends to limit organizational growth and cause faculty to retreat. Retreat looks like poor participation in meetings, disinterest in proposed innovation, an unwillingness to take on additional duties, and general disengagement—silence.
The cost of retreat is a dissatisfaction with the working environment that may possibly spill over to viewing the entire institution negatively; it can lead co-workers to become dissatisfied as well.
Dissatisfaction caused by retreat results in stagnation for the department and individual.
The benefit of becoming aware of the behavior of retreat, while seemingly oxymoronic, is the opportunity for reflection on and the reassessment of events or decisions leading to the retreat.
When done in the spirit of seeking renewal, applying the Christian mandate to love others, and by viewing the situation from a reflective distance, retreat can lead to resiliency and restoration, as discussed below.
Resist – When leadership tells faculty to perform a task that violates their conscience, for example, they might retreat as mentioned above or they might resist. Resistance carries many connotations but, in our case here, it means to withstand, endure, and outlast rather than to oppose or obstruct.
Withstanding decisions that oppose one’s ethical convictions requires discernment. On one hand, faculty might have a desire to stand aside in favor of harmony. On the other hand, they may desire to stand firmly to uphold principles. The angst caused by this tension can silence many non-tenured faculty.
Once leadership discerns that this resistance is a result of conscious objections, they can and should encourage faculty and other co-workers to voice alternate viewpoints respectfully and often. This kind of positive resistance is based in the concept of resiliency.
In addition to encouraging this freedom of thought, another aspect to fostering resiliency is helping faculty and staff foster a continued devotion and dedication to their vocation with a focus on personal enhancement and growth. By learning new skills and using them to advance their own profession, faculty and staff can become more resilient and, thus, resistant to any insensitive and ineffective leadership structure.
Opportunities for Faculty Restoration
When thinking of restoration from a Christian perspective, we think of repairing relationship and community, but doing so requires a collective and common view of the leadership culture.
When perceptions between leaders and their followers differ, efforts to repair any situation can be thwarted. IIn such circumstances, viewing the concept of restoration as reconstruction allows individuals to reframe their place within the organization or department.
When retreating and resisting, faculty find themselves standing on the edge of the community looking in; they view it differently than before. Standing on the edge looking in provides a view that not only allows for criticism but also loyalty.
If handled with wisdom, prayer, and discernment, leadership can steer this change in perception toward restoring the faculty’s sense of place within the work environment. To restore faculty is to help them become resilient and stand up for principle while maintaining loyalty.
Leadership is often transient. The ability of faculty to weave their professional roles in, out, and around the decisions of leadership (who might be under their own pressures from leadership above them) can cause faculty to resist or retreat.
Effective leaders will become aware of these behaviors. They will listen to the voices of those who are resisting and retreating and help them to become resilient and restore the work environment to a place of productivity and shalom.