Becoming Chair, thinking about leadership

June 16, 2007


I must confess that I hear an enormous sucking sound the closer I get to July 1, 2007–the day I become the new Chairman (Chair is the non-sexist version) of the UCLA Music Department. I know that scientists do blood tests on people like me and find that the testosterone levels are rising as well as my serotonin levels – all part of my body’s plan to ramp me up to become an alpha-male – at least for a while. And at the end of my chairmanship, those levels will slide back to civilian levels.

I have been reading books on leadership; funny, I never learned about leadership in college. One doesn’t always truly respect and appreciate good leadership until one faces it themselves. I now look back at Chairs and leaders I’ve known with a different perspective.

The aspect of “professional distance” is one that each leader must determine themselves. Measuring tough love with my own cosmic predilection to like and care about people will be an interesting challenge. Learning to be oneself in a leadership role should be simple, but is surprisingly tricky. I must realize that I am no longer only Roger, colleague and friend, but also Roger, the Chair; and must incorporate that subtle difference into my existing personality and life habits, both on campus and in the community–but NOT at home, thank you very much.

I’ve been meeting with the staff over the past few weeks, learning what they do and listening to them. It’s a terrific group and I look forward to working with them. Next I’ll be meeting with a variety of Chairs on campus to eagerly listen to their advice. Then, next fall, I’ll meet with all the faculty, individually, draw a line in the sand, and move on. After a few weeks I’ll hold a town hall type meeting for all faculty, staff, and students.

Leadership carries with it a certain amount of stress. I’ve learned that we CHOOSE to be stressed. A little bundle of neurons in our brain starts developing whenever we activate that choice. I am making a concerted effort to choose NOT to stress out, but develop a neuron bundle that tells my body to secrete mellow but firm biochemicals. And it’s working.

[Image: RB’s scan of a plate from “Taps for Private Tussie” (1943) by Jesse Stuart, with illustrations by Thomas Hart Benton.]


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