Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Boundaries and other administrative metaphors

I have been re-reading Tina Gunsalus' "The College Administrator's Survival Guide,"(left) and one lesson stands out above all others: Maintain your boundaries. My beloved partner is an expert in boundary maintenance, and she has additional words of wisdom. Boundaries, she notes, are like the yellow dotted lines in the road; you usually follow them, but if you cross them for any reason, be very aware and intentional about it. There are reasons to cross the lines while driving: to avoid an accident, to pass a car, and so on. But just as you don't cross the double lines that demarcate an unsafe space in the road for passing, such as a blind curve, you don't blithely cross a boundary with a colleague or subordinate unless you have thought it through.

For example, what are the long-term consequences of sharing very personal information with a student? (Is there some education-related purpose for sharing? Would it be a problem if s/he shared the information with other students or faculty? Could this sharing set up a new relationships that would make others uncomfortable or jealous? Could it be seen by the student as a come on?) When would it be appropriate to hug someone who reports to you? (Suggestions include when someone s/he cares about has been hurt or died or when you are leaving the job. And always with the caveat that s/he seems comfortable and open to it.)

I am trying to live into my boundary keeping by not starting my job until I actually am getting paid. It isn't easy, and I am not quite keeping my boundaries firm. Even though my start date is still in the future, I have met with a couple colleagues, responded to work email, and started reviewing materials related to the program. That said, I am trying to keep it all to a minimum, while letting myself ease into the new job. I hope that doing a few minor tasks in the interim will help keep me from being completely overwhelmed when I arrive for my official first day.

Other great lessons from Tina include:
  • taking time to think before you act (using lines like, "I have to do a little research on that before I can respond")
  • being consistent and dependable (i.e., do what you are supposed to do)
  • communicate with everyone (i.e., get back to people, even just to tell them that it will take longer to respond than expected)
  • ask for help when you need it (i.e., the university lawyer is your friend)
None of these are earth-shattering revelations, but instead they act as good reminders to a beleaguered new administrator. I hope not to be beleaguered myself, but I can feel the impending weight of this new position. I am glad Tina can help me get my head in the game as I ready for kickoff.

1 comment:

susan said...

That first lesson you mention in the list at the end is one of the best early advice I got in my administrative career. The dean who hired me to run a first-year writing told me to remember that it was always ok to say "Let me think about that and get back to you." So true. Not getting drawn into others' urgency is so important.

Best wishes for the new job--sounds like you have a great sense of self going into it. Thanks for all these reminders (which are helpful to review even for those of in continuing positions).