I'm fortunate to be chair of a department in which two of my colleagues are former chairs. The department has grown considerably, and one served for a short term and another for more than a decade, so we have all had rather different experiences as chair, but I'm still quite glad for the chance to talk about being chair of a large department with numerous subfields with people who can picture what it's like. (Side note: I'm discovering that I'm turning into each of my predecessors in different ways--sometimes, I start a task, and think, "oh, this is just like that time when Shorter Term Former Chair asked us to..." or "wait, didn't Longer Term Former Chair once send a very funny memo about this topic?" But that's another post, the ways we internalize leadership styles from others)
I asked my colleagues to meet with me earlier this summer, just to talk about my first year. In the course of the conversation, one of my colleagues said that he is an introvert. I was a little surprised at that, actually; I wouldn't have pegged him for the most extroverted man in the department, but he is so good at organizing groups that I guess I'd always thought of him as reasonably extroverted. My surprise continued when my colleague confessed that as chair he was actually driven crazy by me and a number of our colleagues who never responded to proposals on e-mail, but would rather show up in a meeting and discuss them. "You feed off other people, because you're an extrovert. But for an introvert like me, that was so draining." This brought me up short. Me? feed off other people? I think not. So we sat there, totally surprised to discover we're both pretty intense Is on the myers briggs personality scale. (I think one reason I end up as chair or president of pretty much anything I join is in part because administrative roles give me a job to do, and that makes my shyness manageable. I know what to talk to people about when I'm a leader, and I like that.)
Last year, I posted a bit about my take on department meetings. I am good at running meetings, and I enjoyed how we used them last year as a whole department, but my colleague made me see that I need a more nuanced approach to involving people in decisions. My own approach has been heavily dependent on categorizing colleagues as whiners or not whiners. My goal in structuring a lot of face-to-face conversation was to reduce the impact of whiny colleagues and to create a fair bit of momentum for action so that the non-whiners' approach to work could carry the day (and carry along the whiners, too. Not all my whiny colleagues are slackers--in fact, I can name very few colleagues in my entire college who strike me as consistently slackers. Most do their share, and those less inclined to do a full share can usually be persuaded to rise to the occasion for particular tasks.) My department has a lot of whiners, though, people who like to talk about how busy they are, how overworked they are, how underpaid they are....and while there is often some truth to that, the talking about it does nothing to change it.
What I've been missing, I now see, is a way for introverts in the department to be invited into my processes. There's a certain efficiency to introducting topics in a group, as it lets me see what the issues are on people's minds, and it lets us maximize the power of the group to analyze and divide tasks. But if introverts find those in-the-moment conversations draining, there's got to be a way to work around that. So I think I'll work on the lead-up to meetings more, perhaps distributing documents with issues outlined and some potential options in advance, so that those who wish to formulate thoughts in advance, or write to me privately, can do so. I've always tried to circulate agendas at least a week before, but the department as a whole has gotten sloppy about making draft proposals available early. That needs to change.