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(NOT) The Dean’s BFF

20 Jul 2022 5:00 PM | Anonymous

Dear Sophia,

I work for an organization in which you only get promoted if you are buddies with the Dean or if the Dean knows you won't challenge him in any way. Everyone that has been promoted to a leadership position has the Dean's ear and does whatever the Dean wants. I've been in my role for many years now and know I can do a lot of great work if I had the opportunity to move up, but I don't see that happening as I don't get much facetime with the Dean. And also, I shouldn't have to! My work should speak for itself but I also recognize that people that are quite frankly incompetent have gotten higher positions in this organization just because they are BFF's with the Dean. A part of me thinks I should just leave but hate having to do that because of one man. Help!

(NOT) The Dean’s BFF

Dear (NOT) The Dean’s BFF,

This kind of “leadership” is super frustrating isn’t it?! Unfortunately, too many people in every type of organization have moved their way up the ranks despite possessing poor leadership qualities or even worse, a warped psychological make-up. Leaders who lack self awareness, are afraid of constructive dialogue or of being vulnerable, use their power to stack their team with “yes” people to protect their own ego and position of power. While employees who aren’t in the inner circle feel the most impact with limited opportunities for advancement, everyone in the organization experiences some ill effects of a workplace led by a toxic leader. Yes, it’s unfair and hopefully your current reality is one you’ll face only rarely. Working for an individual or organization who doesn’t see your worth will have a negative impact on your professional sense of self over time. Therefore, the status quo doesn’t seem like a viable option.

In a situation like yours, I see two primary options. You can prioritize making time to evaluate your skills, list the contributions you’ve made, and identify your professional goals as preparation to network outside of your unit while actively seeking a promotion or lateral change within your existing organization. Identify and take advantage of opportunities that afford you ways to build new relationships outside of your current role and help you learn new skills. Maybe that means volunteering, enrolling in a human resources training program, serving on an employee council, participating in an employee resource group (ERG), or seeking out a partnership or collaboration with a team that serves your current unit and your own goals. In any of these experiences, be ready to tell your story clearly to others. Prepare a pitch that expresses what you like about the organization, what you’ve contributed, and what you are seeking in the future. Be sure to consider every new engagement as an opportunity to learn about the organization and meet new people. In these interactions, focus on showing curiosity by asking questions, using active listening to convey your interest, and taking advantage of opportunities to talk about work you’ve done within your unit to convey capacity and deepen relationships. Most importantly, seek out sponsors who are likely to identify your value on their team and to the greater organization. Avoid  speaking ill of the Dean or trying to influence those who are oblivious or turning a blind eye to the poor leadership in your unit. It’s time to focus on you and your future. How you behave will influence how other leaders perceive you. Anticipate that this likely means changing your role considerably or moving outside of international education unless you work in a very large organization with a decentralized structure. 

The other option is to decide to reframe the way you’re thinking about the Dean and manage up in ways that play into how this person leads in order to move into their inner circle. Managing up with a person like this takes a serious amount of will, a massive desire to stay put knowing the road is long and likely full of obstacles, and possible investment in a career counselor, coach or mentor who can support you through the effort you're going to put in. 

Regardless of which path you choose, identify a reasonable timeframe, consider benchmarks to measure your progress, and keep good records that allow you to reflect on the work you’ve done and consider what you’ve gained. Change isn’t generally easy but it’s often worth it in the long run. 

Confidentially Yours,

Sophia

P.S. Now that I’ve shared my thoughts, I’m curious what the amazing community of educators reading this post has to say. Chime in, folks! What thoughts do you have? Share your thoughts on the Global Leadership League’s LinkedIn page. Have a question for Sophia yourself, ask here!

Please note: This response is provided for informational purposes only. The information contained herein is not legal advice and should not be used as a substitute for the legal advice or legal opinions of a licensed professional. Contact a personal attorney or licensed professional to obtain appropriate legal advice or professional counseling with respect to any particular issue or problem.

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