The Dean’s Disease by Arthur G. Bedeian

April 4, 2010

How The Darker Side Of Power Manifests Itself In The Office Of Dean

According to Bedeian’s article, a Boyd Professor at Louisiana State University and a former dean of the Academy’s Fellows Group, many university deans are facing some common diseases nowadays, diseases that are afflicting not only their university’s facilities’, faculties’ and alumni’s performance, but also their own function as leaders as such diseases of self-importance and egotism prohibit them from moving their organization “university” forward effectively and fulfilling their obligations to customers and employees. Yet, deans have a tendency to adopt a condescending and bossy attitude where all they want to hear from their subordinates is “yes-man” without giving an opportunity to open up themselves for inputs or questions for the betterment of the company. Therefore, in the bosses’ eyes there is nothing that needs improvement- that is unethical.

The professional experience Bedeian has gained in the academia has helped him find some flaws in the deans’ role- pitfalls in their leadership style he asserts will deprive them of improving the systems affecting performance, such pitfalls he has been able to identify and term as the dean’s disease.

The Dean’s Disease:

The deans’ disease is abuse of power, which is certainly one of the primary causes of such misdemeanor as power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. So, leaders abusing power have a tendency to put their self-interest first to cater to their own personal needs and ambitions. That power dynamic of bad leaders is commonly seen in most “stupidvisors” as they lose touch of their origin. They forget where they come from when they enjoy the ranks of their positions. However, when they are stepped down, they are unable to function well in the group dynamics since they have lost track of what it’s like being in a lower position, they can’t integrate in that particular function, and the worst they no longer have the respect and credibility of their peers since the group’s morale collapses.

Reasons:

The dean’s disease occurs for three reasons:

  1. Power of influence their faculty because of the resources they control- coercive and reward power. Coercive power is characterized by the use of verbal threats, confrontation, and punitive actions. Reward power involves salary increases, promotions, favorable teaching assignments, praise, and recognition. Both of these powers contribute to dysfunction.
  2. Strategic Praise: deans tend to believe they are special, intelligent, and deserve admiration. They also have delusion of grandeur. Making your managers feel good about every situation is not an effective way to improve the system whatsoever. Nonetheless, challenging their ideas will benefit both the organization and the employees that appeal to them.  
  3. Taste of power: “Having acquired a taste of power, the pursuit of power becomes an end in itself”. So deans and leaders constantly have the need of power- unhealthy behavior. “The assumption that I am number one makes it very difficult to accommodate information that says otherwise”- single-loop learning!

True Leaders’ Behavior:

Good leaders encourage dissenting ideas from their colleagues, they value when somebody in the groupthink plays the “devil’s advocate” to even challenge their ideas, and the best they instill an atmosphere of participation at all multiple departments to greatly affect their organizational approach for common good- cross-functional teamwork.

Safeguards:

To counteract the dean’s disease, we need to:     

  • Establish values: integrity, honesty, fairness, selfishness, and self-involvement.
  • Encourage independent thought: disagreement is not only permissible, but encouraged.

Countermeasures:    

To eradicate the dean’s disease, one has to:

  • Have an intellectual integrity characterized by openness- to listen to all sides to search for the truth rather than a contest, and candor- to speak the unspeakable to search for true opinions versus parroting what is believed others may wish to hear. These both encourage a culture that promotes discussion of conflicting ideas to present the best feasible alternatives to set the organization up for long-term success.   

Suggestions:

For deans “leaders” to stay in course, they need to consider some simple actions as:

  • Maintaining relations with faculty colleagues by routinely joining the daily lunch crowd, attending one’s disciplinary meetings, maintaining one’s subject area identification, and periodically teaching an undergraduate class.  
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