Guest Post: Leadership Matters, So what’s the Matter with our Leadership Today?

I was recently having coffee with my friend and colleague Dean and Professor Steve Gavazzi to discuss the National Council on Family Relation‘s Future of Family Science task force [more on that in a future post] and I mentioned my series of blog posts on self-regulated learning and graduate education. Steve asked me – did you mention leadership training? I had to admit I hadn’t. I invited to Steve to do a blog post on leadership to round out my graduate education series. Steve did so in the context of the conversations happening about the future of family science at the national level. Enjoy!!

Stephen Gavazzi

Stephen Gavazzi

Leadership Matters, So what’s the Matter with our Leadership Today?

Growing attention is being given to the present and future state of Family Science. Witness for instance NCFR Executive Director Diane Cushman’s most recent article in the NCFR Report Magazine. Here and elsewhere, thought is being given to the need to better understand where our academic field is, and where it is going. In her thought piece, Cushman mentioned two articles that appeared in the most recent (July 2014) issue of Family Relations. One article by Hamon and Smith dealt directly with the strengths and limitations of the discipline of family science, while a second article by Hans focused attention on some of the field’s identity issues, including what it calls itself (family science, family studies, family relations, etc.). Along with several NCFR colleagues, I was invited by Family Relations editor Ron Sabatelli to respond to these two articles. My commentary, which appeared in the same issue of the journal as the Hamon and Smith and Hans articles, invited readers to focus their concentration on a number of issues related to leadership, as I believe that there is no bigger challenge to the family science field that has to be recognized and confronted today.

Here is a portion of what I stated in my commentary:

“Leaders will either insert themselves into the process of determining our destiny as a field, or else that future will be determined for us, and invariably by people who likely do not have the same appreciation for our field’s importance. To make this happen, we must become much more intentional about the way in which we develop and support the next generation of department chairs, deans, provosts, university presidents, and heads of professional organizations who quite literally will either make or break us as a discipline.”

Consideration of becoming more intentional about the development of leaders within our field is also something I wrote about in a recent article published in the journal Family Science Review. Here I stated the following:

“Such leadership cultivation would aim to promote the current health and well-being of our family science departments, as well as to position these units to be maximally ready for the inevitable changes coming from future merger efforts. In essence, then, the family science field needs to become more intentional in how we train faculty members to become effective department chairs;, how we encourage department chairs to become the deans who will reward and nurture successful family units, and how we inspire deans to become the provosts and presidents who will provide support to and for the family science field.”

I assert here that our ability to become more intentional about the development of leaders in the field of family science can be extended to how we educate our students as well. In fact, I believe that graduate school is an ideal training ground for leadership at both a didactic and experiential level. While family science instructors typically do not teach leadership classes, most colleges and universities offer a variety of such courses through other departments. In related fashion, students normally are given opportunities to participate in governance at the departmental, college, and university levels.

At the same time, there are other micro-level opportunities to become more intentional about leadership training. For instance, we can begin to view and discuss the mentorship relationship that exists between students and faculty members in leadership development terms. Relatedly, research teams often are structured in ways that rotate leadership duties. Why not begin to call attention to these roles and responsibilities in a more deliberate and conscious manner?

Yes, what we call ourselves as a field is important. We had better get our act together from a brand perspective if we are going to foster a thriving identity within academia. However, if we are truly concerned about the future of our field, it would behoove us to explore how to make leadership-building efforts a more centralized component of the graduate program experience as well. Our students are our collective future as an academic discipline, and it is they who will be carrying forth the vision of our field’s greater contribution to social and behavioral sciences. And in today’s higher education climate, they must be equipped not only to be great scholars, but to be skilled leaders as well. At the end of the day, we are left with the three choices that Thomas Paine gave to us: “Lead, follow, or get out of the way.” Regrettably, those latter two choices may relegate family science to the backwaters of college and university life for a long time to come.

References
Gavazzi, S. M. (2014). Locating the Family Field on Academia’s Map: Taking the Path toward Intentional Leadership or Inadvertently Following the Road to Perdition? Family Relations, 63, 333–342.

Gavazzi, S. M. (2014). The art of being a failure as an academic field: A cautionary tale for family science. Family Science Review, 18(2), 3-12.

About the Author
Stephen M. Gavazzi is the Dean and Director of The Ohio State University’s Mansfield campus, and is a Professor in the Human Development and Family Science program within the Department of Human Sciences at The Ohio State University.

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