Campus leaders: Here's why you're burned out—and what you can do about it

Leaders need work-life balance, too

Being a leader on campus is a demanding task—one that has the tendency to be all-consuming. 

But it doesn't have to be. Writing for Inside Higher Ed, Joya Misra, a professor of sociology and public policy, and Jennifer Lundquist, an associate dean of research and faculty development and professor of sociology at University of Massachusetts at Amherst (UMass Amherst), suggest six ways campus leaders can find work-life balance, and in turn, better support those who rely on them.

1. Delegate, delegate, delegate

Leaders have the tendency to drown in responsibilities that could be passed along to someone else—that is, with a little training.

But the best leaders recognize that delegating the right tasks will free up their own time to lead. Misra and Lundquist suggest passing on the tasks that you enjoy least or that you struggle with.

For delegation to work, the authors say, you need to trust the employee taking on the task. Choose someone you have a good professional relationship with, like a person who's held the position before (if it's rotating) or an employee who is ready for more complex responsibilities.

2. Opt for in-person meetings, not emails

Misra and Lundquist point out that spending time with those you lead builds the trust necessary for delegation—and is a much more effective way to resolve conflict than communicating via email. Face-to-face meetings are also the best way to deliver feedback on the tasks you've delegated.

The best way to make time for in-person meetings is to schedule them on a recurring basis, Misra and Lundquist argue.

3. Be transparent about availability

This one's important—email can give colleagues the impression that you're "on" every second of every day.

But, as the authors write, "email is pernicious," because it prevents you from using your time away from work to replenish your energy. Instead, the authors suggest choosing a specific timeframe for each day during which you will answer emails (Melinda Gates only returns emails on select evenings of the week) and be sure to let colleagues know the hours you'll be available to speak in person.

If you're worried something urgent will occur during your "off" hours, Misra and Lundquist suggest giving colleagues an emergency cell phone number.

4. Build a schedule and stick to it

The authors note that many school administrators still need to make time for teaching, advising, and research outside of their leadership duties. Be sure to block time on your calendar for these tasks.

Don't leave out your "me" time on your calendar, either. Exercise, relaxation, and time with family should have their own blocks.

5. Run to criticism

When you're in a leadership position, "don't expect to be loved," say the authors. You're going to have contenders and critics. Use the critiques to improve your leadership instead of taking it personally—after all, the best leaders are aware of their weaknesses.

6. Take vacations

Time away from work is vital for maintaining health and perspective. But many academic leaders feel like they can't take time off—or that when they do, they need to be reachable via email.

The authors suggest setting an autoreply that specifies when you'll be back, but adding an extra day as a "cushion" once you do so , since the first day back you'll likely have a lot of catching up to do (Lundquist/ Misra, Inside Higher Ed, 3/9).

Saving your own time—and your staff's time—will save you money

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