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Effective Leader and Program Administrator?
An Interview With Dr. John Shannon,
Dean of the Jannen School of Arts & Sciences
at Trine University in Northeast Indiana
Interview by Marina Cobb, email@example.com
I met Dr. John Shannon after he was selected to be the dean of the new Middle East School III at the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center (DLIFLC). He struck me as someone whose always vibrant presence seemed to exude openness, optimism, and good intentions. It seemed that, in the eyes of the faculty, he epitomized enthusiasm and positivity. My first encounter with John was during an interview I conducted with him for the DLIFLC Re-Accreditation Self-Study Report in 2005. I was impressed by the conviction with which he spoke of many of his undertakings; it was obvious he was bringing his full commitment to new projects. I was later fortunate enough to work under his deanship in the new school for several months before he moved to his new position of dean of the School of Arts and Sciences at the Trine University in Indiana.
John was undoubtedly a progressive, open-minded leader and was someone whose leadership style I very much wanted to emulate. I was very interested in finding out what personal beliefs about leadership may have contributed to John being the type of leader that he is. The following is a summary of his answers to each of my questions.
Question 1. How would you describe the main characteristics of your leadership style?
John commented that he might not necessarily have the same perception of himself as a leader that others do, but was certainly happy to share what kind of leader he aspired to be. The first and foremost quality he consciously wished to cultivate in himself was being inclusive. He believes in shared governance for the simple reason that one has a better chance to succeed if more people participate in the decision-making process. He listed the following as characteristics of an effective leader (not necessarily provided in order of importance). Being enthusiastic. A leader’s enthusiasm for the job rubs off on other people. Leaders set the tone for the whole group.
Question 2. Is there a program manager (or a leader in general) whom you consider(ed) to be your role model? What is it about this person's leadership style that impressed you the most? What did you want to emulate?
John commented that he always looks up to his own supervisors as role models, trying to learn from what he perceives as both their strengths and weaknesses. He recalled having a very supportive supervisor in recent years who was widely respected by subordinates because she was so supportive. He also recalled having a supervisor who was always generous in giving his time to faculty, but who was not the most tactful person. Another supervisor from his past was a model program-builder but neglected to nourish his relationships with subordinates, who at times felt demoralized despite the growth of their programs. Surprisingly, John explained that one of the most valuable role models he ever had was a person that he least wanted to emulate. This person taught him a lot about how not to be a leader. The experience of others is always valuable, and if we are observant, we can learn something from every person.
Question 3. Does supervising faculty from a different (non-Western) culture present additional challenges to you? Do you adjust your leadership and managerial behaviors when the faculty you supervise come from a different (non-Western) culture? How?
John’s professional experience spans several continents and many countries: Germany, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. He believes that the key to cross-cultural communication lies in listening well and showing a genuine interest in people, which means trying to learn about their lives, sharing experiences, and having a laugh together. There is no better way to break down barriers than to show a sincere appreciation of their culture.
When working with people from different cultural backgrounds, it may be especially important to explicitly state one’s expectations because things taken for granted in one culture may be completely unknown in another. Making sure that the expectations are clear typically requires a lot of negotiating back and forth.
Question 4. What insights do you have for new or aspiring language program managers (e.g., advice, pitfalls to avoid, observations regarding mistakes new program managers are prone to making)?
John pointed out that there is really no substitute for experience, and that becoming a new program leader is not easy. With experience, what at first caused great anxiety may eventually become standard procedure. Asking for input and then listening carefully to it, especially when there is a need to make a decision that will affect others, is very important for new academic leaders. It is also important to rely on faculty to do their job, thus showing one’s trust. A new manager might be inclined to feel responsible for everything; however, providing oversight does not entail telling everyone what to do. It entails being kept in the loop without interfering with or obstructing people from doing their job.
Also, it is essential to follow through on one’s word: When leaders say that something is going to happen, they need to make sure that it does happen. Most important, success is predicated on hard work. If you just do your best every day, you will have no regrets in life. Sometimes you may feel that you did not make the best decision, but it helps to know that you did the best you could at the time.
One potential pitfall is for new leaders to assume that they will be able to continue doing things the way they had been done before, that is to say, the way they were done by the previous manager. Every situation is different, and each leader has to find his or her own way; there is no one shoe that fits all sizes here. However, new leaders who are set in their ways may also find that they are not a good fit within an institutional culture. The key question is whether or not the new program leader can adapt to and grow within the particular institution. The person may have strong ideas about what is right or wrong, and it is therefore extremely important that he or she does not make judgments before understanding the new setting. Sometimes leaders who assume that they will be doing things differently eventually come to realize that there are underlying reasons why things work the way they do in an organization. If this understanding helps the leader to adapt to the setting, the “fit” will improve. If it does not help, the leader will probably have difficulties moving forward in the position.
In my observations of leaders, I have discovered that I find myself appreciating those who, like John, are business-like and focused on their work, yet exude warmth and genuine care for the people around them. I also admire leaders who appear to know when to go after their goals with full determination and when to set up their subordinates for success and step back, allowing their people to shine.
I see an important source of John’s long-term success as a program administrator in his personal optimism, inner strength, self-reflection, and a genuine need to provide personal and professional support to faculty. On behalf of the PAIS Newsletter editors, I express sincere gratitude to Dr. John Shannon for granting this interview.
John Shannon (PhD, The Ohio State University, MA, Southern Illinois University at Carbondale) is dean of the Jannen School of Arts & Sciences at Trine University in Northeast Indiana. He has previously served as dean of a large school of Arabic at the Defense Language Institute in California, spent 7 years directing the Intensive English Program at the American University of Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates, and served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Tunisia. He has also been an active member of TESOL, giving 13 presentations at the annual convention and serving as chair-elect and chair of PAIS as well as on the TESOL Awards Committee. Last, he is a productive scholar, with nine publications and nine professional presentations in the past 4 years.
Marina Cobb has taught both English and Russian as foreign languages and has served as department chair, faculty development specialist, and academic specialist at DLIFLC. She holds a BA in teaching EFL and a MATFL and is currently a doctoral student in learning and instruction at the University of San Francisco School of Education.
This interview first appeared in the Program Administration Interest Section Newsletter, March 2009, Volume 4, Number 2. To read the entire newsletter, click here.
Leadership Mentoring Program: download to PDF
Not Just Another Award
by Kyung-Hee Bae
It was the fall of 2005. I was on the TESOL Web site “shopping” for an award, when I stumbled on the description of the Leadership Mentoring Program (LMP) award. I met the qualifications for the award, and the cash prize of $1,000 would not hurt either; I was looking for an award mostly to help pay for the convention. The idea of a program helping me become a leader was also somewhat intriguing. I did not win the award that first year, but with the encouragement of my colleagues and friends, I reapplied. Even after I won the award, however, I had very little idea about or interest in what the award program would entail or how much I would learn from it. Essentially, it was a very selfish pursuit. What started as a self-seeking act, however, became a learning experience which strengthened me as a professional.
What I immediately learned was that, unlike other awards whose entire process typically would end at the ceremony, the LMP award program actually started at the ceremony. I was required to attend a series of workshops through TESOL’s Leadership Development Certificate Program (LDCP). Through two different strands of LDCP workshops, I learned the organizational structure, various constituent groups and their functions, and issues that may arise within or outside the organization which could potentially affect its members. While the main focus of the workshops was issues directly related to TESOL, many discussion points were something a leader in any organization would need to know. In fact, the workshops gave me knowledge/skills I still utilize daily in my professional life (outside TESOL).
I was also paired up with one of the TESOL leaders in a mentoring relationship; we communicated throughout the year and worked on a paper together. However, one part of this most important component I regret very sincerely is being too passive a participant—I could and should have contributed more from my end. While the TESOL leaders who volunteer for this program are more than eager to help and nurture prospective leaders, I believe mentees need to take initiative and be the more active participant in their relationship. After all, who would know better what they need to learn?
As with any organization, TESOL's mission and values are and should be defined by its members: they “are” TESOL. It is, however, at the leadership level where its members' goals and dreams will be realized. Thus it is crucial for the leadership not to lose touch with the membership, as in the fostering environment the LMP award provides, where both leaders and members are able to learn from each other.
For information on the Leadership Mentoring program, click here. (You must be signed in as a member of TESOL.)