Manage your boss

May 3, 2002

Your report about concern over the purchase of a Georgian house for Bath University's vice-chancellor (News, THES April 26) is just the latest example of the consistently bad press that the management of universities has had in the past couple of months.

But none of the criticism has been directed at the way a vice-chancellor's subordinates manage, or fail to manage, the person in the hot seat.

Top-rated business thinker Peter F. Drucker recently expressed the view that the most important thing in organisations was to look up, rather than down, saying that "managing your boss is more important than managing subordinates".

Equally important was the question: "What should I contribute to the organisation?" In his view, "followership" deserved as much attention as leadership. It is easy to point the finger of blame at vice-chancellors. But a blame culture is never constructive or productive.

Universities are notoriously hierarchical and not infrequently clogged up by committees where good ideas go to die. But such obstacles do not relieve the rank and file of the responsibility to let the vice-chancellor know what they think are the issues that need to be addressed. At a time when UK universities are under tremendous strain, vice-chancellors' subordinates would do well to remind themselves of their obligation to show leadership, too.

David Head
Professor of international business communication
University of Plymouth Business School

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