Associate Provost for Research offers perspective on leadership: Part III

Paper boats on a solid surface. The boat in the lead is larger and a different color than the following boats.

This is the third in a three-part series on leadership by Miami University’s Associate Provost for Research and Scholarship, Jim Oris. In today’s post, Oris outlines the four elements of his approach to leadership. (Read Part I here. Read Part II here.)


I manage projects and people with attention to teamwork, detail, and collegiality. I am a delegator, and I believe in the power of diverse, interdisciplinary teams and committees. I lead by example and take full responsibility for the results of the activities I direct or delegate. I listen to the opinions of others and seek evaluation and peer-review at all levels. While I often have opinions on the best way to do something, I am always learning and will continue to learn how to better accomplish the goals of a project or task. I am not afraid of peer-review, critique, challenge, or change.

Elements of this approach include the following:

Vision

A leader must set the vision for the operation. I believe in a team-based, forward thinking strategic planning process that consistently updates the plan as time goes by. This includes defining a mission, goals, action steps, challenges, and opportunities.

At Miami University, we use elements of the LEAN approach for strategic planning and process management. This includes a full characterization of the current state, evaluating all elements for their value and necessity, defining an optimal, desired future state, conducting a gap analysis between current and future, and defining actions needed to close the gaps.

Respect

A leader must earn the respect of his or her team. This begins by respecting and valuing the contribution of each member of the team. People model their behavior and work ethic based on what they see in their peers and their supervisors. Everyone, including the leader, needs to work at 100%+. The leader doesn’t need to know the details of every operation in the group, but s/he must understand each process to ensure efficient and effective outcomes. A leader must listen to her or his team, and be ready to make changes in processes or procedures if the person who does the operation all day every day identifies a better method. In my experience, micromanagers are rarely respected by their staff. However, neither are managers who are hands-off, aloof, and uninformed.

Motivation

A leader is only as good as her or his team. If the team is not motivated, no one succeeds. In sponsored research offices, there are often very few pathways to promotion, so it is critical to find ways to allow staff members to grow personally and professionally. At Miami, we created professional pathways for all areas in our pre-award administration group that allows for promotion through the ranks in sponsored programs, proposal development, research communications, technology transfer, and compliance. These pathways allow for expansion of specific areas as needed. In addition, staff are expected to participate in professional development activities and in their respective professional societies. This allows them to grow and become better at their jobs and provides them with professional visibility and networking opportunities. Great staff are hard to find and even harder to keep. A good leader may be disappointed by, but not afraid of, a staff member’s leaving the team when an enhanced professional opportunity arises. My approach on this was derived directly from my experience as a faculty member and how I mentored students: they students were expected to develop into colleagues, complete their projects, and then move on to the next stage of their career.

Team Mentality and Collegiality

It is easy in an administrative office for each person to go to their corner and get their work done, but it is not an effective way to operate a complex unit. We meet formally and informally on a regular basis, sharing daily experiences and how we solved a particular problem or took a different approach. Meetings intentionally include both operational and strategic topics. I use the same, cross-functional team approach with professional staff as I did with students, taking advantage of different personality preferences to build diverse teams.

We have fun at work. I like to have fun and so does most everyone I know, so why should work not be fun? Social time, casual conversations, finding humor in most situations, and being flexible with people’s personal lives are all important to me as a leader to build and boost spirits. Happy people are better workers, are willing to share their opinions about their jobs to make them better, are more efficient and effective, are better customer servants, and leave for different job opportunities less often than those who are not.

Life experiences formulate one’s approach to leading and managing others. In my case, experience has led me to a melding of mentorship styles for both students and staff. Providing Opportunities, and making sure others can be successful, leads to personal satisfaction and success. I wouldn’t change a thing.


Written by Jim Oris, Associate Provost for Research, Miami University.

Photo of Jim Oris by Scott Kissell, Miami University Photo Services. Paper boat photo by Miguel Á. Padriñán via Pexels, used under Creative Commons license.

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