The role of institute director

I’ve been thinking carefully about the role of institute director as I commence my 12th academic year at the head of Krasnow.  It seems to me that just as important as the internal role–which I liken to serving as cheerleader-in-chief, is the external role, which involves a complex set of cultivation, diplomatic and social sensitivity skills that for me, are constantly evolving.

One aspect of this external role involves the complex interactions with other deans and directors at the University, each doing their best to serve their own unit’s interest, but at the same time, also aware of the overall strategic vision for George Mason as it moves forward. The key point is that from my standpoint as institute director, it’s incumbent upon me to consciously keep the larger University interest in mind and then to figure out how to align the Institute’s interests with the University. That doesn’t mean compromising the central scientific mission of the Institute. Rather, it means understanding that it doesn’t work to simply say no when that answer would make the most sense if we existed in a stand-alone context (as many of our sister institutes in fact do).

So how to get to yes? That’s the central external skill actually. To get to yes, it’s not enough to simply rejigger a proposition to be obviously win-win–that ignores political and emotional considerations. Sometimes, it takes simply the patience to wait things out, to patience to allow individuals to gain more knowledge, the patience to understand that even when a counterparty indicates no,  they actually are saying yes.