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Calling Out and Calling On Myself in the Face of the Coronavirus

Calling Out and Calling On Myself in the Face of the Coronavirus

AAL Senior Consultant J. Ross Peters offers his perspective on learning and character in light of this time of transformation. When this is all said and done, who will we be as people? What do our futures look like? To hold himself accountable, Peters creates a plan for the kind of person he will strive to be during this crisis, steering away from the temptation of being overly reactive. For inspiration, he encourages readers to look at the sorts of models we envision our students becoming, as these figures are needed now more than ever.

Read the full article here >>

What Makes a Knowledgeable Citizen During the Pandemic

What Makes a Knowledgeable Citizen During the Pandemic

In this extraordinary, “post-truth” time, we should all do our best to fulfill the role of a knowledgeable and responsible citizen. As a follow-up to his previous piece titled Calling Out and Calling On Myself in the Face of the Coronavirus, AAL Senior Consultant J. Ross Peters challenges himself to commit to a series of “knowledgeable citizen compass” points in order to shape the kind of person he feels he ought to be. The key is to focus on what we can control – not dispensing energy on what we cannot. He also adds an important note for any readers who are parents and/or educators that considers the development of younger generations. Read the full article here >>

Leading in Crisis: Be Calm and Have a Plan

Leading in Crisis: Be Calm and Have a Plan

By: Prof. Rob Jenkins, AAL Senior Consultant, co-author of The 9 Virtues of Exceptional Leaders and Professor at Georgia State University

Leadership is never more important than in times of crisis, whether minor on not-so-minor. When things go south, people have a natural tendency to become agitated, even panic. They also begin to question the decision-making of those above them on the org chart and the direction of the organization itself.

None of those reactions is conducive to the kind of efficiency and unity—the “pull together” mentality—needed to get through a crisis, especially a major one.

That’s why it’s vitally important, in the face of a crisis, for leaders to do two things: 1) remain calm and 2) have a viable plan to address the situation.

For a leader, the importance of calmness under fire is impossible to overstate. We can certainly see this illustrated in extreme circumstances, like combat. In the chaos of the battlefield, when many are just a heartbeat or two away from abject panic, the leader who can somehow remain calm is the one who can rally the troops.

The truth is, most people don’t like to panic; they’re looking for any reason not to. Someone in a very visible position who clearly is not panicking offers them an anchor to which they can attach themselves and thereby not be swept away on the currents of fear and anxiety.

We can see the same dynamic at work in sports. Next time your favorite pro or college basketball team is down by ten points, and the coach calls a time-out, try paying attention to what goes on in the huddle. Chances are, you’ll see the coach talking to the players very calmly. Sometimes there will be histrionics, but usually, those are reserved for when the team is ahead but players aren’t giving their best effort. When the tide of the game seems to turn against them, that’s when great coaches are able to head off panic by displaying calm.

The ability to remain calm in a crisis may be inborn, to some extent, but mostly it’s a quality developed intentionally through strict discipline and practice, and then forged in the furnace of impending chaos. It requires a great deal of courage because chances are good that the leader, underneath his or her outwardly calm exterior, is feeling all the same negative emotions as anyone else. Remember how we define “courage” in The 9 Virtues of Exceptional Leaders: It’s not the absence of fear but rather the willingness and ability to do what needs to be done in spite of that fear.

Facing a crisis with calm also requires a great deal of confidence—in yourself, the people you lead, and the organization. Indeed, that sort of quiet confidence, even more than the unruffled physical appearance, is what resonates with people. When bad things are happening all around them, what they really want to know, more than anything else, is that ultimately it’s all going to be okay. It’s vital for leaders to project that belief, even if they’re not quite sure themselves.

Here’s the bottom line: If you as a leader panic, everyone else is going to panic, too. That’s when things can really fall apart. Therefore it’s absolutely vital for you to remain calm, whatever the cost.

The other key for leaders in a crisis is to have a plan. Simply remaining calm will have an immediate, positive effect on the people around you, but that won’t last unless they come to believe, at some point, that you actually have a strategy, or a set of strategies, for moving the organization beyond the crisis. Otherwise, they’ll quickly come to see your outward calm for what it is—merely a façade, not based on anything substantive. Then panic will really set in.

Initially, at least, your plan doesn’t necessarily have to be fully fleshed-out and approved by all the appropriate committees. That can come later. At the moment of crisis, or shortly thereafter, you just need to have some ideas for addressing the situation, ideas that strike people as sensible, practical, and fair.

Those ideas don’t even necessarily have to be your own. You might not have time to seek approval from six committees, but unless you’re in the middle of a firefight or there are two minutes left to go in the game, you probably do have time to seek advice and input from trusted mentors, other professionals (perhaps in the form of books and articles), and even those around you.

In fact, one very effective way of dealing with a crisis is to bring everyone affected to the table for a brainstorming session. You have to be careful with this, lest it appears that you’re completely out of ideas. The people you lead probably don’t want to be the ones steering the ship—but they will have no problem helping to man the oars, and perhaps even suggesting a course correction or two.  

So you might want to start a meeting like this by tossing out a few ideas of your own for discussion, then asking for input and suggestions from the other people around the table. Chances are, they will see things that you don’t see, and the combined brainpower of the group will be able to make significant progress in charting a course out of the current trouble.

But that will happen ONLY if they believe such a course is possible. That’s where your quiet confidence as a leader comes in. You may not have all the answers—and there’s no shame in acknowledging that—but you do have SOME ideas, at least, and you’re open to other ideas as well. But the most important thing is that you believe in the people around the table, you believe in the organization, and you believe in yourself. You’re convinced that a solution is indeed possible, and that attitude will be evident to the others in the meeting, who will likely follow your lead.

So just to recap, briefly: In a crisis, as a leader, you have to remain calm. If you panic, everyone will panic, and the situation will disintegrate even further. But mere outward calm is not enough. You also have to have a plan to address the crisis, even if that plan is just getting everyone together to come up with a plan.

If you’ll do just those two things—be calm and have a plan—when the you-know-what hits the fan, chances are very good that your organization—and your career—will not only survive but ultimately thrive.  

2019 July AAL Newsletter

Relation-Based Leadership for the 21st Century

by Evelyn Booth & Jonathan Silk

How do we lead in a world that’s volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous? Scholars Evelyn Booth and Jonathan Silk suggest that incorporating people-first, relationship-focused priorities into your leadership will help you navigate this challenging world. In turn, you end up with an organization where teams can thrive.

Read more 

Our Dangerous Obsession with Perfectionism is Getting Worse

by Thomas Curran

The pursuit of perfection can be tempting for leaders, but it may be more detrimental than beneficial. Thomas Curran, a social psychologist, reviews how pressures to be perfect are causing us harm. For educators, his words offer insight on how to interact with students.

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Are You Working on You? Questions for Improving the Quality of Your Leadership

by John R. Stoker

This piece from John R. Stoker, author and leadership expert, encourages self-reflection as we assess our awareness of our own leadership. He walks us through 10 questions to ask ourselves to help clarify our relationship with work.

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2019 June AAL Newsletter

Does Absentmindedness Affect Life Balance?

by Dr. N. Karl Haden

Founder and President of AAL, Dr. N. Karl Haden, shares his perspective on one of his favorite topics in leadership: life balance. Using the philosopher Sōren Kierkegaard’s words as context, he discusses the relationship between life balance (or lack thereof) and absentmindedness. How can we alleviate the ailment of absentmindness and regain control of time in our personal and professional lives?

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Five Common Communication Mistakes (And How to Fix Them)

by Matt Abrahams

Instead of trudging through an unengaging and therefore ineffective presentation, try upgrading your communication skills to make them better. Stanford lecturer Matt Abrahams shares five common errors you may engage in while presenting and how you can correct them. In turn, you can expect increased efficiency and productivity in your meetings.

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Life Hacks from Marcus Aurelius: How Stoicism Can Help Us

by Knowledge@Wharton

What do you know about Stoicism? Have you ever applied its practices to your professional life? Author Marcus Aurelius is interviewed on his new book, How to Think Like a Roman Emperor: The Stoic Philosophy of Marcus Aurelius and walks us through how Stoicism can be applied in business settings. “If we want to suffer less, we need to learn to embrace our pain and live with it without struggling against it as much,” he says.

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Create a Workplace Where Everyone Feels Comfortable Speaking Up

by Khalil Smith, Chris Weller, & David Rock

In an organizational psychology study at a hospital, one researcher found that those perceived to have higher status are more likely to speak their mind in critical, life-or-death situations. NeuroLeadership Institute members Khalil Smith, Chris Weller, and David Rock review why creating an environment that fosters speaking up is important and provide tips on how to do so.

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Nine Bad Habits You Must Break to be More Productive

by Dr. Travis Bradberry

Are you aware of your bad habits and how they are impacting your work productivity? Dr. Travis Bradberry, author and expert in emotional intelligence, lists nine of the worst offenders so you can more easily identify them and reduce their occurrence – in and out of the workplace.

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2019 April AAL Newsletter

Put Hope into Practice

by Jeanie Cockell & Joan McArthur-Blair

Hope is a key element of leadership, but practicing it can be difficult for many. Leadership experts Jeanie Cockell and Joan McArthur-Blair provide readers with bites of wisdom to help you navigate your personal practice of hope.

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The Life of a CEO: Set the Direction, Communicate Often and Be Inspiring

by Adam Bryant

Learn about Herman Miller CEO Andi Owen’s approach to leadership through her interview with Adam Bryant. She discusses how her habit of switching to different departments gave her the skill and tool sets to tackle the CEO position, as well as the importance of communication.

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Your Emotions at Work Are Contagious

by Daniel Goleman

As a leader, your emotions can spread amongst your team. Emotional intelligence expert Daniel Goleman writes about how the emotions you exhibit can actually be infectious in nature by directly influencing the emotions of your team members. 

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Four Things Servant-Leaders Never Say

by Keith Corbin

Does your service push you to be the best leader you can be? That’s service leadership. Keith Corbin, leadership coach and mentor, has suggestions on how to best embody service leadership; specifically, what phrases you ought to avoid.

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The Cure for the Loneliness of Command

by Manfred F.R. Kets de Vries

For some, it truly is lonely at the top. For those struggling with the feelings of stress and burnout that result, Professor Manfred F. R. Kets de Vries of INSEAD offers strategies to persevere and overcome.

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8 TED Talks That Will Change Your Life

by Jessica Stillman

Do not underestimate the power of a TED Talk: web users recently shared the speeches that truly changed their lives. Writer Jessica Stillman compiled their answers into a top eight list.

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2019 March AAL Newsletter

How Regret Can Be Your Friend

by Manfred F. R. Kets de Vries

“Dealing with regret is a universal human experience,” writes INSEAD Professor Manfred F. R. Kets de Vries. Considering this, leaders ought to leverage the effects of regrets for self-improvement and development. He walks through how you can make regret your friend.

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Take 5: How to Build Trust in the Workplace

by Emily Stone

Emily Stone, senior research editor at Kellogg Insight, discusses strategies for developing greater trust among your team members. Included is a video from Professor Harry Kraemer with even more tips on building trust as a leader.

Read more 

Your Emotions at Work Are Contagious

by Daniel Goleman

As a leader, your emotions can spread amongst your team. Emotional intelligence expert Daniel Goleman writes about how the emotions you exhibit can actually be infectious in nature by directly influencing the emotions of your team members. 

Read more 

3 mind tricks to prevent burnout when you can’t stop worrying about work

by Randy Paynter

There is now more support for the idea that repetition solidifies habits. Writer Robby Berman reviews a new paper from Psychological Review (linked within) that studied digital mice to research habit formation.

Read more 

As Long as We Associate Leadership with Masculinity, Women Will Be Overlooked

by Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic

Founder and CEO
Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, Professor at University College London and Columbia University, shares his perspective on the underrepresentation of women in leadership in the context of a society that continuously shows dissatisfaction with current leadership and management.

Read more

Supporting Department Chairs

Supporting Department Chairs

The following is an excerpt from Rodriguez TE, M Zhang, FL Tucker-Lively,  et al. Survey of the professional development needs of department chairs in academic dental institutions. J Dent Educ 2016;80(3):365-73. 

Department chairpersons serve as the link between administration and faculty members in their institutions.1 They are expected to be spokespersons for their department, to have expertise in multiple areas, and to elevate the reputation of the department and the school.1,2 AAL recently conducted a study for the American Dental Education Association (ADEA) and found many chairs, regardless of their field, struggle to meet the demands of the position due to the growing list of responsibilities and challenges placed upon them. One of the major issues identified in the study was that nearly 70% of department chairs have never received any formal training to prepare them to serve in their roles. Respondents noted that in lieu of formal training, they had to rely solely on “on the job training,” which is consistent throughout higher education.3–6 While many individuals have a great deal of success in their roles as department chairs, few are prepared for the nuances and intricacies associated with the position, which is now seen as more administrative and less academic.7

One solution to promote the success of individuals serving as department chairs is through clarification of roles and expectations. Institutions can provide more specific support to new department chairs by developing comprehensive onboarding protocols. Onboarding is defined as facilitating the transition of an individual into a new position or role.8 In most settings, this process is thought to promote clarity of roles and increase the job satisfaction and retention of the individual.9 Onboarding clarifies performance goals and metrics, and also provides opportunities for the development of skill sets and competencies over a sustained period. One study noted that a key to success in the position is “assimilating a new chair into their position,” which would include “a review of the organization’s culture, governance mechanisms, and key stakeholders.”8

This understanding of the culture, climate, and environment of an institution may help with attrition rates of new chairs. This understanding could be fostered through a formal orientation, which should occur prior to individuals assuming their role as department chair.4 Once individuals have matriculated into the position, descriptions of institutional processes, challenges, and resources (including mentorship) can be provided. Another example of supporting department chairs is selecting those who have sufficient experience for transitioning into the position. Heitz et al. noted that academic experience and managerial skills were necessary to becoming a department chair. Skills such as governance and cross-departmental collaborations could be obtained once established within the role. Thus, department chairs should be provided with professional development opportunities focused on the transference of academic and managerial skill sets.10 This type of exposure, especially early into the tenure of a new chair, provides an opportunity to correct behavior and provide advice.8 Additionally, executive coaching is another supportive action that may promote the success of department chairs. A well-trained executive coach can complement traditional methods of leadership development, and has demonstrated the ability to help “individuals slow down, gain awareness, and notice the effects of their words and actions.”11,12 When provided with executive coaching, department chairs perceived significant benefit in receiving external advice about specific issues, including how to manage organizational change, career guidance, and time.11

Overall, the professional needs of department chairs, regardless of their profession, include themes such as leadership and team development, talent management, vision and strategic planning, emotional intelligence, interpersonal skills, and cultural and structural awareness.4,13 These competencies are typically associated with academic experience, which many new department chairs do not have the luxury of obtaining prior to assuming their positions. To account for this deficiency, institutions need to provide their department chairs with the support and opportunities for development they need. The fundamental understanding of the position and expectations should be used to help calibrate department chairs, and empower them to lead and invigorate their departments and faculty.


1. Hecht IWD, Higgerson ML, Gmelch WH,  et al. The Department Chair As Academic Leader.  Washington DC: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 1998.

2. Gmelch WH, Miskin VD. Chairing an Academic Department. Madison: Atwood Publishing, 2004.

3. Wescott JW. Perspectives from a new department chair. J Technol Stud 2000;26.

4. Lieff S. et al. Understanding the needs of department chairs in academic medicine. Acad Med 2013;88:960–966

5. Ness RB, Samet JM. How to be a department chair of epidemiology: a survival guide. Am J Epidemiol 2010;172:747–751.

6. Sheldon GF. Embrace the challenge: advice for current and prospective department chairs. Acad Med 2013;88:914–915.

7. Kastor JA. Chair of a department of medicine: now a different job. Acad Med 2013;88:912–913.

8. Ross WE, Huang KH, C & Jones GH. Executive onboarding: ensuring the success of the newly hired department chair. Acad Med 2014;89:728–733.

9. Elting JK. Facilitating organizational socialization of adjunct clinical nursing faculty. 2015. At: Accessed 1 Nov. 2015.

10. Heitz C,  Hamilton GC. The academic chair in emergency medicine: current demographics and survey results identifying the skills and characteristics desired for the role. J Soc Acad Emerg Med 2011;18:981–987.

11. Geist LJ, Cohen MB. Commentary: mentoring the mentor: executive coaching for clinical departmental executive officers. Acad Med 2010;85:23–25.

12. Sherman S, Freas A. The wild west of executive coaching. Harv Bus Rev 2004;148:82:82–90, 148.

13. Palmer M, Hoffmann-Longtin K, Walvoord E, et al. A competency-based approach to recruiting, developing, and giving feedback to department chairs. Acad Med 2015;90:425–430.