…and then there’s the abuse of power

This is a bookend to several of my other pieces that have highlighted positive qualities of exceptional teachers and leaders in higher education. In this offering I reflect on the sometimes unsavoury aspects of working in complex higher education organisations. I have known many extraordinary colleagues in the sector and yet I can think of the occasional instance of those who would abuse their privilege and power. In these instances ego prevails and those who are most vulnerable are shown the underbelly of the false hierarchy that Universities sometimes construct. That is, there are those that actually believe that their string of formal accomplishments stamp them as somehow superior. So how can we identify those who should not lead?

  1. The self congratulatory types. These are those that make self evaluating proclamations describing themselves as caring, kind, compassionate, sincere and so forth. These characteristics are always evident in behaviour and the description is always bestowed by others. Describing yourself as “kind” is meaningless. Self praise is no praise and this type of self praise raises a red flag.
  2. Those who tell people how busy they are to explain why they can’t pay attention to others. Nothing says “I believe that I am more important, valuable than you, and that you are a lesser person” than a statement that actually says that other people are not the priority. A strong and positive leader will never provide a blow by blow account of their business to those they are responsible to in order to explain a lack of attention to their issues.
  3. Those who demand respect by pointing out their place in the hierarchy. Respect is always earned, and hard won. Respect is reciprocal and you receive what your sow. To demand respect explicitly and refer to another’s relative status is telling. It says “I don’t value you”.
  4. Those who do not try to understand the importance of an issue to another person and who refer to their own circumstances in responding to pleas for help.
  5. Those who accumulate personal privileges, and support personal projects at the expense of others.

We all know at least one of these people.

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