From Faculty to Administration—and Back Again

By Hema A. Krishnan, Professor, Xavier University
November 3, 2015

In September 2013, after steering the college through AACSB’s maintenance of accreditation process, I announced my intention to step down as the associate dean of Xavier University’s College of Business in Cincinnati, Ohio. My last day in the position was June 30, 2014—I chose to make a one-year transition out of the position so that I would have time to complete my activities with the college’s maintenance of accreditation successfully.

Then, rather than returning immediately to full-time faculty, I decided to take a six-month sabbatical. I had spent five years as associate dean, which is a long time to be without full-time teaching and research responsibilities. In that time, higher education had undergone dramatic changes—exponential growth in online and blended programs, changes in student demographics and learning styles, increased foreign student enrollments, and increased cross-country collaboration in faculty research. I was aware that the adjustment was not going to be easy. I needed time to bring myself back up to speed so that I could make a smooth re-entry when I returned as a full-time professor in January 2015.

My administrative sabbatical leave was the perfect time for me to reflect on my career and decide what steps I needed to take to ensure that I was happy professionally and personally in the future.

EXAMINING THE 'FOUR INTELLIGENCES'

Several years earlier, I had read Steven Covey’s book The 8th Habit, in which he emphasizes that to live, work, and lead successfully, we each must strengthen “four intelligences”: spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical. At the time, I had refrained from incorporating these practices out of sheer lethargy, but now, I was ready to explore and implement them:

Spiritual intelligence. I first tackled this, the most complex of the intelligences. It requires individuals to undertake quiet self-examination to determine their true goals and values. I think many administrators would agree that with endless meetings to attend, competing goals to meet, daily fires to extinguish, and shrinking budgets to manage, they are likely to neglect their spiritual intelligence in the rush to get things done. But a strong spiritual intelligence is one of the most important components to leading a rich and meaningful life, defined by honesty, integrity, reflection, and legacy.

I am indebted to Xavier University for introducing me to the “Daily Examen,” a daily prayer inspired by St. Ignatius Loyola. I started to make a five-minute investment of time at the end of each day to maintain a reflective journal. Using the Examen as my template, I answered its three fundamental questions:

  • What am I especially grateful for today?
  • What have I done to help others today?
  • What has challenged me today?

After a few months of this practice, I noticed more clarity in my thought processes. I was more focused and more creative. During this period, I received a number of opportunities to serve as a pro-bono keynote speaker for organizations in both the U.S and India, where I emphasized the importance of leading a rich and wonderful life. I accepted every invitation to speak, and with each speech, I found it easier to prepare and deliver my presentations.

 


"A strong spiritual intelligence is one of the most important components to leading a rich and meaningful life, defined by honesty, integrity, reflection, and legacy."


 

Having a Type-A personality, I also had to take charge of my wandering mind. I had read about the benefits of mindfulness meditation, in which one focuses full attention on what is happening at the present moment, and I took baby steps to practice this difficult exercise. Eventually, I was able to practice mindfulness while waiting at the traffic lights, standing in lines, and even debating with my teenage son on the merits of doing homework and chores.

Emotional intelligence. A large part of this type of intelligence is learning to connect and build relationships with others. As I examined my own emotional intelligence, I realized how many people have selflessly promoted and mentored me during my 25-year career in industry and academia. For instance, as an associate dean, I had two mentors—a dean at a large state school in the Midwestern U.S. (and now a university president) and a CEO at a company in the Cincinnati region—who spent hours encouraging me and coaching me for dean positions. I am indebted to them for helping me understand what was truly important to me—and that serving as a business school dean was not my passion.

I also examined my experience acting as a mentor to current and former students, junior faculty, and executives in the U.S. and India during the last five years. The intangible benefits I have received from being a mentor have far outweighed the time I’ve invested.

To further strengthen my emotional intelligence, I knew it was time for me to take mentoring to the next level—and even to make it my overarching goal. Now, as a professor, I am devoting more energy to mentoring others, which I know will help me improve my listening skills even further, forge even stronger connections with my friends and family, and form new friendships.

Mental intelligence. As faculty, we must continually hone our teaching and research skills so that we contribute our best to our students’ mental development. For that reason, during my sabbatical, I received training to teach online classes. I also went back to basics in research, particularly in my field of expertise, mergers and acquisitions. To improve my critical thinking skills, I re-read some of the classics from the previous centuries, as well as recent books on topics unconnected to my teaching and research interests. I might not publish an article in an A+ journal again, but I am confident that with the support of my academic and research mentors, I will maintain my currency in research and pursue topics of interest to me.

Physical intelligence. I had neglected my physical well-being ever since I started my academic career as a graduate student. I know that to fulfill my role as a parent, mentor, and professor, I must get enough sleep, stay hydrated, and engage in regular physical exercise. I also must remind myself to breathe deeply and frequently, take frequent two- to five-minute breaks at work to stretch or walk, and turn off my smartphone every once in a while. For the first time in my life, I’ve started playing tennis. After just a few months, I have started seeing physical, mental, and emotional benefits. Although I can barely get the ball across the net from baseline, playing tennis has helped me manage my energy as no other activity has.

TRANSITIONING WISELY

I believe that every faculty member should have an opportunity to serve as an administrator during his or her career. Taking a leading role within the institution teaches us valuable lessons in time and energy management. It helps us become better teachers and mentors, forge deep connections with friends and colleagues, and appreciate the support that we have received.

But I’ve also found that the pressure of administration is not right for everyone. Many of us will choose to return to our faculty roots. When administrators do wish to return to the faculty, I believe that taking at least six months to mentally and emotionally prepare for re-entry is invaluable. It proved invaluable to me. It’s a time in which we can reflect, recharge, and refocus on what’s truly important in our work, lives, and relationships before we enter the next phase of our academic careers.


Hema KrishnanHema A. Krishnan is professor of strategy and global business at Xavier University's Williams College of Business in Cincinnati, Ohio.