Chapter 10: Learn about local cultures and use ‘the system’
Establishing and Sustaining a Successful Career in the Social Sciences, Arts and Humanities
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Human activity is enabled and constrained by the context within which it occurs. Most departments, faculties and universities have cultural norms that guide and shape the behaviour of members. These may have been produced and reproduced by academics over many years and can be very important in setting the local tone for behaviour and ‘productivity’ standards. For instance, some departments may have a long tradition of serving relevant professional societies. Others may value research productivity at all costs. And still others may emphasize collegiality, cooperation and the individual contributions diverse staff can make to the collective whole. Academic staff who fail to understand or ‘fit in’ to these local cultures are likely to find themselves at a significant disadvantage. For example, in the context of a department characterized by ruthless self-interest, an individual’s collegiality may be exploited mercilessly by others. Or, by contrast, a self-absorbed scholar may find themself ostracized by colleagues in a department that understands itself to be a ‘community’. It really is vital to learn about and work with these local cultures. Though important for all academic staff, this can be especially important for academic leaders who may, for instance, come into an institution from outside and find that their particular leadership style sits uneasily and unproductively with local ways of acting and thinking. Not surprisingly, for example, an autocratic leader is likely to be poorly received in an institution with a long tradition of effective consultation and democratic decision-making.

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