Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Gut instincts

I've been an administrator now for almost ten years. It's been a long, slow learning curve. I've gradually taken on more responsibilities and become comfortable managing more kinds of processes.

Where I still have the most to learn, however -- and maybe this is inevitably the case, no matter how long I do this kind of job -- is making useful judgments about people. Just today I had an epiphany that's been a long time coming. If I can keep it in mind, I might be able to restrain some of my less helpful tendencies.

I've realized that I put a lot of stock into the desire people show. For example, I have to make judgments about people applying for various kinds of jobs, positions, opportunities, and privileges. I am drawn to people who show intense desire for the position. The more desperately they seem to need the opportunity, the more I'm inclined to give it to them. People who clearly could be saved from themselves or from a bad situation attract my attention. I feel for them; I believe I can provide what they need. I sense that they could be tightly bound to the organization and the mission I represent, because it's a life ring thrown out to them.

And now I've seen a few bad outcomes from that kind of judgment. People who really need or want what I have to give might not be the people who do the best with the opportunity. Perhaps, as happened with a (non-academic) hiring committee on which I served, the person who showed the desire was actually running away from something; the opportunity I had to give was a fresh start not because of what it was intrinsically, but simply because it wasn't the untenable old situation.

Perhaps whatever salvation the person wants isn't what I have to offer. Perhaps what I interpret as desire is actually neediness that can never be satisfied. Perhaps with too much desire comes unhealthy identification or obsession with the position. Perhaps the opportunity is actually overvalued, leading to paralysis as the person fears they can't live up to its demands or standards.

I need to learn to balance the desire I see with other factors that will affect the person's performance or suitability. That means not letting that instant identification I feel with the person exhibiting that desire overwhelm other characteristics to which I need to be paying attention.

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