Bearings: News & Perspectives for Academic Affairs
Big picture, long distanceNov 26, 2012, 01:57 am - Carey Adams
When I first became a department head I quipped to a colleague that I would get a sign for my door that read, "It's good to be the king!" My friend one-upped my Mel Brooks reference with one from Shakespeare, threatening to put his own sign below mine reading, "Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown." What has always troubled me more than any loneliness "at the top," however, is the view.
The view from positions of leadership is supposed to be the big picture. To take in the big picture, you have to step back. The broader the landscape, the further back you must stand to see it all. Of course, seeing it "all" does not in this case mean seeing everything. There's that whole trees for the forest phenomenon. If I want to see the whole mountain, I sacrifice being able to tell you how many birds are perched on the boulder next to the fallen log at the base of the waterfall. And even then I can only see one side of the mountain at a time.
Telescopic lenses let us focus in close on details while maintaining a broader vantage point. (In fact, as I sit typing this the local news program has "zoomed in" on a map of Chatham County to show a specific intersection on Google maps.) However, we can't see both views at once. Even my progressive bi-focals require I look up and down to take advantage of their two magnifications separately. What's more, the magnified view is an illusion of sorts. It may seem like those birds are perched within feet of me, but I cannot reach out and touch them. If I wanted to shoo them away or warn them of a predator's approach, I would be helpless to do so.
That's often the hardest part about seeing the big picture. Despite my being able to see the larger landscape, and even when I can zoom in and observe specific circumstances, often I am too far removed from a situation to be the best person to act in that situation and bring about positive results.
So, what does all of this have to do with my Armstrong experience? As Provost, more than ever, I am realizing the limitations imposed by my distance from many daily campus activities even as that distance affords the big picture view required of someone in my position. More than ever, I am appreciating the importance of strong leadership and vision at all levels of the university. Zooming in and out, as it were, can be a bit dizzying, but it is essential that all of us strive to keep both views in focus.
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