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The advantage of rotating leadership

2019-03-12

For several years, the Division of Clinical Genetics has used a rotation system for division leadership.  This summer, David Gisselsson Nord will have held the position of head of division for three years and it is time for Kajsa Paulsson to pick up the baton as head of the division’s nine research groups. However, there are both advantages and disadvantages to the system.

Over ten years ago, Felix Mittelman was the then head of division at clinical genetics. When he was stepping down from the position, there was a choice between three strong researchers in permanent teaching positions and the idea arose of introducing new blood more regularly.

”Three years feels like quite an appropriate length of time. While it feels new and challenging, you also have time to change the things you would like to change”, says Bertil Johansson, who was head of division 2007-2010.

The interest in appointing someone in a permanent teaching position is not set in stone, however, since many young researchers experience a lack of stability in their employment, it can be difficult for them to voice their opinions to a superior head of department, says David Gisselsson Nord. He believes it has been valuable to have had the opportunity to represent the division in different bodies and contexts during his years in the position. However, he also says that, due to delegation rules, there are some parts of the role with which he is not entirely comfortable:

“My experience is that some parts of the role are badly designed. You have responsibility for something you do not have control over – like, for example, salary appraisals with staff without having employer responsibility. This is yet another reason why it can be good to rotate the head of division position, to share frustrating work duties.”  

While the rotation of the head of division position is positive in most aspects, there are also advantages with someone remaining in the position for a longer period of time. This makes it possible to identify recurrent ideas and avoid reinventing the wheel. Restructuring does not lead to the same levels of concern either; rather, the experience means you can focus on the right thing.  

”Even if we believe it is healthy for the division to have rotating responsibilities, there is also a small risk that it may create confusion among staff given that, as leaders, we have different styles and focus on different things”, says David Gisselsson Nord.

One strong positive aspect in rotating the head of division position is the opportunity to gain insight into something larger than the individual research group and to develop wider networks within the faculty. The experience also provides practical leadership training in addition to that gained as a leader of a research group.  This summer it is time for Kajsa Paulsson to take over the leadership and she is looking forward to the role:

“Given that I ‘grew up’ in the division, I feel it is my time to give back and it is an honour to be able to act as a spokesperson for the division.”

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