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News & Press: AAALetter

From the President: Applied Linguists and Leadership

Wednesday, September 14, 2016   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Kathleen M. Bailey
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What leadership skills do applied linguists need?  What situations have you been in (or do you anticipate being in) where you took on (or were thrust into) a position of leadership? And how well prepared did you feel in assuming those roles?

There has been some discussion in recent years about the possibility of AAAL helping members develop their leadership skills.  What might such support involve?

We can think first about leadership within AAAL. What must our members know and be able to do in order to serve effectively on AAAL committees and task forces? Knowledge of the association’s standing rules and bylaws, as well as its history and its culture (both implicit and explicit), are certainly essential. But equally important are the “soft skills” of time management, prioritizing, and exercising good judgment, as well as effective written and spoken communication. Presumably most applied linguists have developed many of these skills in the course of their careers.

Beyond leadership roles in AAAL, we are often called upon to serve as leaders in our work contexts.  Those responsibilities may align with administrative roles – as mentors, program heads, department chairs, lead teachers, deans, union leaders, provosts, and so on.  In our professional contexts, we may or may not have a choice: Taking on administrative roles may be a contractual obligation rather than an option.  However, being appointed or elected to such positions is no guarantee of leadership potential.  I a m sure we have all known administrators who were not leaders as well as leaders who were not administrators.

We may also have opportunities – or responsibilities – to serve as leaders in the wider social milieu.  Whether the context is local schools, synagogues, mosques, churches, city government, libraries, youth groups, or foundations, as applied linguists we have much to offer, given our knowledge of language and its pervasive importance in our communities.

I am curious about applied linguists’ experiences with leadership.  Would there be an interest among AAAL members if the association were to provide support for developing leadership skills? If you would like to share your views, please write to me at  I would be interested in learning about any leadership experiences you have had where you felt you could have been better prepared, or about leadership issues you believe you may face in the future.  I would appreciate hearing from you – especially if you can email your thoughts to me on or by Saturday, Oct. 8.  I would like to think about such input before the AAAL Executive Committee meets later in October.

Also, if you would like to read about leadership, you can find a reference list on this topic at  Scroll down the alphabetized list of topics. The various reference lists are stored as free downloadable Word documents.  I hope you will find them useful!

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