Shared leadership a ‘necessity’ for universities

Move away from command and control model to increase staff engagement, advises Leadership Foundation paper

August 20, 2015

Shared leadership in higher education is a “necessity” for institutions worldwide, including those in the UK, according to a new report.

Drawing on examples from the UK and Australia, the authors of a study for the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education argue that in the context of increased managerialism, where many staff are “sceptical of traditional influence and authority”, shared leadership – which involves distributing managerial power outside a small circle of people – can offer a means of “reconnecting academics with a sense of collegiality, citizenship and community”.

The authors of the paper, Developing and Sustaining Shared Leadership in Higher Education, offer six key principles for shared leadership. These include engaging with staff across a university and developing a “context and culture of respect for and trust in individual contributions to effect change through the nurturing of collaborative relationships”.

One case study, from RMIT University in Australia, highlights how a department helped to build trust across the institution by using student feedback to improve teaching without criticising individual lecturers.

The report suggests that leadership should emanate “from multiple levels and functions as a mix of top-down, bottom-up and middle-out contributions”, and argues that institutional relationships should be based on “collaboration between individuals that together contribute to a collective identity”.

Involving people and their expertise, devising ways for staff to share their knowledge, and increasing resources to encourage collaborations, networks and partnerships are among the methods that can be adopted by institutions, according to the paper.

Although the authors warn that shared leadership is “not a panacea”, they encourage institutions to ask “inconvenient questions about power, purpose and privilege”.

“We encourage a critical review of a dominant mindset that still underpins policy and management in tertiary education in most Western countries,” the report states. “Conditions have changed and the volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous context of contemporary higher education means command and control are no longer a viable option, if indeed they ever were.”

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