With the rapid changes of the higher education landscape, leadership development is more relevant than ever to help people not just survive but to thrive. Many universities face concerns over global competition, international reputation, research funding and responding to innovation trends. Uncertainty seems to be a constant of everyday life.
A few years ago, only a small number of higher education managers had access to leadership development. Fast forward to the present and you will notice boundless leadership courses, coaching and books on this subject for those who aspire to hone their craft of leadership.
Charles Handy, the well-known management writer, reminded us: “You have to stand outside the box to see how the box can be re-designed.” In this article, I will share with you key insights to help you move outside your metaphorical box for a few minutes and help you lead more confidently in times of turbulent change.
Have you ever seen a charismatic and influential leader and wondered what makes them successful? Did you ever hope to find out about their recipe of success? Did you ever assume that leadership was an intricate field? If so, you might be surprised to learn that there are only three fundamentals at play: future, people and delivery.
As a leader in higher education, you need to be guided by the future you want to create. It means genuinely caring about your future vision because you will not be able to inspire others without authentic alignment. You need to bring people on board with your vision using a repertoire of soft skills. Are you able to positively influence others, to encourage them, and to develop trusting relationships with people from different backgrounds? When Goethe said that “a great person attracts great people and knows how to hold them together”, he referred to the importance of the people aspect. Delivery means being results oriented and achieving what the organisation sets out to. It represents meeting targets, creating innovations and embedding change.
Although, many leaders excel at one or two of the above areas, only a very few of them succeed in all three. A couple of years ago, I explained the above insights to a colleague, called Claire, who single-handedly managed a large department. Claire was taken aback for a moment. She realised that she had not explored her future aspirations with her team. She admitted that she had got too busy ‘firefighting’ and surviving change after change, and as a result she missed the opportunity to communicate the department’s future direction. Claire realised that without knowing the strategic vision, her team’s performance would likely be negatively impacted. I was delighted when she later told me that her team is now more energised, engaged and inspired than before!
If you have ever navigated through turbulent times, you might have found yourself falling prey to some widespread leadership myths. You may have thought that real leaders do not have as many insecurities as you do. You may have thought that there was one right answer to the complex challenges you have been facing. Or you may have taken everyone’s responsibilities on your shoulders trying to fix it all on your own. In times of uncertainty, many of us find it challenging to remain confident about our capabilities. When you need to make tough decisions, you may wonder if you have the right qualifications, experience, age or personality to pull through.
In challenging times, the more you manage to safeguard a portion of your time, the more you will be able to maintain focus and perspective. Managing your energy will be the key to inspiring others and infusing them with fresh enthusiasm. If you protect your energy, you will become more likely to notice new opportunities, recognise ground breaking solutions and see new possibilities. Benjamin Franklin expressed the same line of thinking when he famously said: “Energy and persistence conquer all things.”
As a leader, I am certain that you would be encouraging your team to look after their physical and emotional well-being. Without giving an example, however, you may not come across authentic. It is wise to lead by example because we all want to follow others who walk their talk. Courageously, set boundaries around your availability. Make sure that you find opportunities to recharge the batteries. Do take regular time to refresh and rejuvenate. You will be able to uplift and inspire your team as a result.