Professor Dennis Tourish
Royal Holloway, University of London
Stimulus Paper, October 2012
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Leadership development within higher education has grown in importance over recent years. A study by John Burgoyne and his colleagues in 2009 noted that development is now ‘high on the agendas of policy-makers and senior managers in higher education institutions’1. However, they observed that there was room for much closer alignment between development and the strategic goals that institutions had set themselves. Their report also found that although some evaluation of the effectiveness of leadership development was widespread, it was mostly informal rather than systematic. In consequence, higher education institutions (HEIs) were often unclear about the effectiveness of their investment in leadership development. The key theme of the present paper is how to meet this challenge.
In particular, a variety of studies show that the task of demonstrating a clear connection between investment in leadership development and the ability of an organisation to achieve its goals is one of the biggest challenges faced by practitioners2. When such a connection cannot be shown, organisations may be tempted to downgrade the importance of leadership development, and reduce their investment of time and money in related activities. While there are plentiful examples of what is believed to be best practice in the literature on leadership development, this has yet to be systematised into a coherent process enabling HEIs to align development with their key strategic priorities, and ensure that its impact on organisational performance can be systematically evaluated.
This paper builds on recent work by the author which proposes a new method of addressing these challenges3. It outlines a five-step framework to enable HEIs to:
This framework draws on substantive existing research across a variety of sectors. The approach it proposes is intended to indicate how leadership development within HEIs can be improved, and guide further research. This paper therefore:
In particular, it examines how higher education organisations can apply the five-step framework to improve organisational and individual performance, and develop robust metrics for evaluating leadership development.
Every HEI has its own unique characteristics and leadership requirements. However, relatively little research has been conducted on leadership development within the sector. Consequently, the examples of illustrative good practice that are described in this paper are mostly drawn from other sectors, such as pharmaceuticals, oil and manufacturing. They are intended to illustrate how aspects of the five-step framework have been used productively in other situations. They show that many organisations have been able to set challenging goals, and then measure the extent to which they have been met. In this way, the organisations have been able to tabulate the impact of their investment in leadership development on their performance. While each HEI has different goals, problems and desired outcomes, the examples reveal a process that can facilitate much deeper reflection on how leadership development can improve performance.
Robust models of leadership development could make an important contribution to enhancing leadership effectiveness in higher education. They can equip individuals and institutions with the mind-sets and skills that will be required in the
demanding new environment in which they now operate.
1Burgoyne et al (2009) p6
2Tourish et al (2007)