Professor Sue Dopson, Said Business School, University of Oxford;
Professor Ewan Ferlie, King's College London;
Professor Gerry McGivern, Warwick Business School, University of Warwick;
Dr Michael D Fischer, University of Melbourne;
Dr Jean Ledger, King's College London;
Sonja Behrens, Warwick Business School, University of Warwick;
and Sarah Wilson, Said Business School, University of Oxford
Research Series 5.3, April 2016
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The literature on leadership and leadership development can be unfocused and has a tendency to proselytise. In response to the growing agenda on impact and "what works" in higher education, we commissioned this literature review, to clear the ground and stake out markers to inform future strategies. We are grateful to Sue Dopson from the Saïd Business School, Oxford University and her colleagues from King’s College London, Warwick and Melbourne universities, in particular Ewan Ferlie, Gerry McGivern, Michael Fischer, Jean Ledger, crucially supported by a wider team of information specialists, for this important contribution and for clarifying differences in understanding between leader and leadership development.
This is an overview of evidence selected and tested against quality criteria. Rigorous and reproducible it draws from the best of systematic and narrative review methodology. The lively writing style is pragmatic, critical and intuitive and sets out the limitations in the current state of knowledge exposing the gaps in our understanding about what sort of leadership is appropriate and effective in different contexts.
This report provides new insights on what is known about the impact and outcomes from leadership interventions; the conceptual underpinnings of leadership development research in higher education; and critical discussion of the emerging issues from other sectors and internationally. Finally it generates propositions for a development and research agenda to be taken forward by the sector.
Alongside this report by Sue Dopson and her colleagues we commissioned a companion set of two pieces (a full and a summary report) by Elizabeth Morrow that investigated the impact of research in the field of leadership, governance and management as submitted in the 2014 REF impact case studies. We hope that these reports will be read and used together as they "stake out the ground" and illuminate what we mean by impact from multiple perspectives. Each is frank about the challenges of measurement and offers a conceptual model of the routes to impact from research as well as questions for future research.
Professor Fiona Ross CBE
Director of Research
Leadership Foundation for Higher Education
Leadership development and its effectiveness has not been explored in depth empirically, especially across university settings. It is therefore timely that the Leadership Foundation has sought to invest in exploring what is known in the area of the impact of leadership development in higher education settings.
Our review is structured thematically and led by the five stated objectives of the commissioned work namely:
The team leading this review have many years’ experience researching different aspects of leadership in public sector organisations, mainly but not exclusively in complex healthcare settings. Some of the team are also involved in designing and delivering leadership development activities more broadly.
We adopted a rigorous review methodology that drew on a diverse range of information sources - such as leadership texts - as well as previous literature reviews that had adopted looser approaches. Our approach was pragmatic and question driven, with due attention paid to the quality of the literature and appropriate inclusion and exclusion criteria.
In summary, the current literature on leadership development approaches in UK higher education appears small scale, fragmented and often theoretically weak, with many different models, approaches and methods co-existing with little clear pattern of consensus formation. The report highlights a paradox. The higher education sector is a "knowledge industry" but has a relatively poor record of investing in studying its own effectiveness.
One problem we identified was that leadership development was often seen as synonymous with leader development. We suggest the need to develop a broader conceptualisation of what leadership and leadership development is in higher education settings that moves beyond individual leaders and which considers leadership processes in higher education settings in more distributed, relational and contextual terms.
It is difficult to measure a leadership development programme impact if you are not clear about the definition of the nature of leadership development processes in higher education settings in the first place. In the studies we reviewed on leadership evaluation and metrics there appears to be no boundary that can be easily drawn around possible fields of measurement of higher education development programmes. Studies varied according to whether they are measuring the degree of changes in individuals, changes in the effectiveness of groups to which the leaders belong or wider forms of organisational change.
Given the importance of leadership development in the UK higher education sector and the amount of resource spent on it by higher education institutions (HEIs) as programme commissioners, the number of promising UK-based leadership interventions that we found to have a reliable evidence base and/or be theoretically well informed, is low. The general discussion section of the report reflects on the five overarching aims of this research and specifically suggests some useful potential research projects including: an initial stock take of the national field by collecting texts outlining leadership development activity from all UK HEIs and then subjecting them to a content analysis with follow up interviews; a longitudinal UK cohort study to track individual career and wider personal outcomes over time after participation in leadership development programmes; a longitudinal, processual and comparative case study-based approach where the unit of analysis is tracking a desired strategic change or organisational transformation in an HEI supported by a large scale investment in leadership development activity; and finally a study to act as a national "clearing house" for nationally occurring local evaluations and to try and build a "meta analysis" across them.
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