Traditional approaches to leadership for learning and teaching have been prevalent across the higher education sector. This means top-down, heroic individuals in leadership roles. The “managerialism” of universities has resulted in leadership being replaced by academic management and the practicalities of running a large, complex organisation.

The advent of pandemic-imposed austerity is forcing higher education to undertake a fundamental re-assessment of its core values, operating philosophies and identities. Short term responses across the sector have varied, but include: deferring capital works, reducing non-salary expenditure, executive salary cuts and reducing the academic and professional workforce. Longer term responses will require a more fundamental reappraisal of university business models, strategic processes and leadership structures.

A shared or distributed leadership approach has been the subject of extensive international discourse across higher education for some time. In the United Kingdom, a shared approach to leadership is claimed as a means of “reconnecting academics with a sense of collegiality, citizenship and community”. In Australia, a distributed leadership approach was mooted as an important means to build leadership capacity for learning and teaching. Fifteen years of empirical research found that blending leadership to include positional leaders, academic and professional experts builds leadership capacity amongst university teams, enables people to take turns leading according to their strengths or expertise and extends the sustainability of educational initiatives.

Living with the longer-term impact of COVID with a much smaller workforce will require building trust, engagement and responsibility. What is needed now is a “focus on how to support and develop collaboration, relationships and networks rather than simply develop the skills, traits and behaviours of individuals”. A distributed leadership approach is an imperative.

Professor Emerita Sandra Jones, RMIT [email protected] @sanbjones

Honorary Associate Professor Marina Harvey, Macquarie University [email protected] @BLASST_

#distributedleadership #sharedleadership #academicleadership


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