Leaders in educational institutions are facing new challenges, including increasing separation between traditional academic values and those of corporate ‘managerialism’. This schism has created clashes between the two identities bringing disorder to organisations.
The hack suggests that a transformational leadership model across organisations can lead universities to be successful, people-orientated organisations without the need to unify the multiple identities within higher education institution.
Implementing this model requires a change from the traditional, top-down transactional styles of management with a rigid hierarchy to introducing contemporary leadership practices and developing them for a higher education context.
The underlying principles can be used by any complex organisation with the management and leadership of professional ‘knowledge workers’ in the public sector.
Higher education organisations, particularly universities, try to fulfil many roles. From holding up the tenants of social responsibility, educators, keepers of knowledge to research active, modern institutions where their performance is measured by sets of objectives.
The values of academic freedom and intellectual truth are essential components to who they are. However, there has been a shift in the relationship between governments and education sector with tightening budgets, introduction of multiple funding criteria, imposed limitations on enrolments to many qualifications and a new layer of reporting and auditing requirements.
This has resulted in ‘new public management’ (also known as ‘managerialism’ or ‘corporatisation’) and has shifted the identities of affected organisations to also include the values of the corporate world, that of hands-on management theory, competition, performance measurements and the monitoring of effectiveness.
Managerialism is presented by most researches as a negative trend but little shows it disappearing in the near future. On the positive side, new public management introduced better financial control and more efficient use of resources, especially where universities are primarily government funded.
The universities themselves have clung to traditional transactional style leadership models and haven’t developed ways to cope with the multiple identities that have been created as a consequence of the new reality.
What is an organisation with multiple identities?
Organisational identity is the compatibility between the values and ideals of the individual and the organisation. It is also known as organisational (affective) commitment and is often mentioned in conjunction with employee loyalty, something which organisations are increasingly aware of..
Multiple or hybrid identities are when there are contrasting or different sets of values or ideals within the organisation. In the case of higher education, the values of corporatisation and those of traditional academe.
Multiple identities can be within a single individual within the organisation with two different roles, say a Professor of English who is also a dean of the Faculty of Arts. It can also mean the group values of those employed in areas that particularly resonate with one identity or another.
To be able to lead an organisation with multiple identities, it is important that a leader recognises and acknowledges all identities equally.
It doesn’t make sense to pretend that managerialism is not a fundamental part of university life (which is a common thing for current leaders and managers to do). In this case those who identify as managers or administrators will feel alienated and academics will feel the leader has no grasp of the real world. The opposite is also true, if a manager concentrates on the managerial side, then academics will switch off in droves.
Those working within many higher education institutions in New Zealand are currently beset by very low levels of morale and institutional mistrust. It is necessary for leaders and senior management to take the time to work on behalf of their staff.
There is a three-fold solution to the problem: developing leaders from within the organisation, using a transformational leadership model (with a higher education context) and ensuring that the leadership model is shared across the organisation.
1. Learning to lead
Currently almost all higher education institutions have a scholar-leader as Vice-Chancellor (or CEO) and most research agrees that this is the best type of leader for higher education. However, academic scholarship can’t be a replacement for leadership skills or management experience. It should be complementary.
Large companies, such as 3M, Proctor and Gamble, IBM and many more have training and development schemes for people who show promise to scaffold them into management and leadership positions. It is perfectly normal for those wishing to improve their leadership skills to obtain qualifications in management. However, this kind of training is not normal in universities among managers or leaders. Instead there seems to be an overreliance on academic scholarship and the incorrect belief that status is more important than skill.
The lack of training has become a particular issue in the climate of tightened budgets, limited resourcing, increased government interference and social responsibility pressures.
By training potential managers within higher education institutions to become the type of leaders that universities need in the future, the organisations themselves can ensure that both academic and managerial staff feel that they are moving in the same direction.
2. Transformational leadership
This model is characterised by the creation, modelling and communicating of a vision and inspiring that vision in employees. More importantly for higher education, it is also about inspiring, building and maintaining staff commitment to the vision and the organisation.
There are two reasons why this model is vital for the current state of higher education:
- A true vision for the future can inspire organisations without having to rely on management methods that are off-the-shelf. There are many business models that have been borrowed by higher education and a lot of them have been problematic, either through practical application mismatch or staff mistrust and perception. By finding a vision that is specific to the institution and sector a transformational leader can inspire all staff without the ‘round hole, square peg’ feeling associated with it.
- Only a transformational leader can successfully lead an organisation with two distinct identities and build organisational commitment among all staff without trying to mash the two into an uneasy and conflicted combination.
3. Leaders throughout the organisation
A transformational leader at the top of the organisation would also be able to delegate power in order for the vision to be articulated throughout the institution. It is important that leadership is not something that is vested in the one person at the top of the tree but is distributed where needed. For this to happen there needs to a culture of innovation and the ability for staff to take risks without fear of failure. This would mean, paradoxically, that universities need to become more learning orientated workplaces (for employees).
This type of transformational distributed leadership could also work as a bridge between the differing identities of staff and enable a greater understanding of the values of each identity. This type of leadership looks at collaboration instead of competition between groups which would lead to an increase in general collegiality.
- A recognition of the value of each identity within the higher education institution
- Increased communication and cooperation between employees
- The development and training of leaders from within the ranks
- A clear way forward for the institution as a whole leading to increased morale and staff commitment
- A vision for not only the present but for the future
By instilling a respect and acknowledgment of the values of both identities it is likely that better morale, collegiality, efficiencies and higher levels of trust will develop naturally. In the case of higher education institutions these things are top down phenomenon.
- Development of leadership programmes that best fit the institution
- Adaptation of current management and leadership theory
- Inspiring staff with two different identities requires complete buy-in from the leaders and sincerity when dealing with both sides
- Clear, defined vision for the future of the institution
- Best possible communication tools
- Academic Manager or Managed Academic? – Richard Winter
- Organisational Behaviour on the Pacific Rim 3rd Edition – McShane, Olekalns, Travaglione
- Management as ideology: the case of ‘new managerialism’ in higher education – Rosemary Deem and Kevin Brehony
- Organisations and the issue of multiple identities: who loves you baby? Judy Pate and Phillip Beaumont
- Members’ Identification with Multiple-Identity Organisations – Peter Forman and David Whetten
- Bernie Frey