Developing Leadership and Organisational Development in Higher Education

I recently had the privilege to be invited to attend the Higher Education Leadership Forum (HELF) in Sheffield. The event, organised jointly by the University of Sheffield and Careleton University from Canada, brought together academics, leadership specialists and thought leaders from around the world to:

  • Promote international collaboration in the field of developing leaders and leadership systems in higher education
  • Build stronger connections, share leading practices and learn from others
  • Establish an international community of engaged higher education leadership development specialists

There is no other forum for those involved with promoting and developing leadership and organisational development in higher education from an international field to come together, share good practice and learn from one another.

This is the reason I was so delighted to receive our invitation; for the business, it gave us an opportunity to showcase our solutions at the highest level on a global stage. For me personally it gave me an opportunity to hear what is currently happening in leadership development in higher education and to gain deeper insights into how Personal Strengths’ solutions can contribute.

This is the first of a series of articles which will showcase what I learned at the forum.

Forge the future – it’s all about leading through behaviours

In this lecture Robert Richie, from the University of Salford, began by explaining there has always been a strong appetite for effective leadership at the university. It is seen as vital, it drives change and direction and also the culture of an organisation. They invested in leadership development running a number of stand-alone events on developing things like vision, trust and direction.

And nothing happened. Nothing changed.

So, they looked again and soon realised their mistake; everything was too theoretical, it was all about hierarchy and status when, in the real world, effective leadership is about accountability and responsibility. Their epiphany was leadership is not a position, it’s a set of behaviours. So they changed their approach, leading at all levels became a mind-set, drawing on a set of effective behaviours that are pragmatic and contextualised to real world situations. Learning and development were able to move away from formal training events and towards proactive and guided learning supported by complementary processes and systems.

This conclusion came as no surprise to me, throughout my career I have witnessed learning and development initiatives that have failed to deliver the desired outcome. In almost every case the root cause was too much emphasis on knowledge and theory (what to do) and too little, if any, attention given to behaviour and skills (how to do it).

It is unsurprising higher education took a little time to realise the importance of behaviours, academia is, after all, the ultimate bastion of knowledge where theory is everything. But, once the realisation was made, Richard and the team at Salford addressed it with the rigour you would expect. In his own words:

“If the University of Salford is to continue to forge the way, we must develop the right leadership behaviours. We must develop leadership capability at all levels and provide interventions that promote horizontal and vertical development. Learning interventions must be agile, robust and relevant.”

In my next blog we’ll examine how leadership at all levels can be reached through adopting the correct behaviours to achieve a common purpose, and authentic connections.

Lisa Graham, Director of Client Relationships
Lisa has years of experience helping clients to implement and sustain performance improvement projects on a global scale. Her areas of expertise include, leadership, team management, relationship management, conflict management, culture change, sales and negotiation. She works closely with her clients throughout all the phases of the training cycle.


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