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Leading with humanity

11 Feb 2020 | Jo Chaffer The fourth webinar in the Facing the Future webinar series for Advance HE members focuses on leading with humanity. Jo Chaffer, Senior Advisor (Leadership and Management) at Advance HE, explains more.

People tasked with ‘showing leadership’ in universities frequently find their actions constrained by time-hungry, admin-burdened systems and ill-fitting structures. When the resources with which to ‘do leadership’ are squeezed to the limit, and the people we are asked to lead with feel similarly squeezed, the task can seem invidious.

As a leadership development practitioner working with universities around the world, and latterly, with mid to senior management in multiple UK HE institutions, the service I’m contracted in to provide can initially seem, to participants, mismatched with the challenge at hand. 

Why come in to support individuals in their leadership, when to all intents and purposes, it (feels as if it) is the system, structures and strategies that are the ‘problem’? 

Is it ethical, is it right, to expect leadership from us?

Wouldn’t ‘the university’ be better spending resource fixing the system? 

These questions may not always be voiced, but they are often present in the subtext – a subtext that is quietly screaming, we’re real, living breathing people here in this machine. And it is too much: the constant deluge of requirements, reporting, the sense we are ‘leaders’ only to ‘make them do it’ - it’s inhuman. At some point, during the session this will likely bubble up: as anger (‘I am not part of the machine!’); as frustration (‘just let me get on and teach / research’) and worse. The answers are within the problem – we are human, and we must do leadership with sufficient humanity to not only be true to that for our team’s, our people’s, sakes but also to be true to ourselves, to ensure we look after our own wellbeing.

How do we do this?

How do we stand for humanity as the seemingly endless tide of corporate requirements and demands flood around us? How do we retain and reinforce our humanity and also fulfil the requirements of ‘the university’? How do we flourish as leaders, as academics?

And more than this: how do we influence and evolve the very processes, systems and structures that may feel so dehumanising, so that the space for leading with humanity expands?

Doing leadership – with humanity, from the middle out on 25 February 2020 is a webinar for Advance HE members which explores some different practices for both leading with humanity within the system, and leading to change the system. 

We are fortunate to have on our panel people in leadership in two UK universities: a cross-university perspective from the five Directors of School who comprise the Academic Management Team at Marjon University and the Programme Director of Lancaster University’s ExecMBA, who also happens to be visiting faculty at the Centre for Humanitarian Leadership, Deakin University in Australia and a researcher in leadership.

Themes include:

  • agency (growing into it, using it wisely) 
  • collaboration and the power of the collective 
  • our need, as academics, for a sense of autonomy and space (Bolden, 2016)
  • staff experience vs student experience
  • and a question – ‘Who is ‘the university’, if it’s not you?’

Join us for an hour of lively, generative conversation that we anticipate will challenge and also support your thinking, and maybe seed some new ideas for practising leadership with more humanity in your world.


Doing leadership – with humanity, from the middle out is a webinar for Advance HE members only. Find out more and book your place 


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