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Approaches to academic leadership in the 21st Century

17 Sep 2019 | Barbara Bassa Barbara Bassa recently joined Advance HE’s Knowledge, Innovation and Delivery directorate as Senior Leadership and Organisational Development Adviser. We asked Barbara for her headline attributes for leaders in higher education in the 21st Century…

We are living in times of unprecedented change. Politically, economically, socially and environmentally, the old paradigms and systems are shifting.

Brexit, diminished funding, continuous conversation about value for money, managing standards and grade inflation, changes in regulation and increasing competition are just some of the challenges creating the cauldron of uncertainty in the higher education (HE) sector.

The current context calls for a new kind of leadership. We need leaders who are flexible and agile; collaborative, inclusive, mindful of the emerging future and who are appreciative.

What does it mean practically?

  • Flexible and agile leaders are able to adapt their style to the requirements of the situation, quickly able to change direction and mobilise, with authenticity, internal and external resources to support that change.
  • Collaborative leaders see organisations as systems of relationships where transformation occurs as a result of developing strong networks. They break down silos and nurture leadership potential at all organisational levels.
  • Inclusive leaders understand their own and others’ values and biases. They harness creativity and innovation through employing diverse talent and connecting across diverse cultures and ways of thinking.
  • Mindful leaders are able to pause and think so that they can respond in the most effective way, rather than react, based on past experiences and practiced ways of being. Being alert to what is happening right now allows the leaders to see and hear more, to scan the environment and see the future that wants to emerge.
  • Appreciative leaders harness the positive energy, explore what already works and build on it. They know how to link individual motivations and ambitions with organisational purpose and values.

Leadership needs to be harnessed and developed. It requires a space for self-reflection, critical assessment, seeing things through a new lens and the support of others. Also, leadership is a social phenomenon and is best learnt with other people, hence the importance of leadership programmes and networks.

I am very excited that I will have an opportunity to work with leaders across the HE sector to support leadership growth.

In the coming year, I will be working on:

Barbara Bassa, Senior Leadership Development Adviser, has an MSc in Organisational Development from Sheffield Business School, MSc in Business, postgraduate diplomas in Social Communication and Human Resource Management. She is an HEA Senior Fellow and an accredited Fierce Conversations facilitator. Barbara has worked extensively in the higher education sector, particularly with senior leaders and executive teams facilitating programmes aimed at developing organisational effectiveness and leadership behaviours. She has also worked with leaders and executive teams in the NHS, government bodies, housing associations, pharmaceutical and cosmetic companies, manufacturing, banking, insurance, aviation and IT sectors, in the UK and internationally.


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