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Strategic leadership for challenging global times

27 Aug 2020 | Alastair Work, Lisa Sofianos Lisa Sofianos and Alastair Work, programme directors for our Strategic Leadership Programme, share how its ninth iteration will be delivered online during the global coronavirus pandemic.

There is no single source of wisdom that can give us the answers on how to lead during a 21st century pandemic but never has it been more important to consider how you manage yourself and others: to be authentic, to create deeper human and professional connections and to continue to develop. Leaders who are flexible, who are adaptable, who continue to learn and who are able to make difficult decisions from a position of strategic intent and humanity are those who will thrive in the future, regardless of what any future new ‘normal’ might be.

We have not been immune from the challenges posed by the pandemic. Along with the rest of the sector we have faced the need to move our provision into the online environment.

Like others, we were initially curious about how this would work in practice. We have all attended online meetings that have been both clumsy and dispiriting. To avoid this, we have researched best practice in a rapidly moving technological and skills landscape, adapting the programme to ensure it provides a high-quality learning environment for delegates, as well as remaining highly relevant and necessary to the situation higher education faces now.

Meeting global HE leadership challenges

The theme of the Strategic Leadership Programme (SLP) is, and always has been, a strategic perspective of higher education in its context and the responsibilities of leadership to engage effectively with that context. The programme explores a growing appreciation in all domains of leadership of complexity, systems thinking and the need to be confidently adaptable to changing and uncertain circumstances.

Challenges faced by individual leaders in their own higher education institutions are invariably common across all such institutions and we offer an invaluable and much-appreciated place to share experiences. Now, in addition, we have the consequences of a global pandemic, making demands of individuals, teams, institutions and the sector that we have not faced before and we consider how leadership behaviours need to be re-framed.

Online learning has moved from a niche activity to a widespread requirement. As Programme Directors we have invested significant development time into creating the online structure and content, ensuring maximum benefits, including enhanced learning outcomes. Our approach has been to dislocate learning outcomes from the learning process and completely re-engineer the latter to use what is best about online media to deliver the learning and social experience of the programme.

Our goal is to embed plenty of time for live facilitated discussions that speak to our new realities and changing circumstances while staying true to the content of the programme. 

The programme continues to provide an important space for serious reflection, for sharing our challenges with a network of supportive colleagues, for safe experimentation and for access to a range of models and perspectives specifically chosen to facilitate sense-making in the complex adaptive system of higher education.

We have worked hard to take into account the current circumstances of the global pandemic to ensure the programme meets the needs of HEI leaders at this critical time including:

  • refreshed and renewed programme content to best help the sector face the current and future challenges
  • interactive technology to create a lively and engaging learning environment backed up by a technical support team.

What’s new?

Developing the programme as an online offer has also enabled us to incorporate a number of new and additional features that take advantage of the accessibility of the online environment including:

  • an international speaker to share learning from their HE environment
  • an additional coaching session to embed the programme learning
  • an opportunity to work with professional actors in order to focus on significant and real-life conversations; practice skills in a safe and supportive environment; get specific feedback and challenge while constructing strategies with an experienced expert and widen capabilities in influencing skills.  We will also learn from observing how others engage with the process and the actors will share their own advice and experience in small groups both within and from outside our sector. 
  • structured online self-guided work to deepen and extend programme themes
  • an online platform to access resources, continue discussions, and share learning beyond the life of the programme.

Retaining the tried and tested

SLP9 also retains those aspects of the programme that lend themselves well to either synchronous or asynchronous online delivery including:

  • 360 leadership tool and disclosure coaching session
  • Action Learning sets
  • structured experiential learning 
  • time for reflection and peer learning in groups
  • tools and models to assist with sense-making
  • speakers from the UK HE sector
  • social and networking opportunities to build a supportive network of peers
  • discussions facilitated by two development professionals who are experienced in the sector and in working with senior leaders.

We do hope you’ll join us in October for this defining moment in strategic leadership for the HE sector.


Find out more about the Strategic Leadership Programme 9 here.

We feel it is important for voices to be heard to stimulate debate and share good practice. Blogs on our website are the views of the author and don’t necessarily represent those of Advance HE.

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