Strategic leadership is widely defined as the ability to influence others to voluntarily make decisions that enhance the prospects of the organisation’s success. In learning and teaching, you could substitute or supplement organisation’s success with the students’ success. I believe that this is achieved by creating an environment in which your colleagues can thrive and contribute; so, I see leadership of an academic community as being primarily a service involving the creation and maintenance of a culture of scholarship and excellence.
I have led academic departments on both sides of the Atlantic, university-industrial research programmes and various other organisations and initiatives. However, the standard interview question about my leadership style still tends to stump me – I struggle to identify a consistent approach to my leadership and I am nervous that too much analysis could undermine my ability to lead. However, by chance, I recently came across Daniel Goleman’s work. His research has shown that the use of a collection of leadership styles (he identifies six styles), each at the right time and in the right amount, produces the most effective outcomes. In other words, effective leadership is about being pragmatic and adjusting your approach to suit the circumstances. What’s more, Goleman found that most successful business leaders who followed this pragmatic approach had no idea how they selected the right style for the right time.
Goleman’s work implies that you do not have to conform to one leadership model. Instead, you can roam across a number of leadership styles and select the right one, for the right situation and use it in just the right amount. It sounds straightforward but this flexibility is tough to put into action. Of course, that’s not easy to teach because most of us don’t know how or why we make those decisions but it is related to emotional intelligence and leadership competencies, which we do know how to teach.
Goleman D, Boyatzis R & McKee, The new leaders: transforming the art of leadership into the science of results, London: Sphere, 2002.