My top 10 tips: the leadership qualities of a vice-chancellor

by Dr Mark Pegg

With a deadline coming up, the Times Higher Education called and asked if I could quickly provide a selection of one liners – some quotable sentences to support a piece they were writing on the leadership qualities of vice-chancellors. (Read the THE article here) In crafting my response, I drew on memorable snippets from my own regular conversations with VCs.

The Leadership Foundation’s main aim is to develop leaders – not only VCs, but I do meet them regularly and they are always willing to share. It is such an interesting job and for most they will only get one shot at it and naturally want to be the best they can be.

Many said that they sought advice from mentors before taking over and have thought a great deal about their approach to leading their university or higher education college. We discuss their path to leadership, how they see the important leadership challenges today and look to the future. I think that it is important that the Leadership Foundation learns from them so that we can feed this wisdom into our programmes and other development interventions.

I got to 9 points and then remembered a 10th because a round 10 always seems more memorable. The 10th made it to the back page of Times Higher – you know you have made it when you are quoted in The Poppletonian. These are all things that VCs have said to me.

Many characteristics are those of a good leader anywhere – strategically aware, resilient in the face of criticism, courageous and compassionate – and there is no one size fits all, universities have so many different and distinctive things to do – but there are some common themes:

1. Wake up every morning knowing how lucky you are to have one of the best jobs in the world.
2. Be wise not just clever – brilliance is good, experience and commonsense are also important,
3. Prepare to wrestle with paradoxes – to drive change for the new, but conserve the best of the old
4. Know your own mind, but able to listen and take advice from others
5. Aim to see the value in things not just the price
6. Reflect and reflect again, but also know when to act
7. Be resilient and very patient but be able to up the pace when needed
8. Know what the University is for as well as what it is good at
9. Think global but care about local
10. Have a sense of humour – develop one fast if you don’t – you are going to need it.

Dr Mark Pegg is the vice-chancellor of the Leadership Foundation.