Powerbrokers: HE leaders understanding Westminster

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Vijaya Nath, shares insights from the first Powerbrokers: lifting the lid on the Westminster village programme, which took place earlier this month.

‘So were you for Brexit or not?’ This question raised an eyebrow or two as we observed select committee hearings on the implications of Brexit for the justice system. The witnesses ‘on the spike’ included Professor Tim Wilson, professor of criminal justice policy at Northumbria University. This brief, but timely look at the world of parliamentary select committee hearings provided valuable stimulus during our recent Powerbrokers programme.

Powerbrokers: lifting the lid on the Westminster village emerged from a conversation and formal exploration with over 40 senior leaders in higher education on the skillset, mind-set and toolset they believed they needed as leaders to take their institution forward. Over the duration of this new two-day programme participants were exposed to the workings of Westminster gaining along the way a more intimate understanding of how they could, as leaders exert more influence politically for the benefit of their institutions and student populations.

Observing the interactions between leaders of both HEIs and sector agencies and the selection of MPs, peers and civil servants who worked with us on this programme – three key insights struck me as instrumental in their individual and collective leadership going forward.

Insight 1: Seeking first to understand and then be understood

Critical to gaining this insight was deepening participants understanding of where higher education sits in the priority list of our political leaders at Westminster. Through frank and intimate discussion with existing peers and MPs; leaders it was quickly established that whilst higher education did not have the column inches or status ‘enjoyed’ by the NHS and health it was as a sector, important to the UK’s future and in a post Brexit world even more important. At the same time higher education leaders heard the importance of higher education leadership needing to be relevant and pragmatic, as opposed to idealistic or theoretical. In the words of one peer “leaders who bring solutions and not problems” would as expected be listened to over those who sought to “bang on about depleting student numbers post Brexit” for example.

Understanding what keeps your MP awake at night with regards to any issues in the university, whether it be about student or staff welfare issues, and communicating with them in advance of a crisis was also viewed as being appreciated. In addition to this was the plea to build more transformational relationships with local political leaders – not just view them as great to wheel out for opening a new department, but looking at what local challenges they are trying to tackle and what the university, college or specialist institution could do to help.

Insight 2: Communication skills matter

During both days of the programme higher education leaders consistently worked to understand and respond to the pace and intensity of questioning and the full range of communication skills needed to be effective at local, national and international government level. Developing the language of influence was seen to be as important as the content. Being able to move from demonstrating Intelligence Quotient (IQ) to Emotional Quotient (EQ) is an area that all those participating on the programme agreed was vital.

Insight 3: Build relationships of trust

Like all interactions between leaders we go much further when we are able to demonstrate that most basic and foundation of leadership – trust.

Often when pressed political and higher education leaders said to give trust they needed to get trust. Interestingly this takes me back to the first sentence in this blog post, which was asked by an MP, in a real select committee evidence session. Whether we believe this was the right question to ask or whether it breaks protocol – it asks individuals to reveal their personal decision in a manner that suggests that this would impact on the credibility of their evidence. Credibility – an interpersonal construct is something that we use to determine the quality of our political leaders, on Powerbrokers we heard that this was also a quality that political leaders were looking for from higher education.

This look at how higher education interacted with Westminster on this our newest programme reinforces that our decision to co-create (a much used  phrase at present in higher education) was the right one and more than this, the diagnosis higher education leaders made of their development requirements was accurate.

I look forward to facilitating the next run of Powerbrokers: Lifting the lid on the Westminster village  which runs on Tuesday 25 – Wednesday 26 April 2017, when once more we will begin the process of supporting our leaders in higher education to exert the influence we know that our students and staff deserve, so that the UK’s higher education sector builds on its considerable achievements in challenging times.

To find out more or book a place on the spring 2017 run of  Powerbrokers: Lifting the lid on the Westminster village  please click here

Is HE governance the best there is?

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Mary Joyce, Leadership Foundation governance and leadership associate, considers the dynamics and impact of good governance and whether boards should be looking beyond compliance.

What were your experiences of what it was like working with your board this year? How did you manage those strategic discussions before and after the vote to leave the European Union? Are you changing the composition of your board and its ways of working? These are live questions for many boards at the present time, in all sectors across the UK. They represent factors that are an additional disruption to the already delicate and largely unseen dynamics of work on boards.

A glance at the past year’s news stories reveals the extent to which ethics, unchecked egos, financial constraints and increased regulation dominate much of the anxiety felt by non-executives as they discharge their responsibilities on boards. Interest in good governance and its importance in organisational life is only set to increase as the pace and scale of change in the public, private and charitable sectors gathers momentum. And, as more stories of failing and dysfunctional boards appear in news stories and official reports, the typical response is to produce even more formal guidance and codes of conduct.

Yet, in 2009 when Sir David Walker published his findings on corporate governance in banks and other financial industry entities (BOFIs), he found that:

“the principal deficiencies in BOFI boards related much more to patterns of behaviour than to organisation.”

While the focus of the Walker Review was on the financial sector, many of its insights and recommendations for good governance and apply to all sectors. The best strategy for developing the capacity of your board to work well together and use all its talents in decision-making is one that focuses not only on technical know-how (legal, financial and sectoral), but also on boardroom behaviour and leadership. This will ensure you achieve more than simply compliance in the stewardship of your organisation.

Just over two years ago the Leadership Foundation designed a series of developmental workshop sessions on boardroom dynamics for higher education governors. They were well received, and we built on those foundations to design a special programme for university secretaries and clerks in recognition of their leadership role at the interface between the board and the executive – a difficult role for which there is generally less developmental support. In its launch year 28 people from 25 institutions attended this innovative programme from roles that included not only university secretaries, clerks and registrars but also, directors of strategic planning; the vice-chancellor’s chiefs of staff; and heads of governance.

The programme uses a psychodynamic approach to develop an awareness and understanding of group behaviour and its potential to either hinder or help the board’s capacity to work effectively. Facilitated learning sets offer a unique opportunity for clerks, university secretaries and those working in the governance field to work on their own organisational issues in confidence, and to apply new theories to their practice.

Participants on the programme commented that they were able to make sense of their experiences in a way that helped them to be more effective both in their role and with colleagues. They said:

“A valuable, thought-provoking, supportive and informative programme, putting the role into a wider context.”
Head of Executive Services

“(The action learning experience was) very supportive while being rigorous. It has helped me reflect on my approaches and practice which has been a very valuable element of the programme.”
Director of Strategic Operations and University Secretary

“Great course content and I’ve made great contacts. I would definitely recommend this to all clerks, whether they are new in post or have been appointed for some time.”
Clerk to the Board and Head of Governance

The Leadership Foundation is running the Clerks and Secretaries Programme again in 2017, starting in February, offering another opportunity for governance professionals to develop their skills and leadership. This higher education specific programme consists of three one-day sessions, which will include action learning set meetings, and two additional half-day action learning set meetings.

Join us as we take a look at how higher education governance’s behaviours, roles and remit compare to those of other sectors, and take the opportunity to consider whether higher education is at the forefront of governance as it continuously explores what good governance means and how it can be improved to meet the changing world.

Mary Joyce specialises in leadership development, group dynamics and organisational behaviour, and executive coaching. Her reputation for working ‘beneath the surface’ has developed through a variety of leadership and consultancy commissions in the public and private sectors.

Read our latest Governance Briefing Note – 25: The factors that influence whether governance is effective?

In addition to our highly regarded Governor Development Programme, the Leadership Foundation has a wealth of information, tools and tips on its Governance website, tailored to the specific needs of Governors of Higher Education institutions and colleges. Find out more at: www.lfhe.ac.uk/governance

Why is HE like a Travelling Circus?

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Doug Parkin, Leadership Foundation Programme Director reflects on why developing leadership in learning and teaching is critical.

After falling on hard times two brothers went their separate ways.

Ivan said to his brother “you can keep the big top, the caravans, the animals and the cages, and I wish you well with them”. 

Orlov took them and aimed to keep the great traditions alive. Visiting the towns his family had always visited, he had animals doing tricks, stupid clowns being cruel to each other, strong men lifting weights, and lots and lots of dancing girls… and fewer and fewer people came. 

Ivan went to new cities and entertained in venues never visited by a circus before. Humans performed instead of animals, incredible acrobats, jugglers and gymnasts, and in his circus clever clowns created magic and told new stories.

The Travelling Circus – which university are you?

Leading Transformation in Learning and Teaching: never more important!

When the Leading Transformation in Learning and Teaching (LTLT) programme began the landscape of radical change surrounding learning and teaching in Higher Education appeared significant, and indeed it was, but in the short period of three-years that has elapsed since then the challenges relating to student engagement, transforming curricula, and quality enhancement have become profound. Not just because of the Teaching Excellence Framework, but further catalysed by it and the debate it has fuelled, striving for teaching excellence has become an imperative on all institutional agendas.  And the relationship with students, as partners in not just the learning process but also the on-going development of the institution itself, has created new dialogues, challenges and expectations.  Linked to this there are many other agendas that could be mentioned such as social mobility and fair access, internationalisation, marketisation, technology enhanced learning, employability, expressing learning gain, and needless to say the colossal uncertainty surrounding Brexit.

LTLT is a programme very much of its time. It is aimed at a constituency of academic colleagues whose needs have not been fully recognised by staff development in the past – namely, course and programme leaders, senior course tutors, associate deans and those in similar roles.  A key acknowledgement (and celebration!) this programme makes both explicitly and, perhaps, symbolically is that programme directors and course leaders have become some of the most important people in our universities: if they don’t succeed then neither do their institutions – the traditional travelling circus fades away and is replaced by the nouveau cirque.

The overall aim of LTLT is:

To support participants to develop the skills, approaches and insights needed to lead course and programme teams through processes of transformation and innovation.

LTLT is an inspirational programme in itself. Not because of its content or its pedagogy, although there is much to be appreciated there, but because of the community of practitioners it brings together from across the sector and the quality of dialogue, interaction and exchange it promotes.  This rich thinking environment, with a focus on transformation, innovation and new approaches, helps participants to develop the energy for change in an ever-evolving learning and teaching environment.

Reflecting on the LTLT experience and its impact, the following is some participant feedback:

  • I learned a very great deal about investment by stakeholders, partnership with students, and the crucial importance of negotiation in relation to the curriculum and much else besides. This is the most exciting (and exacting) leadership course I have ever undertaken.
  • I used one of the tools within days of returning to work.
  • I feel empowered to be a consultant/critical friend (in learning, teaching and assessment) within the workplace. This role is essential.
  • I have found this programme to be extremely useful, extremely enjoyable, an excellent networking opportunity, a great way of sharing best practice, crammed full of useful information, and at all times run by experts who are incredibly helpful and supportive. I cannot recommend this programme highly enough.
  • An excellent programme for which I am grateful.
  • The sessions were quite simply the best example of CPD I’ve been on and perfectly pitched, thoroughly prepared and delivered in an engaging manner.

Leading Transformation in Learning and Teaching is a development programme offered by a sector partnership between the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education and the Higher Education Academy. It has been running very successfully since 2013 and the next cohort begins in March 2017.

Delivered through three modules and two-on-line action learning sets over a period of 6 months, the structure of LTLT is simple. The first module called ‘Getting Started’ is a two-day residential focussed on firstly leading change and enhancement and secondly leading through inquiry and influence. The second one-day module called ‘Getting Going’ is centred around leading engagement and challenge. The final one-day module, ‘Going Forward’, uses action learning to focus fully on the participants’ own transformation pilots, initiatives they are leading in their own institutions, and how to plan for sustainable impact. To continue discussion around progress of the transformation pilots there are then two further on-line action learning set meetings. Key features of the programme include:

  • A Strategic Toolkit of organisational development tools to help support and facilitate transformational change, some of which have been developed uniquely for the programme;
  • A live case study involving a university team part way through a significant change initiative;
  • Engaging with key perspectives on leadership in an academic context, and linked to this a range of relevant change theory;
  • Considering how to lead with influence rather than through authority;
  • Opportunities to develop the skills necessary to become an effective internal consultant;
  • Exploring new approaches to curriculum design;
  • Sessions on quality and pedagogic innovation; bringing students to the centre of the transformation process; the use of narrative for change; and building communities of practice;
  • The opportunity for participants to work on and develop a current transformation initiative, with further support through action learning;
  • Use of Yammer as a social site to provide resources and allow for on-line discussion;
  • Gaining evidence towards professional recognition against either level 3 of level 4 of the UK Professional Standard Framework.

The programme espouses a number of important values and principles including working to a non-deficit model of academic development, the importance of mutual learning through the live case study and working with an appreciative spirit of inquiry. The importance of open, collaborative working and engagement is emphasised throughout.  And above all the programme illustrates how leadership is generative and endorses the notion that transformational change is iterative, emergent and intensely negotiated.

So, the travelling circus must reinvent itself to survive. Why?  Because the world is changing and audiences move on.  To change the course of history we must change the course of leadership, and if universities are to play their role in answering the big questions of tomorrow, then transformational leadership needs our full support.

Those that are excellently inspired have the capacity to inspire excellence. 

Doug Parkin is co-programme director of the Leading Transformation in Learning and Teaching programme, working alongside Steve Outram from the Higher Education Academy. Find out more and book your place here. Doug is also the author of ‘Leading Learning and Teaching in Higher Education: The key guide to designing and delivering courses’.  The book explores contemporary ideas on leadership, engagement and student learning into a practical solutions-based resource designed for those undertaking the challenge of leading a university-level teaching module, programme or suite of programmes, particularly through periods of transformation or change.