Leading People is Leading Diversity

‘Reality is diverse; therefore a true reflection of reality includes diversity.’  Nancy Kline

Shirley Wardell, programme director of our research leadership development programmes discusses the importance of encouraging diverse thinking and insight into the valuable skills every leader should prioritise.

I have come to think of the skills leaders need to understand the diversity issues as mainstream leadership skills.  To my mind managing people is managing diversity. Diversity goes beyond minority groups and the obvious power imbalances.  Diversity extends to the subtle depth of how we think, which has a direct impact on how well we perform in our jobs.

Diversity grows when people have the ability to hear, openly, what everybody thinks.  Having practised that skill, with people we believe are similar to us, we may be better prepared to listen to those we assume are more different to us.  The charming surprise is; that as Maya Angelou says, ‘We are more similar than we are different.’ Once we have accepted that we are more likely to be similar in a broad way, appreciating the specific differences seems to be the key.  So how can we be sure that we are able to allow, or even encourage, different ways of thinking?

I choose the Thinking Environment® to help me, and my clients, to create the conditions for diverse thinking to flourish. When you run an event in a Thinking Environment®; everyone has a turn. That means; you go round the group and ask everyone what they think.  Sometimes people tell me it takes too long, but they are really stumped when I ask them who they would leave out of the round.

In an event such as this no-one interrupts and participant say; ‘If I don’t interrupt, I might forget my idea?’ And again, they look a bit blank when I ask, ‘What if the person you interrupt forgets theirs?’ Giving turns, not interrupting, appreciating each other, asking how to make things better and a positive philosophy are a few of the ways to get everyone involved in a productive way.

The Thinking Environment® has ten components; however there are a few principles that sum it up for me:

  • The way we listen to someone has an impact on the quality of their thinking.  If we are able focus on them, stop judging and create a time and space for them; the quality of their thinking improves.  At a recent workshop I asked how it feels to be listened to really well and people said they felt valued, important, as if their ideas matter, that they have a contribution to make, happy, it improved their self esteem, relaxed and intelligent.  Well, if all those things can be achieved by, ‘just listening’ we should perhaps put listening at the top of the leadership skills list.
  • When you think on behalf of someone else you are disempowering them.  When you think your ideas are better, or you are simply too busy for them to find their own answer, you are stopping them from thinking and therefore stopping them from learning and growing.  Being able to develop staff has become one of the most valuable assets to Institutions and leaders who can do this will have the evidence of their success in their research output.
  • A positive philosophy is required to help people perform well.  Our expectations will have an impact on the outcomes.  Those expectations include what I expect from the person and what my prejudices are about that person. I need to be able to see there are numerous and unknown possibilities yet to be achieved for every individual.
  • We also need to examine our assumptions about the world.  What we expect to be possible in this office, this organisation, this market, this country and this world; will have an impact on our own and our team’s thinking.  Leadership training needs to explore the assumptions we make and the impact that has on performance; and then show how to, pragmatically, choose assumptions that will help us perform better.

Research Team Leadership and Leading Research Leaders are run in a Thinking Environment® and include many of the reliable principles and actions that help research leaders to think. They are then able to pass that favour on to their teams and collaborators.

The Thinking Environment® was developed by Nancy Kline of Time to Think

Find out more about Shirley Wardell by visiting our website www.lfhe.ac.uk/resprog

Top 11 things those new to higher education need to know

Rita Walters, marketing and communications coordinator, Leadership Foundation shares the insights from colleagues at the Leadership Foundation on what they believe are the key messages for those new to higher education.

1. Higher education is complex
Higher education is a complex operational and regulatory environment with an assortment of constituencies, sector bodies, missions and competing agendas. It will take you time to navigate your way around it.

2. Higher education is diverse
There is no ‘one’ higher education – it’s a highly diverse and broad sector both across and within institutions. You might think that higher education is incredibly behind or incredibly ahead, depending on your role.

3. But higher education does have key core values
It is proud to produce new knowledge and intellectual capital for the public benefit AND contribute to the economy! Higher education institutions contribute £73 billion a year to the UK economy.

4. You will be expected to collaborate
Higher education is an innovative sector that succeeds through collaboration at both the micro and macro level.

5. There is freedom
There are opportunities for progression however you must be proactive. Development takes many forms and up isn’t necessarily the only direction of travel.

6. Get involved
Don’t hide behind your role. Push upwards, ask questions (and be prepared to be questioned), be nosy, offer to participate, reach out, challenge the silo, look for opportunities and value them.

7. And you need to get networked
Network across the sector and across your professional area. Given the complexity and diversity of higher education you will only ‘get it’ by getting out. Be prepared to demonstrate and be confident and credible to get people to listen.

8. Don’t forget the customer
That’s the students, parents and higher education stakeholders e.g. The newly formed Office for Students and the government.

9. Don’t underestimate government and governance
The implications and impact of government policies can be immense, and the landscape of governance is changing – getting this right is key.

10. It takes time to understand the mysteries and magic of higher education
Be ready for a bit of a culture shock but hang on in there, it’s worth it. Be open to change and don’t give up, even though it may not feel very organised or stable.

11. And accept that you will never know all the acronyms
That’s not a bad thing as we have got the full guide on higher education acronyms on our website: Click here to download your copy. If you notice an acronym is missing from the list, please contact me, E: rita.walters@lfhe.ac.uk 

Want to learn more about higher education?
If you are new to the sector and would like to understand the context you are working in, then take a look at our Higher Education Insights programme: www.lfhe.ac.uk/ihe


Fortune Befriends the Bold

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Photograph: Nationaal Archief/Flickr: Sylvia Pankhurst protesting in London in 1932.

Vijaya Nath, director of leadership development at the Leadership Foundation, reflects on the work the higher education sector has ahead of it to close the gender leadership gap.

As we come to the end of Women’s History month I and colleagues have reflected on the now established annual campaign for equality and ask what more do we need to do to make the changes still needed in 2017?

On 8 March 1977 the United Nations (UN) general assembly invited member states to make this date the UN day for women’s rights (and world peace). Fast forward to 2017, forty years on from that date we are still fighting for 50:50 recognition and economic empowerment – a goal set to be realised by 2030. The UN tasked all member states to work across all sectors to a common goal –where gender inequality no longer exists. Reflecting on how this movement can be tracked back to events from 1909 in New York to 1913 in Russia and to 8 March 1914 in London, when Sylvia Pankhurst was arrested in front of Charring Cross station on her way to speak in Trafalgar Square, I realise that this documented fight for equality has gone on for over one hundred years.

Like many, I have lived the past 40 years believing that our work and contribution as women would be recognised and given parity. I feel the frustration of another generation of girls, daughters, sisters, women, facing a world in which objects and emotions are still gendered. A world in which our gender is still seen as barriers to progression as opposed to being celebrated for the gifts it brings. In the words of Harriet Minter, writer on women in leadership, a world where ‘Speaking out is still an act of courage…’.

The glacial pace of change on women achieving equality continues to be met by marches and marching and recently to a number of symbolic and quiet protests. As I and hundreds of thousands more participated in Global marches like @Womensmarch, #BridgesNotWalls and as I think back on the recent honouring of suffragettes by the Democratic women who staged a quiet protest wearing white outfits to the newly elected President’s first formal address to congress #WomenWearWhite, I wonder how much longer we will have to march before we achieve equality? My colleagues in America ask when will a woman be the leader of ‘the free world?’

This month we saw the publication of Tom Schuller’s book that provokes a discussion focused on ‘The Paula Principle’ (converse to ‘The Peter Principle’ a term coined in the 60s to describe people rising to leadership roles – who are judged to be less than competent but who keep on rising until they are found out – many of us have witnessed this in our working life). Schuller reinforces the well-rehearsed and identified barriers to women progressing; straight discrimination on basis of gender; structural barriers such as affordability and access to child care; the lower self-belief and confidence that some women identify as barriers to progressing; women lacking ‘vertical’ networks including mentors and sponsors higher up organisations or systems. Schuller’s fifth factor that women may be exercising a ‘positive choice’ in not opting to choose leadership will be the area that prompts most discussion. The hypothesis that ‘working women tend to stick at a level below that of their full competence and qualification’ is one that requires us women to speak up whether we go for the top or not!

Throughout my career I have witnessed and have been privileged to be part of organisations where supporting women to achieve their potential has been a core value. I have seen the Royal College of Surgeons elect its first female President in its 214 year history, and we have seen the appointment of a woman as this nation’s top Police officer. Both Clare Marx and Cressida Dick have ‘shattered ceilings’. There are many other notable breakthroughs which reinforce that we can break with past traditions and create cultures in which women at all ages thrive and are able to bring the gifts that their gender brings to the culture and leadership of our organisations, institutions and the world. None, in my opinion, more valuable than the cultures in which we are educating the future generations of women and men. Universities are a way off achieving the 50:50 by the 2030 goal.  However the movement created and awareness raised through over 6000 women’s participation in our Aurora programme has produced a large ripple. These 6000 have each in turn impacted on at least a further 10 colleagues – enabling over 60,000 men and women to have conversations on making change happen and encouraging women in higher education to find their way to leadership should this be their goal. Featured in the Times Higher Education and The Guardian, the need for positive, progressive action like Aurora is a mission that we all must share, starting with these 6000.

Let us make 2017 a year in which we realise tangible outcomes from being bold.

On 8 March, International Women’s Day, colleagues and I encouraged and tried to influence wherever possible using the theme #BeBoldForChange to continue the march towards achieving equality. I hope that 8 March 2017 and Women’s History month in particular ushers in and invites boldness, risk taking and moving beyond marches. As Emily Dickinson wrote ‘Fortune befriends the bold’. Let us make 2017 a year in which we realise tangible outcomes from being bold. Please share your acts of Boldness in higher education with us by leaving comments on our blog pages and through the #LFAurora hashtag.

Vijaya Nath is the director of leadership development at the Leadership Foundation. She leads the Aurora programme, a women-only leadership development initiative created to proactively address the under-representation of women in leadership in higher education.

Dates for Aurora year 5 will be released shortly. If you would like to be the first to know please email the Aurora team, e: aurora@lfhe.ac.uk.

Turbulence, growth and wicked issues

Andy Shenstone, director of consultancy and business development at the Leadership Foundation, looks at the key trends and challenges higher education leader’s face this year, and offers some advice for executive teams looking to steer a calmer path

Setting out long-term plans in the face of sector-wide turbulence is a challenge for every executive team with which we are working and it is clear that many of the assumptions underpinning institutional strategies have to be revisited, even if they were written as recently as twelve months ago.

The complex interaction between changing government policy, the new regulatory environment (and, for Scotland, the new governance environment and student number controls), Brexit, immigration policy, REF, TEF, pensions and national demographics, to name but a few meta factors, is demanding continuous and close assessment by executive teams.

A core assumption that has underpinned many institutional strategies was an ambition for absolute ‘growth’ in student numbers. Clearly some institutions will grow on these terms, (Bristol and Coventry are two notable examples) but the headwinds that must be overcome to achieve this are significant. In both the examples cited above growth has been allied to a much broader (and bolder) reconfiguration of the institution’s strategy. Aiming for growth without making such a fundamental reappraisal has repeatedly been shown as highly unlikely to succeed.

An effective strategy needs to speak to delivering a sustainable and resilient outcome that is aligned with the institution’s educational character, culture and risk appetite. This might mean managed growth in certain areas, a rebalancing of the portfolio or a significant new venture. But absolute growth and institutional sustainability should not be conflated. For some institutions, a managed reduction in scale and breadth in provision is both a legitimate and necessary course to take and should release resources to drive up quality and improve learning outcomes (London Metropolitan’s plans for moving to a single campus is one example).

This speaks to one of the sectors ‘wicked issues’ – the fundamental resilience of an institution’s portfolio. There is now a lot more attention being given to this by executives. Yet it remains an issue of such sensitivity that it is not always addressed with the objectivity it demands and some governing bodies remain under-equipped to provide the necessary assurance on this key topic. Probing sometimes long term, systemic instances of weak performance is crucial, as is establishing clear plans for their resolution.

This highlights the importance of being clear about where you are starting from and why the status quo is unacceptable.  A historic weakness in many universities, albeit one that is being gradually overcome, has been the use of timely information to establish a shared understanding of current and projected performance.

Our experience has been that too much emphasis has been placed on making use of analysis that explains what has already happened – when it’s evidently too late to do anything about the issues being examined. Leaders need information that assists them in making sense of a complex world and the direction of travel the institution is likely to take. Higher education is now placing much greater emphasis on developing capabilities that can deliver genuine insight into projected performance – and in a world where old assumptions are dying hard, this is very much needed.

It’s one thing to define the challenges but how is the Leadership Foundation supporting institutions in dealing with them?

As a dedicated higher education specialist agency, one of our distinctive qualities is the sheer breadth and depth of experience which means we understand both the fundamentals of higher education and ‘what works’ when it comes to devising real world solutions.

Allying this experience to an understanding of institutional context is pivotal. Size is but one factor, to be put alongside mission, the balance of research and teaching, the shape (and health) of the overall portfolio and underlying resilience. Superseding everything is the distinctive educational character of the institution, which speaks to its core purpose, values and ethos.

In shaping our interaction, we focus upon the value we must add and the outcomes we must deliver. What must a successful intervention look and feel like to the university’s executive?  How will they recognise it and what form must it take? What benefits they are seeking from our involvement?  What skills and capabilities do they require of our team?

In giving any form of advice we work through a process of co-design and solution development and the support we provide takes a wide variety of forms. In the last few months this has included facilitating executive and or governing body strategic planning events, acting as an external critical friend as new strategies are being created, conducting targeted market and competitor research through to wider evaluations of institutional operating models that explore issues as fundamental as shared services, and institutional merger.

Andy Shenstone has worked in higher education for more than 19 years with a personal focus on executive teams and governing bodies and strategically critical transformation initiatives. In addition to working in the UK, Andy’s international experience includes working for, and advising governments and universities in, Egypt, Myanmar, the Gulf States, China, Malaysia and the Caribbean.

For more information on our Consultancy work, visit: www.lfhe.ac.uk/consultancy

Top 5 lessons for new leaders

In this blog, we share the top five lessons that previous participants on our blended programme for new leaders, Transition to Leadership (TTL) found valuable on their leadership journey.

1. It was crucial to have a safe space to take risks
In order to gain confidence in learning new leadership skills, it is crucial that new leaders have access to an environment where they are encouraged to take risks. No one likes to make mistakes, but mistakes can give us our greatest lessons and having a risk free environment to make them can be insightful.

2. There is not a definitive leadership style
On TTL, we explore a variety of different leadership styles from Commanding to Democratic* and participants noticed that each of them have something positive to offer in any leadership scenario. A good leader will be able to adapt different leadership styles in relation to circumstances or indeed the people they work with.

3. Respect individual differences
Difference within teams is far more useful than homogeneity. If new leaders can understand their colleagues’ different personality preferences, they can adapt their leadership style to steer their team more effectively.

4. Coaching is an undervalued skill
Coaching is essentially about asking the right questions rather than providing the right answers. New leaders will find this an important tool to help build their listening and questioning skills to effectively support the individuals in their team.

5. Clarity is essential when dealing with change
One of the most valuable lessons TTL taught those new to leadership was that whenever change is implemented, it requires clarity in communication and engagement. This isn’t an easy task, however it is important in those situations to find examples of best practice and relate it to their own change experience.

Are you looking for development for your new leaders?
There is still time for your new leaders to take part in Transition to Leadership. The programme takes place through Thursday 16 March 2017– Thursday 22 June 2017 over 3 face-to-face days and 16 hours of facilitated online activities.

If you would like to send colleagues onto the programme please visit our website: www.lfhe.ac.uk/ttl or alternatively you can contact Rita Walters, Marketing and Communications Coordinator, E: rita.walters@lfhe.ac.uk or T: 0203 468 4817.

*The leadership styles mentioned are from a model created by Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis, and Annie McKee in their 2002 book, “Primal Leadership.”

10 things we learned about the experiences of women working in higher education

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Examining the conclusions from a recent report by the Leadership Foundation, Louise Clifton reviews the 10 key things we’ve learned about about women’s leadership journeys.

Across the world, it will be 170 years until we achieve gender parity.

For higher education, women continue to be under-represented in senior leadership roles. To understand how to create a more equal, diverse, leadership, and how we can get there quicker, we need to know more about the experiences of women working in the sector right now.

Over the last 18 months we have been in contact with over 1500 women about their experiences of working in higher education – from work-life balance to leadership capabilities and opportunities for development. We reached 10 key conclusions that will help the sector understand the opportunities and challenges that women face, and to start to make progressive, positive, action.

Led by an expert research team at Loughborough University, here’s what we know so far:

Message 1 – Above and beyond

86% of women indicate that their job requires them to influence over others over whom they have no authority. Many women have an appetite for leadership and seek it out, but there is a danger that asking women to go ‘above and beyond’ will mean they continue to go, and feel, unrecognised.

Message 2 – We do have the skills

Many women are confident that they possess the relevant leadership skills but more could be done to support women to implement their skills in a political workplace, which in turn could help women overcome structural inhibitors.

Message 3 – The workplace

Promotion and development opportunities are believed to be opaque and poorly run. Real and perceived barriers are prevalent, and the sector needs to do more to communicate a transparent, fair, process for career advancement.

Message 4 – Keep giving us your support

Respondents told us that there are supportive managers, leaders and mentors working in higher education, and team-work and co-operation are often encouraged. Continuing to invest in these practices will help institutions navigate experienced and perceived negative workplace practices.

Message 5 – Diverse motives

It’s a mixed bag whether respondents seek skill development with the intention of progressing their career. Being an expert in one’s domain, to be of service to the organisation and a desire for job security ranked higher than seeking out top leadership positions.  (This doesn’t mean women are uninterested in leadership activities within their work roles, however)

Message 6 – Flexible flexibility

Survey data suggest that some women believe flexible working is taken as a sign that they are not serious about their career. Cultivating a sense that working non-traditional hours does not indicate someone is less committed will be key to unlocking potential for those with commitments outside of the traditional 9-5 work practices.

Message 7 – More career management, please

On the whole, women seek out opportunities to build their skills, increase their visibility and maintain their networks. However institutions could do more to encourage women to go beyond their ‘norm’ and really get under the skin of where they want their career to go, and to support them to get there.

Message 8 – Aurora is clearly helping

Although there is still a long way to go, Aurora, a women-only leadership development programme, has given women more confidence and they report that their leadership skillsets have increased. On the whole, Aurorans seek out and ‘do’ more leadership.

Message 9 – The divide

Women working in professional services are generally more positive than their academic colleagues about workplace culture and practices. They have a more positive sense that they are better prepared for leadership roles and report greater confidence in their knowledge of how their organisation runs.

Message 10 – what’s in ethnicity?

BAME respondents reported less positive views of the culture of their workplace. However, these groups consider themselves ambitious, highly work-centered and focused on skills development. There is huge potential here to nurture this ambition.

Why wait 170 years when we could be pushing harder for greater equality, diversity and inclusion?

Insights like these will be instrumental to bring about positive change, faster.

These 10 conclusions are drawn from the first year report of a five-year longitudinal study. The largest of its kind, this study will continue to track women’s experiences and journeys over the next four years, and will identify the impact of Aurora, the Leadership Foundation’s women-only leadership programme.

Read the summary report here: www.lfhe.ac.uk/Y1aurorasummary

And the long report with data analysis here: www.lfhe.ac.uk/Y1aurorareport

To discover more about the study, visit: www.lfhe.ac.uk/aurorastudy

Louise Clifton is the senior marketing coordinator at the Leadership Foundation. An Aurora alumna, she works closely with the research team at Loughborough University to communicate the findings from this five-year longitudinal study.

Can the HE sector address the issue of impact for the future REF?


Kim Ansell, considers how thinking about research and teaching is a leadership issue and a path to achieving resilient impact.

The jury is out on the question of whether higher education is having an impact on our economy, our industries, and employability of our graduates. To assess impact from a broad versus narrow, international versus local and internal versus external are just some of the current deliberations which HEFCE need to consider and which the HE community need to respond on.  Matthew Guest’s article sums up the debate on this issue in relation to the REF.

Only a few weeks ago David Morris was also asking the question can a university excel both in teaching and in research, with an interesting comparison to the banking sector.

For me, having spent much of my early career treading the fine line between making academic research palatable and valuable for practice, while still meeting the needs of the academic community for rigour and reputation. I feel sure that there is a link worth pursuing if we are to achieve that nirvana of excellent teaching and academic rankings.

My experience suggests that separation of teaching and research is just the tip of the iceberg, and the underlying culture of a non-holistic approach to work is a hidden trap which has implications for staff to be able to thrive, collaborate and to ensure that research inspires and enriches teaching, so that students benefit from learning in a research rich culture.  The separation extends from issues such as contracts, right through to strategy, performance measurement/management, reward and recognition, and leadership.

Like the RAE before it, the REF is grappling with how much and what type of impact it should assess, how it should be articulated and what emphasis it should get in the great scheme of things.  I agree with Matthew, that “REF proposals around impact do not go far enough. They do not provide enough of an incentive for institutions to address such challenges …” If HEFCE decide to be brave about this it could very well solve some wider issues.

I have no doubt that HEFCE would welcome input from University leaders on this issue and my call to action is just that. Rod Bristow, president of Pearson UK, quite rightly asserts that “At its best, higher education provides cognitive and practical skills that help our young people and our economy to thrive”. The Leadership Foundation has done work on the Impact of Leadership, Governance and Management, analysing REF 2014 case studies and there is currently no incentive for academics to evaluate internal interventions as they are not counted for impact. There are many ways this could apply, not least in the ‘research environment’, engagement of undergraduates in civic activities, or interdisciplinary opportunities.  So my “call to action” is that universities respond on this issue and look for rules to be changed to include research impact in the academy as well as beyond in wider society.  This way institutions will start to recognise and reward research that is directed at improvement of institutional teaching practice.

Understandably HEFCE is focussed on implementation of the REF, issues such as whether previous submissions can be re-submitted where there is further impact to demonstrate from older research, whether creating an exhibition catalogue from your research is admissible to demonstrate impact, how incoming grants will be assessed, what ‘open access’ really means.

While concerns have already been raised with Hefce on such implementation and operational issues, I wonder how many senior leaders have engaged with this at a strategic level.  Of course universities are equally concerned about submission clarity, criteria and weightings, but is it time for the leadership teams in universities to take a step back and think about their own strategic aims and ambitions? Is it time for the sector to determine how it should be assessed and demonstrate exactly how higher education has an impact on young people and the economy?

How can universities responding to the consultation from a strategic perspective make sure that they can demonstrate diverse outcomes from their research programmes, not just outputs in the narrow sense?  Surely one way is to demonstrate that their valuable research is being used in its teaching and helping graduates to be leading edge as they enter the workforce.  Surely it is showing how its own alumni are taking the learning from research and changing the economy, changing the outcomes of medical intervention, business practice or technological development.

As David Morris reminds us, asking how research and teaching can be more symbiotic assumes that it is a co-dependent relationship. Evidence shows that research and teaching only improve each other in certain circumstances, but in this time of increasing student expectations and the need to demonstrate value, isn’t it the duty of university leaders to ensure that their infrastructure, strategy and policy making enables this to happen and furthermore is it not their responsibility to ensure that it does not drift further apart?

The Leadership Foundation can provide practical solutions and facilitation to design strategies which embrace research and teaching. We also support institutions with staff development and performance measurement strategies that recognise flexible career pathways.  Teaching quality and research excellence are not operational issues and the sooner universities can harness their assets in a more strategic way the better informed the REF will be and the more “impact” UK higher education will continue to have on the world.

Kim Ansell, is the managing consultant at the Leadership Foundation, a specialist in professional membership organisations and higher education she advices on strategic transformation interventions.