The Recipe for Perfect Leadership – Louise Fowler

Following on from speaking at the Aurora Adaptive Leadership Skills day in Cardiff in May 2017, Louise Fowler shares some key learnings from her 25 year + career in senior marketing roles.

So to save you the trouble of reading all the way to the bottom, I’m going to give you the punch-line right upfront: What’s the recipe for perfect leadership?  Well, you probably already know the answer:  there isn’t one.

But that doesn’t mean, of course, there aren’t things we can all do to improve our leadership skills and capabilities.  All leaders get it wrong, all of the time, but that doesn’t mean they’re not leading, so what are they doing that inspires others to get behind them?

Someone once told me that leadership is being yourself only with more skill, and I think that’s a wonderful thought.

Human beings are innately expert at sniffing out insincerity.  The authentic leader hones and develops qualities they already have and builds on the things they are already good at.

I first found myself in a position of leadership over 25 years ago.   I was offered my dream job being appointed the youngest, and first female, Regional Director for British Airways in Africa, based in Johannesburg. It was scary, but also very rewarding.   Since then, I’ve held numerous leadership roles, mainly in the private sector working for consumer service businesses, but also in the public and not-for-profit sectors where I sit on several boards.

I’m no expert:  I make mistakes on a daily basis, but what I have learned in all the years of trying to lead well is that there is no recipe for successful leadership and what works for one situation may not help you in different circumstances. It also doesn’t matter whether you think you’re leading or not: that’s an assessment for other people to make, not you.

That said, there are some key qualities I think successful leaders draw on time and again and I’ve found there are some personal resources I have repeatedly come back to on my leadership journey:

Leaders need courage.   Courage is about not knowing what the “right” answer is, but being prepared to make a decision anyway.   Great leaders are prepared to make a decision when a decision is what’s needed and to deal with the consequences later if they’ve got it wrong, which quite often, they have.

But courage on its own is risky:  I’ve seen, even worked for, the odd “maverick” whose courage has out-stripped their other qualities and although it might be fun for a while it’s a risky way to operate, and can be destructive.  Leadership relies also on credibility.  This is a really important quality because it comprises two elements:  it’s about not only your capability and competence as a leader, but also about how others see you.

This, I think, is particularly important for those of us who may not conform to the more “traditional” view of a leader.  Although, thankfully, this image is changing, too often people still expect a leader to be an experienced gentleman of a certain age, probably wearing a suit.   If you are a woman, or a young person, or anyone who doesn’t fit that stereotype for any reason, there is a risk you are starting with a credibility gap.  Not your fault, and certainly not fair, but there are things you can do about it.

Remember what I said, though, about authentic leadership.  Trying to conform to what peoples’ mental images are is not the way to go:  trying to be something or someone you’re not is a recipe for stress and disaster. Being clear about what you’re good at, the strengths you bring to the party and the value you add is the best way to disarm any potential discrimination or prejudice based on others’ perceptions.  This is where the “skill” in being yourself comes in.

There are two other qualities great leaders have in my experience, and they fall firmly on the emotional, rather than the rational end of the spectrum.  They are curiosity, and care.

Curiosity is something we are all born with but learn at an early age to curb.   How many of us remember an adult answering our youthful question “Why?” with the rather impatient “because I said so!”? Leadership is born out of curiosity; about the world, about the art of the possible (and not-so possible) and about people.  Great leaders are driven by this and it’s in part what inspires us to get up and follow them.

The final quality is perhaps the most important:  Care.  Leadership is always founded on a deep-seated, sincere care, not just for the people in the organisation but for the organisation overall.   The leader who cares solely for status, power, position or themselves is quickly found out.   Too many “managers” go through the motions, working for organisations or causes that no longer light the fire in their belly.  These are not leaders.  True leaders can’t help but be driven by a care for what they’re working on and who they’re working with.  And that’s infectious.

So don’t go looking for a recipe or a prescription or even advice on how to be a great leader.  Don’t try to copy others, although you can learn from them, but be yourself.  Be courageous, credible, curious and full of care; be the best version of you that you can be and you will find yourself leading.   Enjoy it!

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Louise Fowler is a marketing and brand specialist and founded Davenport Strategy in 2012. Prior to this, Louise has held senior marketing roles at organisations as diverse as British Airways, Barclays and First Direct. Louise has worked in organisations within the private sector, the mutual sector and not-for-profit.

Aurora is the Leadership Foundation’s women-only leadership development programme. Aurora was created in 2013 in response to our own research which highlighted women’s under-representation in senior leadership positions and identified actions that could be taken to address this.
Dates, locations and booking for Aurora 2017-18 are available here.

 

Mindfulness: right here, right now – the leader’s dilemma

In advance of the Leadership Foundation’s events on the Art of Being Brilliant at Work, and Mindfulness in Higher Education, programme director, Doug Parkin shares his thoughts on mindfulness as the leader’s dilemma. 

Right here, right now is in a very real sense the only moment that really matters.  If we can’t be happy in this moment, then what reason have we to expect that we might be happy in any other?  The past is gone and the future is yet to happen.  The past is a complex web of interactions and events, always open to interpretation that we may cherish, value or regret.  The future is nothing more than a tableau of personal, social and cultural expectations, some fixed firmly through either certainty or routine, others more loosely cast as speculation, anxious uncertainty or, perhaps, the stuff of dreams. The present, though, is now.  It is the breath we breathe in this moment and no other.

So, what has this to do with leadership?  Well, everything.  It could almost be described as the leader’s dilemma, in fact.  The word leadership, in its Anglo-Saxon origins is about ‘the road or path ahead’.  Transformational leadership is about vision, direction and the challenge of aligning the energies of a diverse range of more or less connected people behind an attractive goal. Driven by what, though? Well, a combination of events that have occurred in the past, near or far, and our best guess about what may happen in the environment around us in a range of future scenarios. We are both pushed by the past and pulled by the future, and leaders find themselves bouncing between the two as they react to one and try to be proactive about the other.  That’s the dilemma!

Now, we are often told that ‘if we fail to plan we plan to fail’. A neat statement that it is very easy to nod your head at and which contains one kind of truth. Within most organisational endeavours it is certainly helpful to plan and prepare, and in terms of shaping the future and having a vision another leadership maxim tells us that ‘if we don’t know where we’re going, then any path will do’. And all of this leads us towards the ‘doing’ trap – the busy business of doing – and we neglect the fundamental importance of ‘being’.  Taking that vitally important reflective breath and being present.  After all, this is the moment that everything before it, quite literally, was building towards. And if we go on postponing it, waiting for another better moment that our wonderful planning and change management may yield, then we become like a child chasing a reflection.

To some extent we are programmed to regard the future as a brighter place than today.  “Sniffing a wonderful carroty horizon,” as Andy Cope puts it, propels us to struggle, survive and evolve.  Dan Gilbert, author of Stumbling on Happiness, suggests that these positive illusion, as psychologists call them, make us as “part-time residents of tomorrow”.  However, this forward looking energy, whether driven by fear or optimism, can rob us of our ability to appreciate the here and now.  And the tragedy of this is that it is only in the ‘here and now’ that happiness can be found, and then only if we stop and look for it.  Linked to this, in organisations there is definitely something concerning about the current vogue for futurism and future gazing that, as well as being almost doomed by the same uncertainty on which it thrives, draws us increasingly away from truly valuing our engagement with the present.  After all, engaging with the present is the most profound engagement there is.

So, is it possible for a leader to model ‘being’ as well as ‘doing’?  To value the wonders of the current moment, who we are, where we are and how we are, as much as the agenda we are trying to progress?  If so, such an approach could be seen as embodying values that directly and positively impact the lived experience of colleagues and their wellbeing.  The mindful present, when brought into focus, is refreshing, restorative and relaxing for busy minds.

There is undeniably a strong link between organisational leadership and wellbeing.  Studies by Daniel Goleman and others show that, for example, unrelenting, pacesetting leadership can result in colleagues feeling overwhelmed by the demands, disempowered, micromanaged and mentally fatigued.  Okay, perhaps, with another pacesetter with a similarly single-minded drive to succeed and exceed expectations on every front, but for the overall work climate a potentially destructive approach if it is not combined with a wide range of more collaborative and affiliative leadership styles.  And yet, some may argue, isn’t that the nature of the modern workplace?  Isn’t it more driven, more competitive, and more focussed on targets, outcomes and impact than ever before?  This may be true, although it seems the prerogative of every work generation to claim that it is living through an age of ‘unprecedented change’.  And even if is true that ‘in the modern workplace’ we need to set the pace and work smarter with less, would that not make it even more important for leaders to support the health and wellbeing of colleagues by modelling and encouraging mindfulness.  What a turnaround it would be if, for example, being in a meeting could literally include consciously ‘being’ in the meeting, even if for just a few short enlightened moments.

Mindfulness is a relatively modern term for an ancient insight: we replenish ourselves and find fresh energy and insight when we discipline ourselves to be in the current moment and to notice only the things that are happening now (sounds, images and sensations).  Meditation, contemplation and prayer have been the heartbeat of spiritual life in cultures around the world for as long we know, and in more recent times ideas to do with emotional intelligence, reflective-practice and mindful self-awareness have gained currency as ways for leaders and others to be present, to suspend judgement, to show empathy and to redirect disruptive emotions and make better choices.

The final chapter of my book, Leading Learning and Teaching in Higher Education: The Key Guide to Designing and Delivering Courses, published last year, is focussed on leading yourself.  Self-leadership is a strand that runs throughout the book linked to a set of core leadership qualities, and in this short chapter I bring together as a summary some key ideas relating to what I have termed ‘attuned leadership’ and having compassion for yourself:

“In this attuned leadership the leader looks to achieve a level of deep influence that is as much about ‘being’ as it is ‘doing’ (we are, after all, human beings, not ‘human doings’). The emotional and interpersonal environment will figure highly in the leader’s focus and priorities, and the emphasis will be on the climate of the group and liberating potential rather than giving strong direction.”

This highlights another important aspect of mindfulness for leaders, the crucial need not to let passion for the task overcome compassion for people, and this includes having compassion for yourself.  A people rather than a performance culture will be essential for mindfulness principles and practices to flourish, where the individual and the community come first and the work we do and the things we achieve are significantly better for it. And having “compassion for yourself should not be an awkward concept because if you do not sustain yourself in your leadership then it will be impossible for you to sustain others” (Ibid.).  The chapter ends with ten questions based on self-reflection and mindfulness that encourage leaders to find peace and balance in an often frantic world.  This is actually a short mindfulness activity in itself intended to be illustrative of how these principles and practices can put you back in control of your life, as a leader at any level of seniority, and thereby help others to begin to do the same.

“Mindfulness is about observation without criticism: being compassionate with yourself… In essence, mindfulness allows you to catch negative thought patterns before they tip you into a downward spiral. It begins the process of putting you back in control of your life.”
(Williams and Penman, 2011)

Doug Parkin is the programme director for a range of Leadership Foundation development programmes, and in demand for consultancy projects within universities. You can find out more about his book ‘Leading Learning and Teaching in Higher Education: The Key Guide to Designing and Delivering Courses’ by clicking here

Mindfulness in Higher Education takes place on Monday 19 June 2017 at Woburn House, London. To find out more and book, click here

Andy Cope will be facilitating our Leadership and the Art of Being Brilliant on Wednesday 28 June 2017 at the Royal College of Nursing, London. To find out more and book, click here

An Interview with Lynda Hinxman

Lynda joined us in May 2017 as a guest speaker at the Aurora Core Leadership Skills day in London. We took some time to ask Lynda some questions about her career and progression into leadership.

What does leadership mean to you?

Leadership is the ability to create a clear vision and to create the environment in which people can thrive and work together to achieve the vision.

It is about building your own emotional capital in order to effectively engage with others, to motivate, empower and support.

At the start of your career, what were the biggest barriers to progression you were faced with and what one piece of advice would you give to someone aspiring to a leadership role facing similar barriers?

The single biggest barrier to progressing my early career was my lack of self-confidence. I worked in a male dominated profession and thought that I had to behave and think like a man in order to progress. I have learnt over time that it is vital to be yourself not only to allow others to get to know you and gain respect but for your own wellbeing.

How important have mentors been to you in your leadership journey?

I have had both formal and informal mentors throughout my career and find them invaluable. They have provided a safe place in which to share and reflect on feelings, thoughts and ideas. They have challenged, questioned and probed but most of all they have provided guidance – I’m not sure what the collective noun is for a group of Yodas…….but perhaps Yoda himself might say ‘a ponder of Yodas, it is!’

How important has it been for you in your career to have role models and mentors?

Role models engender inspiration and aspiration. In my experience, they have come with no hierarchy attached – my role models have ranged from my dad, male and female bosses, team members, friends to my daughter.

Do you have one golden piece of advice you would give to aspiring women leaders?

As Oscar Wilde said ‘Be yourself, everyone else is already taken’.

For me this means that you can flex your style and approach to connect best with others without losing the essence of you.

Finally, who is your inspiring woman leader?

Professor Christine Booth, former Pro Vice Chancellor of Sheffield Business School – As she was not only an inspiring business woman but fabulous at connecting with others at a professional and personal level.

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Lynda Hinxman is the assistant dean, employer engagement for Sheffield Business School at Sheffield Hallam University. Lynda is a Chartered Surveyor by profession, and prior to joining Sheffield Hallam University was a senior executive at Norwich Union Investment Management and has held senior surveying roles in the Costain Group and Shell UK.

Aurora is the Leadership Foundation’s women-only leadership development programme. Aurora was created in 2013 in response to our own research which highlighted women’s under-representation in senior leadership positions and identified actions that could be taken to address this.

Dates, locations and booking for Aurora 2017-18 are available here.

 

An interview with Brenda Romero

Brenda Romero is a leading game designer and developer. We had the pleasure of welcoming Brenda to our Dublin Adaptive Learning Skills day as part of Aurora in May 2017

1. What does good leadership mean to you?

This is a really interestingly question. There are so many answers, many pieces of advice, and many tips that I have learned on the way. However, I keep returning to the idea of a team enjoying their journey towards a goal. They need good leadership. The leader is the person making sure that their team can do what they need to do. They know the goal. They are committed to it and excited about it. The journey is easy because obstructions have been removed and hopefully, someone is working on crisis intervention – rather than crisis management. If I can keep my team focused and motivated, we shall win. To do that, I believe I have to make sure they have everything they need, by removing anything which gets in their way.

2. At the start of your career what were the biggest barriers to progression you were faced with and what advice would you give to someone aspiring to a leadership role facing similar barriers?

Ironically, I think I was my own worst enemy. When I look back at my career, there are two key things I wish I had done differently. The first is that I should not have stayed with one, family-owned company for 20 years. This sounds fantastic, but, I would have been further ahead, if I had moved onward and upward. However, after only 10 years, I needed new teachers and new lessons so, in terms of advancement, not to mention an equity stake, my opportunities were quite limited.

Secondly, I wish I had been a better advocate for myself. I accepted things that I should not have accepted. I did not take chances. I wish I had. I feared failure. I was more concerned about what others thought rather than doing the right thing. In that way, I was my biggest barrier because I simply didn’t know any better, and I found out the right way by trial, error and introspection. Having mentors to look up to, to consult, would have been so beneficial.

3. What would be some of the milestones that you think “that’s a point where my leadership changed”?

Not everyone is going to like you: As a leader, you will make decisions that are not liked by everyone.

You may have to sack people, lay people off, or be tasked with taking something in an unpopular direction. Ultimately, I find the desire to please everyone simply has to go. I remember the first time I had to sack someone for an absolutely valid offence. There was a lot of gossip but ultimately, it comes down to these questions for me, “Did I do the right thing?” and “Was I respectful of others?” That, along with keeping an open mind, are the key things.

Failure is not the end of the world: We fail all the time. Most of our failings are not public, but I find this is something many of us fear. Generally, we fear losing something we have or not getting something we want. When I did fail publicly, it was painful agony followed almost immediately by blissful glory. Once I had failed, I didn’t feel so concerned about it. I felt more comfortable about taking chances. I don’t know exactly what I was afraid of. Humiliation? Embarrassment? The loss of respect from my peers? None of it happened.

4. What would you say if someone were to ask you, what makes you most resilient?

Sometimes, I genuinely do not know. I don’t really have “I give up” in me. I am blessed with the experiences of my late mother and I’m still gaining experiences from my mother in law. Both women were homemakers who found themselves quite unexpectedly alone. There is nothing in either of their cases that ever displayed an example of “I give up”. They kept going because they had to. There was no other choice. That lesson continues to be an incredibly powerful one, especially when the proverbial “going gets tough” occurs. I don’t know of women any stronger than these two. You keep going because you have to. Help may come, and you may ask for it, but ultimately, you keep going. There is a way through. If you don’t know the answer, someone else does.

5. How important do you think mentors, role models and networks are in supporting women’s leadership?

Incredibly important. When you asked me about barriers earlier, I said that I was the biggest obstacle to my own advancement. Why? Because I didn’t know any better. I didn’t have anyone around me who could teach me. I didn’t even know the questions to ask. Working with someone more experienced, my husband is on his 11th start up, I have learned so much. I don’t hesitate to reach out to experts and we do a bi-weekly expert talk in our company, on topics on which employees ask for advice.

6. How can initiatives like Aurora help women and their organisation achieve their potential?

One of the most important things about Aurora is that it creates a space where like-minded people with similar goals and journeys come together – in search of a common, supportive, solution.

That’s extremely powerful. Having attended events like this in the past, there’s something formidable about being around people who are all aspiring to something greater and who want to help each other reach their goal. Working one-to-one with a mentor is incredibly powerful. Events like this multiply that power by bringing everyone together.

7. Thinking about your career and experiences, what advice would you give your younger self?

I would hand myself a box labelled “confidence,” and make myself swear not to open it. I would tell myself that you might think it’s empty now, but I’m here in the future to tell you that it’s full. It filled up when I took chances and failed, publicly or privately. It filled up when I swapped the “known but not-so-good” for the “unknown, possibly worse” or “possibly better.” It filled up when I was able to respect myself instead of relying on the opinions of others. It filled up when I realised that doing the right thing doesn’t always feel good. It filled up when I stopped worrying and started making things happen. Asking for help, admitting that someone had a better idea, giving myself the freedom to be a fool, none of these things took anything away. That’s why I’d give myself that box and make myself swear not to open it.

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Brenda Romero is a leading game designer and developer. Based in Galway, Ireland, Brenda has established two successful game companies – Loot Drop and Romero Games. She now also runs a game design course at Limerick University.

In April 2017, Brenda won a lifetime achievement award from Bafta Games Awards.

Aurora is the Leadership Foundation’s women-only leadership development programme. Aurora was created in 2013 in response to our own research that shows that women are under-represented in senior leadership positions and identifies actions that could be taken to change this.

Dates, locations and booking for Aurora 2017-18 are available here.

 

From Kazakhstan to Myanmar: building capacity in higher education internationally

The Leadership Foundation has led or participated in higher education development projects in more than 30 countries in Asia, Africa, North and South America, Europe and the Middle East. What have we learnt about the common challenges that have to be overcome to build capacity in the countries in which we work?

Andy Shenstone, the Leadership Foundation’s director of consultancy, shares his experience of co-designing solutions to wicked issues in higher education systems around the world.

The Leadership Foundation’s international work takes place within a vibrant higher education environment and contributes explicitly to multiple UK higher education sector-wide objectives. These objectives include those of the UUKi, which aim to create opportunities for UK Higher Education Institutions to establish new relationships with overseas providers and the promotion of UK higher education internationally. It also addresses the governments expressed priority as regards to enhancing the international standing of UK higher education. Finally, the Leadership Foundation is committed to supporting the development of more robust and autonomous higher education systems in overseas nations including contributing to the wider UK government agenda of supporting capacity-building as a key plank of overseas development through the Newton fund and other programmes.

Each country we’ve worked with has had very different characteristics – which is perhaps not surprising if you consider that we’ve worked in countries as diverse as Kazakhstan, Myanmar and Egypt. Yet, there are still some fundamental similarities in the challenges these countries face, and how we work together to overcome them.

The first challenge is that, generally, higher education provision is underdeveloped. Typically, it has been managed through command and control mechanisms, through government diktat and tight management. That manifests in ways that those of us familiar with the UK system would find very difficult to comprehend. For example, in Egypt, principals or vice-chancellors have virtually no discretion over who to appoint and certainly no capacity or capability to let anyone go or dismiss staff for poor performance. In Myanmar, any significant leader in an institution is forcibly rotated to anywhere in the country every three years, with no choice over where they are sent, regardless of their seniority. In the Ukraine, the direction of travel is moving away from a Soviet-era command and control model to one which is more reminiscent of western and UK models of institutional autonomy but, of course, it will take quite a significant time to make that journey.

Leadership capability
Generally speaking, we find that our clients in overseas countries want to enhance the leadership and management capability of university leadership. Allied to that, there is a keen interest in establishing resilient and sustainable processes for identifying and supporting a pipeline of future leaders – succession planning. Inevitably, if you are the leader of a university and have achieved that position of seniority by dint of your approach under the existing model of governance and politics, that may well mean that you are, perhaps, ill-equipped to be an effective leader in the future when the political and social environment is going to change, potentially quite significantly. That places particular demands on you to develop your skills and capabilities. That isn’t to say such change isn’t possible, but it can be demanding and, of course, longer term, simply focusing on those who are in roles already misses the point. That is, to build capacity to bring forward future leaders who have the skills, capabilities, attitudes and insights that their countries need to develop and modernise their higher education systems. That’s what we’re in the business of doing.

Legislative framework
Another key challenge in global higher education, for a number of countries, is that while they aspire to modernise higher education leadership, governance, and management, the legislative framework (which establishes the boundaries of what is or is not possible under the terms of the law) often takes quite a long time to change. So while there’s a need to develop individuals and direct the travel of leadership in a way which may well speak to an agenda of greater institutional autonomy – and support institutional leaders to develop their own strategies – they have to feel that they’ve got permission to do that. They’ve got to feel safe to do that. They’ve got to feel that the system at large is providing them with the framework within which they can operate.

Take Myanmar. Up until very recently if you said or did the ‘wrong thing’, the impact on you personally could be very significant. That included speaking out and having any ideas of your own that were not acceptable to the military junta that ruled the country for over 40 years. It therefore takes a significant amount of bravery to start behaving outside the norms of those practices. Individuals, naturally, will be very cautious. Having some confidence in the integrity of a redesigned legal framework, which empowers them to behave differently but is also respected by the government and powers that be, is crucial. One of the challenges we face is ensuring that the ambition of change is aligned with those national structures and legal systems, because if they don’t develop hand in hand, you end up with major tensions arising and a real risk of disconnect.

Finance
The other key challenge facing global higher education is finance – how it is all paid for. Budgets are under significant pressure. Where you have challenges around education provision in developing, or even middle income, countries, primary care and schooling are often prioritised and higher education can sometimes be lower down the pecking order. Which means, in turn, that it can be difficult to recruit and retain talented people, who may well be attracted to work in other industries or find it much more economically and personally attractive to leave to work in other countries.

Co-design
At the Leadership Foundation we know a lot about working overseas, borne out of our applied experience in many different countries and geopolitical contexts. Fundamental to our work is a deep appreciation of the importance of us coming to understand the context in which any particular intervention or support might be provided. Critically, this concerns the degree of maturity and capability of the existing higher education sector and the outcomes that are sought.

Our international work is intended to deliver on three levels; firstly, create partnership opportunities for our UK member institutions as a direct product of service design and co-delivery. Secondly, to assist in the internationalisation of our programmes (and through this provide exposure for members on domestic programmes to international practice). And finally, be expressly valued by members and key external stakeholders (e.g. UUKi, BIS and the British Council) as a contribution to the status, reputation and reach of UK higher educations.

Underlining it all is our listening and co-design approach to working with other countries, which means that we are not only be incredibly sensitive and mindful of an individual nation’s needs and context, but we will offer ideas and solutions borne out of that experience that will assist them to achieve their goals.

Embedding capacity building
We typically look to develop solutions which embed capacity building within the national context|: training the trainers and enhancing the capacity of the workforce with whom we’re dealing to take forward the work that we are doing with them. We do not support, condone, create or facilitate a culture of undue dependence.

And, important in all the work we do overseas is to deeply respect, understand and appreciate other countries’ accomplishments. Ours is not a deficit model but a model of adding value by bringing in a genuinely international experience to support colleagues in these countries to tackle the quite wicked issues they are trying to resolve.


The Leadership Foundation has recently launched a global services brochure, which details all of the services we offer as well as examples of their impact. To download your copy of the brochure please click here.

Alison Johns, chief executive of the Leadership Foundation will chairing a session ‘Future scoping for higher education leadership’ at Going Global 2017 on Tuesday 23 May 2017. Andy Shenstone, director of consultancy and business development will also be attending, if you would like to arrange a meeting please email andy.shenstone@lfhe.ac.uk.

For more information on the global works of the Leadership Foundation, please visit the website: www.lfhe.ac.uk/international

Local and Global?

Kim Ansell considers international ambition and civic engagement examining how you can do both and how they can complement each other.

For me it is all about strategy and not the rhetoric of growth/income without knowing why.

  • China’s Generation Y is 250-million strong – a quarter of Chinese A-level students could not find a domestic university place last year.
  • There are now about 8,000+ courses taught in English by universities in non-English speaking countries.
  • The education and skills sector in the GCC (in the Arab Gulf states) is expected to see investment of $150 billion over the next few years due to population growth.
  • The British Council is offering grants of £100-£100,000, for capacity building and community engagement programmes e.g., academic exchange, round tables, online platforms, community dialogue.

Given these statistics the rationale for international development is clearly understood, but many have found the risks are high. Universities with limited resource and global ambitions have found themselves engaged in unproductive, uneconomic or diversionary international initiatives.

Current plans for UK universities suggests a growth in student numbers of well over 10%, yet policy specialists forecast a plateau in numbers so there appears to be a disconnect.

Plans will and must change as your institution gains knowledge and experience, but the commitment and alignment of staff and governance behind the engagement strategy must always be clear and consistent. Along with emerging opportunities there are also sudden upheavals. The biggest impact on strategy is typically outside of your control and presents opportunities to stress test your strategic plan – BrexHEit, the forthcoming general election, the Higher Education Research Bill, REF, TEF and the Europe wide issue, ‘integration of refugees into higher education’.

In such challenging times, the local v international question has never been so important. In particular, the relationship between an international [ised] university and its ‘place’ has become a focal point for the sector.

Cardiff Business School addressed the current refugee crisis head on, not to tick boxes, not because they had to ‘be seen to be doing something’, but because “civic engagement adds value to successful delivery of your strategic ambition” explained Professor Martin Kitchener, a dean at Cardiff Business School.

Professor Kitchener continues, “We recently led a project, through our Responsible Innovation Network, helping Syrian refugees integrate into life in Wales and create opportunities to build their prospects. The project sees undergraduates, supported by Enactus UK, working with asylum seekers and refugees on issues of personal development and advancing social enterprise ideas. Many of the refugees were also enrolled on a ‘Pathway to a Profession’ course in partnership with the Welsh Refugee Council, and some now have the opportunity to study for an MSc in Business Strategy and Entrepreneurship with us.”

Through their distinctive public value strategy which has an interdisciplinary and international ethos, Cardiff Business School students develop the characteristics of ethical, thoughtful leaders equipped with the skills to promote economic and social improvements.

David Morris’s recent WONKHE article , a review of  David Goodhart’s  The Road to Somewhere he highlights the contrasting experiences, expectations and voting patterns of those mobilised by a higher education, and those who have not accessed higher education. While cautioning against “strategically” being “in two places at once”, we are encouraged to think of internationalism and local engagement as mutually compatible endeavours.

One can question whether protection of market position over community outreach determines natural priorities but it is clear that lack of integration between internationalism and local engagement is likely to result in confusion of messaging and more importantly, failure to achieve strategic impact and success.

Arguably, collaborative leadership across a range of organisations/institutions in local places has never been more important and increasingly requires local institutions to work more closely together. Operationalising these partnerships is not sufficient unless there is a clear understanding at a strategic level of the background to the drivers and why these are critical to success.

Leading Places

The Leadership Foundation has been actively involved in developing for higher education the Hefce-funded ‘Leading Places’ programme to help drive growth, re-design public services and strengthen collaboration. Built on our researchCivic Leadership and Higher Education – Where are we now?.   The key challenges emerging from the process of collaborative working from this initiative were:

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There are some great examples of local collaboration in this project, but the real test will be whether the momentum is sustained and if they deliver on strategic objectives.

Local or global?

While I agree whole heartedly with David Morris’s belief that “The urgency of now is to recapture a civic mission”, I am not convinced of his assertion that “To choose confident and unashamed internationalism as a top priority is to choose to move civic engagement down the same priorities list”.

Institutions benefit where the strategic objective is supported by an integrated and values-based strategic plan which brings local and global together and speaks to the culture and personality of the organisation. There are many initiatives to stimulate such integration, universities are internationalising their curriculum by introducing cultural, civic and global perspectives into programmes and Fiona Ross, our director of research, has raised the issue of assessing community impact in the REF. This not only addresses how civic engagement and volunteering could demonstrate impact on a local level, but also shows how it could be valued by the ‘system’ without making it regulatory or compulsory.

So do you have to choose between local and global? Some are being a little bolder and doing both. Kings College London’s recent strategic vision certainly claims to be both – “Connecting the local to the global,  … and by 2029… King’s will be regarded throughout the world as London’s leading civic university.”

Bill Rammell, vice-chancellor of University of Bedfordshire, is ambitious in his claim that civic engagement should be in our character not in our regulatory architecture. Professor William Whyte, vice-president, St Johns College, Oxford is equally bold and claims that a local ‘only’ university is not a university at all.

So if we accept that there is always a local vs. universal tension inherent in higher education how do we best leverage it to ensure that universities can do both? I’d suggest starting with some reflective questioning of your institution’s international and civic/local strategies:

  1. Is international growth essential to your organisations long term sustainability?
  2. How would international growth add value to your strategic ambition?
  3. Can you fund international investment whilst maintaining existing levels of service and value?
  4. How long can you wait for a return on investment and what form do we want it to take?
  5. Does your staff  or team have capacity and capability?
  6. Are your governance and staff ambitions aligned?
  7. How can international growth complement civic/local engagement?
  8. How well will our community and our student population interact? 

There are no right answers, but once you can articulate your own response to questions like these, you can start to think more holistically about your strategic plan and integrate your global and local initiatives. A few ‘buzz’ words might provide part of the answer – ‘joined up’, ‘integrated thinking’, ‘integrated reporting’ ‘strategic planning’, ‘collaboration’, ‘matrix management’ ‘value-based management’

The extent to which there might be an international ambition or the scope to use the international agenda to support public engagement is the tip of the iceberg. We propose a deeper more strategic approach to the interplay between local and global success. The ethical values espoused by institutions must be one of the starting points along with analysis of your strategic intentions and some deep soul searching through the sorts of questions outlined in this blog post.

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For more on Knowing Our Place, go to leadership development programme ‘Knowing Our Place? – Strategic Leadership of Local Partnerships’. As this development programme aims to build on the learning from ‘Leading Places’ and address the strategy of civic engagement.

Kim Ansell is managing consultant in the Consultancy division of the Leadership Foundation.  www.lfhe.ac.uk/consultancy  

Book Review: Stefan Collini’s Speaking of Universities

 

David Williams the Leadership Foundation’s web editor on governance reviews Stefan Collini’s Speaking of Universities.

Stefan Collini’s latest book, Speaking of Universities (Verso, 2017), is a collection of talks, lectures and articles, delivered and written between 2013 and 2016.

Much of the book’s content has not previously been published. This said, readers familiar with Collini’s previous book, What are Universities for? (Penguin 2012), or his articles published in, for example, the London Review of Books will not be surprised with many of the arguments presented in his latest book.

A summary of some of Collini’s main arguments are set out below. Although role of governors and government bodies receives only a rare mention, their period of stewardship should take account of the accumulated intellectual heritage of the university, and the role of each generation in building on the work that went before, and on laying the foundations for the next generation. This reminds governors that during their period of stewardship they should seek to achieve an appropriate balance between the immediate and longer-term needs and positioning of the institution.

An academic working in the field of humanities, Collini’s perspective is informed by his own personal experience and observations. He questions both the growing power within higher education institutions of professional managers (previously known as administrators) and the focus of successive governments on the direct links between higher education and economic prosperity. He argues strongly that an adequate case for universities cannot simply be made on the basis of their contribution to economic prosperity. However, he accepts it is difficult to change the public discourse.

Examining the role of higher education, a fundamental tension is between intellectual, open-end, inquiry and the more immediate instrumental (economic) aims. Both academic research and the education of students should not be overly focussed on narrow economic outcomes: ultimately such a focus does not serve the needs of the state or individuals.

Collini strongly challenges the arguments put forward by government to justify the reform of higher education in England and the introduction of income-contingent loans. He believes the introduction of the latter was poorly conceived and managed, and may well end-up being more-costly to the public purse, than the system they replaced.

The rationale for the government’s actions in seeking to reform higher education is that there was something wrong with the system, and that the proposed changes will put them right. However, it is not clear what was wrong with a system that many judged to have been successful, or that the changes will lead to improvements.

Seeking to create ‘a market’ for higher education is ill-conceived, and the suggestion that the student is a ‘customer’ at the heart of the system disingenuous. Higher education is a ‘post-experience’ good, the full benefits of which cannot be known in advanced by the prospective student. Consequently, how can a student judge the value of the product they are buying? Equally, HEIs choose who they accept onto to their courses; as much as the other way around.

While acknowledging that it is important that universities provide good teaching, and that there has long been anecdotal evidence that this is always the case, Collini does not believe the introduction of the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) will improve the quality of teaching. Attempts to make judgements about quality, using quantitative indicators as proxies for quality are doomed to failure. There is every likelihood that the selected proxies (indicators) will prove to be largely irrelevant and become ends in themselves. Citing the experience of the Research Excellence Framework (REF), evidence submitted in support of their TEF assessment by institutions is likely to create the opportunity for ‘systematic boasting’.

Collini rejects the idea there is a necessarily reliable link between student satisfaction and education quality. Nor does he believe that students are necessarily in the best position to make an informed judgement. While this may be true, Collini fails to acknowledge the possibility that traditional routes for gaining the views of student about their course are not always effective and that low levels of satisfaction shown by a student survey may offer a further avenue to bring about change. To Collini, if teaching is undervalued by universities, it is a consequence of the distorting effects of the REF and of underfunding the expansion of student numbers that occurred in the 1980s and 1990s (i.e. a permanent reduction in the unit of resource). While there is some merit in both of these points, it does risk the suggestion that universities bear no responsibility for ensuring they provide consistently good teaching.

As institutions (particularly those that Collini is likely to have in mind) typically in their marketing literature and at open days heavily promote the idea of research-informed teaching: what steps should institutions be expected to take to ensure the quality of the student experience is high? This question does not receive much, if any, of Collini’s attention, leading to a risk that the reader gains the impression that research matters more, and that any research-active member of staff will automatically be an effective teacher?

At the core of an institution’s quality is its intellectual quality and creativity. The primary focus of universities should be on extending and deepening human understanding: this results in the greatest long-term benefits to society. Universities’ longer-term cultural and intellectual role needs acknowledgement alongside a focus on supporting economic growth.

Collini notes in passing that what is needed in the UK is a world-class system of higher education, rather than more world-class universities. This is a crucial point, but one which is not developed.

Collini accepts that universities cannot just criticise the proposed changes initiated by government, but must be pro-active in making their case. With this in mind, the idea of ‘publics’ is introduced. Publics are constituted by participation – even if only passively – and this is reflected in their discourse. As there is more than one public, there is no such thing as the public view of higher education. To reach and influence different publics, the form and message needs to be tailored accordingly.

From the perspective of governance, Collini asks on whose behalf do the trustees who form an institution’s governing body exercise their responsibilities: ‘who are they holding their institution in trust for.’ He suggests the need to recognise both the inter-generational nature of knowledge accumulation and the time required for a university to build its reputation. The accumulated and collective knowledge base of the higher education system reflects past, as well as current investment. Each generation through investing in higher education helps to build the base of knowledge for the next. Today’s students of higher education benefit from past investments. By implication the stewardship of trustees should recognise not just the immediate institutional needs, but the need to sustain the intellectual inheritance of the institution.

Such has been the pace of change in the higher education policy environment, not surprising some of the pieces contained in Collini’s book appear dated. That said Collini makes many valuable points, and exposes and refutes a number of key assumptions underlying current public policy. He offers a strong and powerful defensive of role of (traditional?) universities and the importance of academic staff in directing their own affairs; although acknowledges the tension between professional autonomy and public accountability. He, himself, is clearly uncomfortable with the direction of change, and recognises that a new way forward needs to be found.

Collini is at this best in pointing out what he sees as unhelpful changes in the policy environment for higher education, and their anticipated impacts. He is less helpful or clear, in offering an alternative and better way forward (assuming the movement back to an earlier era is not possible). Although he expects the system of higher education will continue to evolve in the 21st century he does not offer a view as to how the policy environment might be reconfigured to ensure this exerts a strong and positive influence on the future shape of the higher education sector.

David Williams has worked with governing bodies in higher education for the past 15 years. He manages the governance section of www.lfhe.ac.uk The Leadership Foundation provides resources and development for members of governing bodies and those working in governance throughout higher education. Visit www.lfhe.ac.uk/governance