Distributed Leadership


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Distributed Leadership

  1. 1. No more heroes? Rhetoric and Reality of Distributed Leadership in Higher Education Georgy Petrov, Richard Bolden & Jonathan Gosling Centre for Leadership Studies University of Bristol, 19 June 2007
  2. 2. Outline <ul><li>Research background </li></ul><ul><li>Defining distributed leadership </li></ul><ul><li>Methods </li></ul><ul><li>Perceptions about distributed leadership </li></ul><ul><li>Taking up a leadership role </li></ul><ul><li>Implications for leadership development </li></ul><ul><li>Conclusions </li></ul>
  3. 3. <ul><li>Research funded by the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education </li></ul><ul><li>HE appears to have embraced the concept of ‘distributed leadership’, but it is not clear </li></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>what does distributed leadership mean? </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>what is distributed (power or accountability)? </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>what are the processes by which it is distributed? </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>is there support for ‘distributed leadership’? </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><li>The research aims to explore the perceptions of institutional leaders/managers in UK HEIs about distributed leadership and leadership development needs </li></ul>Research background
  4. 4. <ul><li>No clear definition </li></ul><ul><li>Collective, devolved, democratic, dispersed and shared </li></ul><ul><li>As an alternative to traditional ‘leader-follower’ theories </li></ul><ul><li>Is conceived as a property of collectivity </li></ul><ul><li>Influence of people at all levels in the organisation </li></ul><ul><li>Not additive function but a ‘concertive’ action, i.e. the total is significantly more than the sum of its parts (Gronn, 2002) </li></ul><ul><li>Disparities of power may still exist </li></ul><ul><li>Is it useful for analysis, practice or policy-making? </li></ul>Defining distributed leadership
  5. 5. <ul><li>Leadership as a process - the relationships and interactions of multiple actors (Spillane et al., 2004; Gronn, 2002) </li></ul><ul><li>As activity and mindset, based on 3 main premises (Bennett et al., 2003) </li></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>an emergent property of a group or network </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>openness of boundaries </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>expertise of the many not the few </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><li>As practice and structure, based on four main premises (MacBeath, 2005) </li></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Trust </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Acceptance of one another’s leadership potential </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Formal leaders ‘letting go’ of their control </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Consultation and consensus </li></ul></ul></ul>Characteristics of distributed leadership
  6. 6. Research methods <ul><li>12 universities in the UK </li></ul><ul><li>Pre and Post 92; Russell Group and 1994 Group </li></ul><ul><li>2-3 faculties/schools and within them 2-3 departments </li></ul><ul><li>A range of disciplines </li></ul><ul><li>Over 150 interviews with institutional leaders/managers, including </li></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>VCs, DVCs/PVCs, Registrars, Directors of HR/Finance </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Deans of Faculty/Heads of School </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Heads of Department </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Professional Managers/Administrators </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><li>Focus groups and document analysis </li></ul>
  7. 7. Perceptions about distributed leadership <ul><li>A great degree of support for distributed leadership </li></ul><ul><li>Not just conceivable within HE but necessary </li></ul><ul><ul><li>- Formal (devolution of finance, HR) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>- Pragmatic (negotiating the division of responsibilities) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>- Strategic (the appointment of people from outside HE) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>- Incremental (progressive opportunities for experience and responsibility, such as sitting on committees, leading modules, projects and programmes) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>- Opportunistic (people willingly taking on additional responsibilities) </li></ul></ul><ul><li> - Cultural (leadership is assumed rather than given) </li></ul><ul><li>No evidence to imply continuum of progression from formal to cultural distribution </li></ul><ul><li>These forms complement one another </li></ul>
  8. 8. Leadership is distributed but within certain boundaries (1) <ul><li>‘ I think there is a perception that leadership is distributed based on our business plans. When the idea came in the HOSs thought they’d be able to do whatever they want and to an extent they can, but it’s within a very strict framework. […] The structure is quite inflexible because of the way [the VC] manages so there’s a perception that you can do what you want but actually you can’t’. (School manager, post-92 university) </li></ul>
  9. 9. Leadership is distributed but within certain boundaries (2) <ul><li>‘ There is an element at which leadership is devolved but it’s to manage local issues. [A] department cannot go outside the university guidelines on its admissions policy or bid for research funding that doesn’t meet the university requirements for the funding model. The big, corporate decisions are from the very top, however, the way they are implemented locally is led by a local management. There is flexibility within the structures. I say that but of course these days we’re ever more scrutinised about what we do’ (Dean of Faculty, pre-92 university) </li></ul>
  10. 10. Formal distribution via devolution and delegation (1) <ul><li>The most frequently cited mechanisms </li></ul><ul><li>Reference to formal organisational systems and structures (leadership is devolved or delegated via formally designated channels) </li></ul><ul><li>Committees as a means of sharing leadership </li></ul><ul><li>The location of financial control as the most important if not decisive feature and seen as central to the empowerment of HOSs/HODs </li></ul>
  11. 11. Formal distribution via devolution and delegation (2) <ul><li>‘ Leadership is distributed. If you look at our school as an example you’ve got the Dean, the Chief Operating Officer and a large number of Associate Deans. The Associate Deans have course directors under each of them and then under that you have managers. It’s an incredibly distributed pyramid type of organisation’. (Dean of School, post-92 university) </li></ul>
  12. 12. Formal distribution via devolution and delegation (3) <ul><li>‘ We do have distributed leadership [in the academic department]. There are five of us that make an executive that actually make key decisions in the department and they are all professors. Two of them are line managers. The department is split into two and I have line managers that run these two academic streams and the people that manage them are on the executive’ (HOD, pre-92 university) </li></ul>
  13. 13. Leadership as spontaneous, opportunistic and dispersed <ul><li>‘ These days we’re ever more scrutinised about what we do whether it be by the RAE or whatever and if Professor Y down the corridor is doing some research that hasn’t generated any research income in the last three or four years… you are getting on very dangerous territory here because people get very uptight about academic freedom, but from a management point of view there would have to be questions asked. You’d have to say “you can research that if you want but I really need to see you earning some money doing it”. I think that has changed. […] Even ten or fifteen years ago you just got on with what you wanted to do and you weren’t looked at as regularly to see what your grant income was’. (Dean of Faculty, pre-92 university) </li></ul>
  14. 14. Processes of distributed leadership <ul><li>Developing ‘team leadership’ approach at the centre/top </li></ul><ul><li>Cascading it down to other parts of the organisation </li></ul><ul><li>The extent to which this happens is hard to verify </li></ul><ul><li>HOS/HOD ‘letting go’ of control </li></ul><ul><li>The need for formally recognised leaders </li></ul><ul><li>Clear vision and direction as one of the main pre-requisites for distributed leadership to work in practice </li></ul>
  15. 15. Perceived benefits of distributed leadership <ul><li>Responsiveness of decision-making </li></ul><ul><li>Transparency </li></ul><ul><li>Managerial convenience </li></ul><ul><li>Better teamwork </li></ul><ul><li>Improved communication </li></ul>
  16. 16. Perceived challenges of distributed leadership <ul><li>Fragmentation and c reation of silos and a silo mentality </li></ul><ul><li>Reduced clarity of roles, leading to confusion and competition </li></ul><ul><li>Slower decision making </li></ul><ul><li>Underestimation of individual differences </li></ul>
  17. 17. Leadership practice in HE Leadership is too broadly diffused and so ceases to reach decisions, responsibility or accountability. e.g. committee structure – ‘washing machine’ where decisions go round and round and remain unresolved Dissipated (accountable) Staff disengage from management processes - may be disenfranchised, disenchanted, disinterested - leadership seen as unappealing, unrewarding or unnecessary. e.g. administration and management of school vs academic leadership of research Disengaged (engaged) Different parts of the institution pulling in different directions - lack of consistent/coherent direction/vision - competing agendas (e.g. research, teaching & community). e.g. formation of silo mentality within schools Disconnected (connected) Top down and bottom up systems don’t match up - leadership doesn’t occur where it’s needed. e.g. weakened central leadership where budgets are devolved to schools or faculties Dislocated (located)
  18. 18. Leadership practice in HE (2) Destructive impact of poor leadership – one individual can unbalance the whole system. e.g. risk aversion and dysfunctional systems following a bad VC; stress and burn out of HODs/HOSs Disastrous (beneficial) Leadership fails to achieve its intentions – results in unexpected/undesirable outcomes - hard to operationalise. e.g. PDR and appraisal process, competencies, RAE Dysfunctional (functional) Leadership as faceless/hard to pinpoint versus distinctive personal style of individuals - importance of vision, inspiration from VC, Deans, HODs, etc. – individuals taking on responsibilities on behalf of the collective. e.g. influence of new VC, influence of research stars Disembodied (embodied) Leadership is felt to be removed from the operational level of the organisation - inaccessible, imposed - not necessarily ‘in our best interests’. e.g. conflict between school and central university priorities Distant (close, in-touch)
  19. 19. Leadership practice in HE <ul><li>‘ One of the most difficult things a VC has to do is to balance the business of central direction and control with devolving responsibility, and getting the balance right. I suspect some of the Deans here would say the balance is tipped slightly too far towards devolved responsibility and not enough towards strong central leadership. They would, however, only agree with that if the central leadership was in the direction that they wanted to go in. […] I think that exemplifies the difficulty of getting the balance right, and it’s a constant trade-off. […] That is constant juggling act for a VC in a university and it’s more difficult to do that in a university than in many other sorts of organisations because our reputation doesn’t depend on a particular product, it depends on all the individual staff and they have to be empowered to develop that reputation and share it with the university’ (VC, post-92 university) </li></ul>
  20. 20. Leadership practice in HE <ul><li>‘ The point about leadership and my perception of it is that I think it’s quite dislocated, and I think that goes back to the difficulties that they had. The previous VC has left his mark on this institution. […] Universities have long memories and I think that has influenced how things are set up here. There is a good example of a leader in the VC […], but I don’t think the structures affect clear lines of communication or decision-making. The university presents itself at one level as very devolved, so its budget is based on a devolved method and the Deans in schools are perceived at one level to have a lot of autonomy. But because they’re not engaged in decision-making at the higher level, they’re also slightly disenfranchised from the corporate side of the university’. (PVC) </li></ul>
  21. 21. Leadership practice in HE <ul><li>‘ The school is very much led in a consensual fashion, but the university isn’t. The leadership style of the university is non-consensual, hierarchical and bureaucratic. It doesn’t build consensus and it’s largely insensitive and distant. Some of them are really nice people and if they came down from on high and talked to people every now and then I think they’d get on a lot better and build a better consensus. They don’t know, or appear to want to understand sometimes, and that’s very sad. It’s a huge distinguishing difference between the two and it’s partly why I’m quite happy here. I’m sort of shielded by the Dean from that next level and I don’t really want to be open to it; I think I’d rather stay shielded’. (HOS) </li></ul>
  22. 22. Motivations for taking up a leadership role Reluctant leader Career leader ‘ Good citizen’ leader Damage rectifying/ limiting leader Emergent leader External leader Other Head of Dean of DVC/ Department Faculty PVC
  23. 23. Taking up a leadership role (1) <ul><li>HOD most difficult to fill </li></ul><ul><li>(in ‘old’ universities) </li></ul><ul><li>Initial limited interest in formal leadership and management </li></ul><ul><li>Insufficient ‘pool’ of developed people and people feeling unprepared </li></ul><ul><li>Rotating nature of roles </li></ul><ul><li>Negative effect on research </li></ul><ul><li>Limited recognition and limited incentives </li></ul>
  24. 24. Taking up a leadership role (2) <ul><li>Limited number required </li></ul><ul><li>Existing ‘pool’ of leaders with a proven track record </li></ul><ul><li>Career progression </li></ul><ul><li>Some senior roles are perceived to be less-demanding with less conflict of interest </li></ul><ul><li>Formal recognition and financial rewards </li></ul><ul><li>Dean/DVC/PVC is </li></ul><ul><li>easier to fill </li></ul><ul><li>(in ‘old’ universities) </li></ul>Academic leadership and management as a clear career progression in ‘new’ universities
  25. 25. Taking up a leadership role (3) Limited interest in L & M owing to barriers Despite barriers, increased interest in L & M Academic excellence as the primary criteria Credibility, capability, character and L & M skills Amateur leaders Need to ‘professionalize’ leaders HODs, Deans, DVCs/PVCs typically emerge from within Increasingly advertised externally Enormous diversity at DVC/PVC level Only rotating leadership roles (in ‘old’ universities) A mixture of rotating and permanent leadership roles Typically standardised approach to rotating roles Individual approach and terms to fixed-term appointments Appointing leaders new to a particular role Appointing leaders who have had comparable role in another HEI/org-on Search consultants only for senior roles Search consultants for both senior as well as middle levels.
  26. 26. Implications for leadership development Prescriptive and content- heavy; ‘hard’ skills Participative, interactive, experiential; ‘soft’ skills Staff developers as development providers As consultants, supporters, advisers Informal and ad-hoc coaching and mentoring Need for formalised coaching and mentoring arrangements Mainly face-to-face, class-based interaction Combination of face-to-face and self-directed learning Core modules + Bespoke, individually tailored development Central generic programmes Lack of diversity in formal leadership roles LD as a vehicle to drive diversity
  27. 27. Leadership Development (2) Appraisal (often negatively perceived) Linking development with PDR Ad hoc and informal succession planning Formal and systematic succession planning Developing existing leaders Identifying and developing future leadership talent Training/Development = negative connotation Repackaging provision (initiatives rather than programmes) Induction/Limited or no support after the end of the term CPD/Planned exit from rotating leadership roles No formal evaluation of the impact of LD Developing more robust mechanisms for evaluation
  28. 28. Summary of findings <ul><li>Tendency to widely distribute leadership </li></ul><ul><li>But tensions between top-down and bottom-up approaches </li></ul><ul><li>Negotiation between the centre/top and schools/departments </li></ul><ul><li>Need for both top-down and bottom-up leadership, i.e. ‘blended leadership’ (Collinson and Collinson, 2006) </li></ul><ul><li>Evidence of many forms, but most of these perhaps are commonly associated with traditional hierarchical models of leadership with exception of ‘cultural’ </li></ul><ul><li>Devolved leadership and dispersed leadership </li></ul><ul><li>Need to integrate various leadership development activities </li></ul>
  29. 29. <ul><li>As descriptive of leadership practice </li></ul><ul><li>As a perspective on leadership practice </li></ul><ul><li>As a rhetorical device </li></ul><ul><li>Distributed leadership is not a successor to individual leadership in HE, but something that might reside alongside individual leadership </li></ul>The utility of distributed leadership?
  30. 30. Questions and discussion Thank you! For further details or a full copy of the final report please contact Georgy.Petrov@exeter.ac.uk
  31. 31. STRATEGIC OPERATIONAL Senior management team Faculty/School School/Department Broad focus Narrow focus Leadership of institution Leadership of discipline Managerialism (Bureaucracy and Corporation) Collegium and Enterprise PVCs Deans HOS/HOD