Is anyone else out there a little confused by the plethora of leadership styles that are currently in vogue? In the last 12 months alone I have been offered a whole range of leadership terms. Collective leadership, collaborative leadership, inclusive leadership, and not forgetting adaptive and system leadership. I notice that these terms are often used interchangeably but, essentially within it all, my understanding that we have many roles in our professional lives: to lead, to follow, to direct, to manage, to advise, to coach. The important thing is to apply the correct role to the correct time, and consciously acknowledge it with the correct title.
I know a lot of us would like to add a few more leadership styles to that list: irrational, irritable, all powerful… you get the idea. That aside, I’ve found myself reflecting on social movements in leadership, namely followership, and I wanted to share an approach that has empowered a group of professionals keen to improve the learning experience of university students, to model a collaborative leadership.
Three years ago I was invited by Aspire to co-design and deliver a Sustainable Leadership Programme for an academic institution. Over the years the programme has evolved to include:
- Development centres
- Master classes
- Action learning sets/project learning groups
- Communities of practice
- Open space
- Celebration events
The programme brought together academic and professional service leaders from across the University, in order to further their professional development and enable them to work collaboratively during times of significant change.
The programme has been a success, and as with many leadership programmes there was a real desire to:
- Continue to work together
- Access peer support
- Become a resource for the leadership of the organisation – to be a group of ‘go to people’ to use as a sounding board, test new ideas, think tank for future strategy
- Support others that accessed the programme before
So why was this programme different? Why has this triggered my reflection on leadership and it’s various forms?
We brought together all three cohorts of leaders from the programme and the University Executive Group (UEG) using an open space methodology to help them to develop communities of practice, and we ended up having an absolute ball!
The participants in this talking head video, drawn from across the organisation, were in the room at the same time with UEG. Even so, hierarchy didn’t feature, and participants quickly moved between cohorts to come up with ideas to ‘drive innovation’. We were able to create the energy and momentum for leaders from across the organisation to have the space, time, and conviction to work on the issues that they were most interested in and would have the most impact on students and their learning. We saw real collaborative and collective leadership in action!
At the end of the event, six communities of practice were initiated. We will stay in touch with these communities to see how they progress over the next 6 months. However, the initial evaluation shows that 87% of the leaders will take action as a result of the event and 93% would recommend the event to others. Having the opportunity to lead across multiple professions was really valued, we look forward to hearing and seeing how this translates to the student experience and fosters further collaborative leadership across the University.
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