The nature of effective leadership within an academic environment has shifted significantly over the past few years. These shifts can be challenging for those with an outdated style of leadership to understand and to adjust to. Basically speaking, there are three styles of leadership;

  1. Abandoning Leadership
  2. Controlling Leadership
  3. Empowering Leadership

The abandoning style is less common in the academic environment. The controlling style is far more prevalent. Many of us remember that one teacher who played a significant role in our self-development and our confidence – unfortunately too many of us also remember that one teacher who seemed intent on destroying our self-confidence and seemed to confuse leadership with power.

Our current academic leaders hold the full attention of our future leaders – this is a position of privilege and enormous influence. The concept of leadership previously understood and often imitated as controlling, now more than ever needs to be transformed to empowering. Empowering leadership starts with a high level of self- awareness. When I work with students I always ask them “what is your most important ingredient in your career?” The answer is “themselves”. The next question I ask is “who do you learn the least about at school?”. The answer is the same. This is a problem that we need to address at a school level.

Over the past week, I facilitated two “Celebrating Women in Academic Leadership – Circles of Empowerment” workshops in South Africa. Being Women’s Month we applied this theme to celebrate and empower women in these roles. Both workshops were a huge success.

One of the questions we workshopped was how to move from controlling leadership to empowering leadership within an academic environment.

These were our thoughts;

  • Encourage self – awareness, and self-exploration as a unique individual – personality styles and unique strengths seldom form part of an academic curriculum yet are critical to our understanding of who we are and how we are wired for study choices, career choices, and life choices
  • Move from an entitlement to a contribution mindset – I work across 3 countries and many different cultures and entitlement thinking is rife, for different reasons which reduce our future leaders’ capacities to contribute to their world and expand their influence
  • Don’t punish the group for the individual – whilst sometimes an easy short-term option this tends to disempower the full group
  • Build navigational skills by rewarding effort to build “thinking muscles” – this is more commonly known as moving students from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset
  • Lead by example – our future leaders will follow what they are shown to do more than what they are told to do.