Sustaining academic leadership – the gateway

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Balasubramaniam
Editor-in-Chief, The Progressive School, New Delhi

The last two decades have thrown open a wide variety of challenges to academic leaders that it is becoming increasingly difficult to sustain their leadership. The skills required for academic leadership needs to be repositioned.


Several questions are being raised at all levels of academic leadership about their competency, responsiveness and global relevance. The knowledge dynamics and its accelerated growth scaffolded by the technological interventions to information flow, the newer tools of data analytics and data management, the availability as well as the delivery of knowledge capsules for freewill learning have linear and traditional systems of academic management. Increasingly academic leadership is becoming inclusive, a skill that needs to manage a multi-channel knowledge flow and processing. The skills required for academic leadership needs to be repositioned. However, there are no broad global prescriptions to meet this challenge as they need to be contextual and relevant to the local socio-cultural and geo-political environments.

Here are a few suggestions, I think, would help academic leaders to rethink their value and to respond to the future professional needs:

Unlock your learning

Learning is non-linear. It is time and space free. Recent research in neuro cognitive sciences have unleashed many new theories revealing the enormous potential of the human brain, its intense networking and the neuroplasticity which enables continuous and comprehensive learning. Learning is not significantly impacted by the process of ageing. Hence the idea of life long learning empowers the fertility of the brain to generate new ideas, respond to new learning and adapt to newer challenges and changes. However, many of us are held by blind belief systems that psychologically force us to lock our learning over a certain period and deem it as a treasure house. Questions are raised whether learning is a treasure or a currency or both. The universe of academics calls for continuous learning to be a meaningful partner in its dynamics. Rhetoric on its past doesn’t help much to sustain the leadership or for a growth. In the current knowledge society, with increasing speed and irrelevance of knowledge capsules, it appears important to be an effective continuous learner. Possibly, it is not the one who knows much, it is the one who is current and futuristic in knowledge who will sustain the leadership.

Be sensitive to learning cultures

It is said that, “A learning culture is a set of organizational values, conventions, processes, and practices that encourage individuals—and the organization as a whole—to increase knowledge, competence, and performance.”

With innumerable tools for facilitating and providing content and diverse approaches to meet different learning styles and with methods that help in stress-free learning, the learning culture is being impacted significantly. Traditional tools and methods are giving way to innovative practices that focus on speed of learning, self-learning and focused learning reducing the critical time for learning. The learning curve both at societal and individual levels are getting modified to provide a measure and direction of learning. All these call for a high degree of sensitivity to emerging learning cultures and the need to adapt oneself to the frequency of change in knowledge management. Academic leaders are required to respond to these both purposefully and effectively. Sensitivity to learning cultures will define the quality of academic leadership of the future.

Engage with change as a team

The journey of an academic leader is not exclusive. He has to lead a core team in chasing the change and to engage with change for growth and development. It is, therefore, important for an academic leader to organize, manage and lead a learning team so that his responsibilities of an academic leader are manifested into a shared vision. No academic progress is individualistic. It is conceptual engagement which is immersed in appropriate skills. The development of a conceptual change in the universe of academics needs progressive diffusion of new knowledge, competence and skills. An academic leader cannot make this journey as individual and has to ensure it as a team work. This alone could help in acknowledging and sustaining the leadership.

Focus on changing behaviour than skills

An effective change should lead to transformation. Transformation largely involves both attitude and behaviour. Hence the academic leader should work, bringing about a change in the mindset, consequent to any new learning rather than simple acquisition and exhibition of new skills. Superficial demonstrating of new skills might have more cosmetic value and help in exhibitionism rather than an organizational transformation. Academic leaders would be successful only when they mentor transformation.

Lead the change

Promotional activities about organizational change could lead to thrill, challenge or fear. In an academic engagements, changes happen much slowly as compared to other business or formats of work. The measurement of the impact of change and change impact analysis are quite a long and strenuous process. Hence the personal engagement of the academic leader with the change and to lead the change is vital to any institutional set up. Unless there is a clear evidence of the leader being a part of the change process, the confidence profile of the team would be low and weak. An academic leader who leads the change ensures not only his personal growth and of his team, but of the organization as a whole.

Align the process with results

In many academic set ups, the process and results are largely viewed independently, least realizing the latent relationship with the two. In a number of cases, the results are considered more as a data rather than as reflections of inputs to the processes that lead to results. The underlying reason for this is either lack of alignment between the process and the results or the improper correlation that is established between them. While pedagogues tend to focus on processes, the managers and administrators tend to focus on results. Such inadequacies exist both at the micro level as well as at the macro level. An effective academic leader builds his vision keeping them in tandem.

Competing with the self

Academic leadership is highly non-competitive. It is a personal branding of an academician to a world he engages with. Therefore, it is self-nurturing process and has to be full of life. Any comparison of an academic leader with others except the self is a deceitful process. It could be referral but non-prescriptive. The only way an effective academic leader can sustain his leadership is through a competition with the self, demonstrating a continuous progress of the levels of learning and empowerment of the learning curve. As the domains of knowledge and skills of each leader has a variant, the growth and development happen by redefining the self.

Enlarging the spectrum

The universe of operation and performance of an academic leader is continuously enlarging. The spectrum of knowledge, skills and competencies continuously demand newer approaches and domains of knowledge. Both convergence and divergence of knowledge impact the learning spectrum and its consequent behaviour. There has to be no road blocks to this engagement with larger vistas of knowledge. If any, they need to be removed to ensure the expansion of knowledge spectrum.


G.Balasubramanian, Editor-in-chief of The Progressive School Magazine is a leading educator in the field of school education, curriculum designer, author, HR trainer and educational administrator. Widely traveled, he has authored several books for schools, educational administrators and is a premier teacher-trainer both across the country and abroad. He has authored – Mindscaping Education, Case Studies in Classrooms, Quality Spectrum – A school’s bandwidth and Safety in Schools – Issues & concerns.