Academic Leadership In Higher Education: A “participative” Perspective From One Institution
Academic Leadership - Online Journal,
Vol. 8 No. 1 (2007): Vol-8-Issue-1-January-2007
The context of the higher education leadership mantle is dynamic, complex and multidimensional (Filan
and Seagren 2003, 21). The elusiveness of the leadership notion has enticed researchers to interpret,
capture and analyse the essence of leadership in higher education from different perspectives. As
Burns (1978, 2) noted thirty years ago, “Leadership is one of the most observed and least understood
phenomena on earth”. Although these studies identified leadership as a concrete and observable
phenomenon, no consensus has as yet been reached on the exact characteristics of a successful
leader in higher education (Buller 2006, 159). The concept leadership in higher education thus
presents numerous opportunities for further investigation.
Recent studies not only highlight the diversity of universities, departments and leaders but also the
constant change, adjustments and turbulent environment of higher education during the past few years
(Hanna, 2003, 34). Lees (2006, 333) consequently asks: “Why would a sane, rational person even
consider becoming a leader at a higher educational institution?” This article intends to answer why
sane individuals at this university should consider becoming leaders by arguing that the type of
leadership that enhances a culture of cohesiveness can indeed address and resolve critical issues
collaboratively. In order to explore and interrogate this specific aspect of leadership, we cover three
areas. First, we investigate the concept of leadership and transformational leadership in literature.
Then, employing qualitative research, we examine how challenges of leadership can be better
addressed at one institution in South Africa. We next explore possible solutions to these challenges by
means of a leadership profile, and we ultimately draw a number of conclusions.