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Ten suggestions for the institutional leaders to be successful

By G. Balasubramanian

The way academic institutions are being led or to be led is fast changing, thanks to the multi-dimensional impact on them spearheaded by technology and its allied instruments. The impact is not only significant but so overriding the existing and time-tested methods which are currently operating. The leaders of academic institutions can no longer hold a priestly approach to their leadership, nor can they continue to lead the institutions with whatever they know, or they have been taught. They need to be sensitive not only the changes that happen transforming the curricular, pedagogical and assessment issues, but the way they lead the human resources at all levels. The fundamentals with which they operate standing on the top of an ivory tower may not be any more valid and may not help them to keep the team glued to either concepts or to processes which are not pragmatic and relate to the current skills. The institutional leader must be an all-rounder empowered with concurrent skills in all the operatives of institutional management.

To be successful in the emerging scenario, the institutional leaders need to keep in mind the following suggestions:

1. Avoid being a boss

An academic leader is essentially not a ‘boss.’ The traits of a ‘boss’ displaying a sense of authority may not yield proper results where equity, authenticity and currency of knowledge is celebrated. As an academic head, the institutional leader should exhibit a sense of readiness to understand, respond, facilitate, lead and mentor the members of the team. The leader should identify the self with the entire team and exhibit a sense of belongingness with everyone. The institutional leader should, as a member of the team feel the relationship, if not the ownership, with others. The leader should function as a lighthouse of knowledge and wisdom. In the emerging knowledge society, this role of the institutional leader as harbinger of new knowledge and new skills immersed in competencies, is vital.

2. Position “I” in the right place

In any teamwork the “I-we” relationship is important and must be managed with care and poise. Though the academic leader might have brought with the self, years of experience woven with wisdom, they need to understand that the current knowledge dynamics has ushered in newer perspectives of knowledge with which they may have only limited interaction. There may be several members in the team who have had this opportunity and their currency of knowledge may be more appropriate and relevant. This knowledge might help to break several barriers to growth. Hence, handholding them and moving to the roads less travelled may help them to change the existing picture of the institution. That would indeed mean that the institutional leaders should be able to place their “I” in a more acceptable position rather that at the top of the tower. I was reading an interesting book titled “what brought you here will not take you there.” They should not have the “He-Man” or the “Tarzan” attitude. The institutional leaders need to understand their role both as a game player and as a game-changer.

3. Know where you are on the learning curve

The learning curve is unique to everyone at whatever level they operate. Understanding the professional learning curve and relating it to the institutional curve is important. This offers opportunities for introspection and reflection. The lessons learnt on this exercise will help to understand one’s position in the learning curve. Further, it will show the inadequacies and the learning gaps to the leader so that they can immediately engage themselves with further learning lest they are marginalized and become dropouts from the system. The inability to move ahead with learning system and holding to a static position in the learning curve will deprive them of all leadership features sooner than late. Any superficial projection of relocating the self through false practices or recommendations will reveal the reality soon and could lead to self-defeating exercises. As ‘digital immigrants’ their managing organizations with a population of ‘digital natives’ is a paradox in educational administration.

4. Celebrate the uniqueness

Every learner is unique. Every colleague in your team is unique. Superimposing one personality over another would lead to intellectual and emotional paralysis. Trying to evaluate uniqueness against a set of given norms would lead to every individual being declared ‘short’ of the defined goals or expectations. Acknowledging and using the talents and skills of every member of the team, and thereby bringing to light the uniqueness of every member to the learning table is important. Acknowledging uniqueness leads to celebrating the identity, the self-esteem and success of every individual. This will lead to enhancing the trust and confidence of the member on the leadership and supporting and developing the institution with diverse skills. Schools of the future will be nurseries human curiosity, innovation, and uniqueness.

5. Learn to appreciate the team

Institutional leader is not a lone citizen of an island. He is a vibrant constituent of a glorious team that is handed over to him. As much as the leader is hungry of name, fame, and power, so are the other constituents of the team. Every member of the team looks for a word of appreciation and a word of praise which could trigger their performance levels. While it is important to correct them when they are wrong, put on the track when they are likely to derail, it is equally important to give them a word of appreciation. That could drive their adrenaline for better cohesion, cooperation, and collaboration. A world of appreciation will help them to open and share their knowledge and experience without any inhibition. As such this would help in developing a legacy of leadership in the organization. The future academic institutions would need leaders in different verticals, both latitudinally and horizontally.

6. Avoid withholding information

Many leaders think that every information is not necessary to be divulged. Certainly yes. But selective withholding of information or providing the information only to a select few will create a divide. It will lead to ‘mistrust’ in the ladder of institutional leadership and could be felt as a kind of ‘favouritism,’ thereby providing platforms for inequity, jealousy, unwarranted comparison, and other speculations. Providing basic information to the entire team, needy information to the concerned, relevant information to the level heads, vital information to the leadership cascade is important. It ensures not only availability of information but right action at the right time. Institutional heads who withhold the information as their private property will soon land in conflicts and crises which they will find difficult to manage or explain to the concerned. As such fluidity of information facilitates transparency and effective communication

7. Avoid passing the buck

In large or moderately large institutions which works with a lot of delegation of work and responsibilities, the game of shifting blame appears as a routine. It is to be understood that in any functional domain it is important to delegate and fix responsibilities, and ensure accountabilities, it is equally important that play of the shifting responsibility shall not happen. Though detailing of key functional areas exists on records, when it comes to practice there is a huge overlap of duties and responsibilities. And in such situations, the buck moves from one table to the other depending upon the prominence, position and access the people have to the authorities. An institutional leader should be willing to take the moral responsibility and create a trust factor among the people that they can work with confidence They should have a ‘belief system’ that the moral support of the institutional head remains with them always and even during the crisis, provided they are right. Similarly, even if someone is wrong, the ability to be with them and correct them should be the moral trait of the institutional leader. An institutional leader who has the habit of ‘passing the buck’ is isolated or deserted by the team in a brief period.

8. Avoid taking decisions to please anyone

An institutional leader is often judged by the quality and the correctness of the decision taken. As the head of an organization, one could be under pressure from several quarters and for distinct reasons. It is important to keep a level head and a sense of uprightness immaterial of the consequences of the decisions. Not only taking right decisions but standing up to them is necessary. Leaders who reverse decisions lose their credibility and respectability very soon. Oftentimes, the decisions taken create impressions and perceptions which may not be true; on those occasions, holding on to one’s moral ground is a display of courage and conviction. The institutional leaders who are good decision makers have a very credible image in the school community.

9. Do not let the institutional size define you

Some institutional leaders often put themselves into shame by branding their institutions small or as a non-identity. They yield to self-pity, comparisons and use them as a shield for their non-performance or their inability to maximize the productivity in the given set up. Yes, in a world of number games, leaders are positioned by market forces as custodians of a large enterprise or small as it suits them. However, in respect of academic institutions the quality of performance of the institution, the thought architecture of the institution, the work culture that defines the institution goes a long way to define who you are and what your institution is! Institutions big or small, can make a global impact in the current dynamics of knowledge processing. Never let the institutional size define your competency!

10. Never convert the institution into a showcase

“Show casing” the institution has become an order of the day. More so, in the context of education becoming a business, several external forces are acting to brand the institutions and make them engage into a rat race. In several such cases, no attempts are made for enhancing the quality of the institutional engagement with its purpose. Exercises that are cosmetic, that would bring names because of its association for namesake with other institutions elsewhere, because of the awards that get delivered to the institutions for a cost, because of extravagance in highlighting the programs like those in celluloid industry appear to have found their way. While I fully understand that many institutional leaders cannot do anything to stop such situations because of the directions of the management, they would do well to keep such things minimal. The quantum of expenditure incurred to showcasing the school is not an exclusive indicator of the school brand. The institution is not a show case. It has a sacred duty to develop human beings into competent futuristic citizens in line with the educational dynamics. And this is a national obligation to be placed higher than any other obligation the institution has.