Thesis: Attributes of the Ideal Leader in Higher Education

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Attributes of the Ideal Leader in Higher Education

The impact of an organization's leadership on its performance is well documented, but when it comes to higher education, a number of things have changed in recent years that have challenged even the most effective leader's ability. Distance learning initiatives, fundamental changes in the type of adults being educated and a shaky national economy as well as dwindling state educational budgets have all contributed to the challenges being encountered today. To identify what attributes characterize the ideal leader in higher educational settings, this paper provides a review of the relevant peer-reviewed and scholarly literature concerning methods of directing nontraditional education for adults. An assessment of where, when, and how learning and effective leadership occur, learning opportunities, leadership opportunities, how adults will participate and the purpose of activities. A summary of the research and salient findings are presented in the conclusion.

Review and Discussion

Because resources are by definition scarce and the impact of an organization's leadership on its performance is well documented, it is little wonder that the subject of effective leadership in higher education has received an increasing amount of attention in recent years. In this regard, Kezar (2007) reports that, "Leadership is one of the most discussed topics in higher education. Whether it be the need for leadership or the qualities of effective leaders, researchers and practitioners alike search for answers to the puzzle of what leadership can create better institutions and a stronger system of higher education in the United States" (p. 119). This author reviews a recent publication (the Research University Presidency in the Late 20th Century: A Life Cycle/Case History Approach by H. Keith H. Brodie and Leslie Banner. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2005) and cites the distinct different approach that these authors used to identify relevant attributes of effective leaders in higher education today. Indeed, the robust qualities of the text by Brodie and Banner make their findings generalizable to other organizations besides just higher education, but Kezar suggests that one of the most important findings in the text was that effective leadership in higher education is context based, and what may be regarded as ideal leadership in one setting may not be regarded as such in another.

Stressing the need to be able to measure the effectiveness of educational leaders, Rosser, Johnsrud and Heck (2003) report that, "Over the past decade, higher education institutions have been increasingly held accountable for measurable outcomes. Increases in competition for scarce resources and a decrease in the public's trust in higher education practices have resulted in demands for campuses to demonstrate their productivity, effectiveness, and efficiency" (p. 1). The purpose of this study was to describe a systematic approach for evaluating the leadership effectiveness of educational leaders such as deans and directors from both individual and institutional perspectives. The authors emphasize that higher educational leaders such as deans and directors play a critical role in their respective institutions. "As academic leaders," Rosser and her colleagues advise, "they have the authority to chart where a college and its programs are headed. By selecting which goals they choose to pursue (and which to forego) deans and directors have the potential to exert a tremendous influence on the direction of the unit" (p. 2). Educational leaders in higher education also possess the ability to control information, accumulate and allocate resources, and assess the performance and productivity of their faculty and staff (Rosser et al.).

Based on their analysis, Rosser and her associates conclude that Our study suggests that deans and directors need to be aware of the effectiveness of their interactions and transactions -- an effectiveness that comprises the ability to garner individual as well as group support, to conceptualize and pull ideas together, to provide a clear direction for the unit, to exemplify fairness and good judgment, and to possess the leadership savvy to perform the various functions, tasks, and duties in a manner and style reflective of the organization's goals and mission. "In pursuit of effectiveness, academic leaders need to bring to bear an understanding of the complexities of social exchange within an academic setting and attend to the perceptions that individuals and groups form regarding their performance. Universities would be well served to systematically invest in, formally train, and fairly and accurately evaluate their academic leaders" (Rosser et al., p. 2).

In an increasingly multicultural society, educational leaders who are able to embrace and take advantage of diversity in their institutions are clearly at a competitive advantage over those who are not, and Aguirre and Martinez (2002) focus on these issues in their study, "Leadership Practices and Diversity in Higher Education." According to Aguirre and Martinez, "Diversity has deep roots in American society and a tenacious hold on its social fabric. Institutions of higher education have not been very responsive to the issues raised by rapidly growing diverse communities in the United States" (p. 53). These authors suggest that the reluctance to change is not unique to educational institutions, of course, particularly in view of the relatively conservative nature of many higher educational institutions. The authors examined various colleges and universities to assess their response to the increasingly multicultural student body they serve and found that the various responses to diversity depends on its decision to either transform or transition the organizational culture and institutional environment (Aguirre & Martinez). One especially noteworthy finding in this study was that, "One obstacle to incorporating diversity into higher education is the absence of effective leadership practices in the organizational culture that legitimate diversity. In a sense, the absence of effective leadership practices has created the perception that diversity is another word for affirmative action in higher education" (Aguirre & Martinez, p. 54).

Citing various precedent-setting cases in affirmative action over the years, Aguirre and Martinez go on to emphasize that combined with their traditional reluctance to initiate change, the stigma that has been associated with affirmative action in higher education has further exacerbated the reluctance to promote diversity within their faculty and administration. According to these authors, "For example, minority persons are generally missing from the faculty ranks in higher education. Leadership practices in higher education that could address the need to diversify the faculty ranks might focus on creating mentoring and recruiting networks for minority faculty, and creating sponsorship programs that place minority faculty in leadership roles" (Aguirre & Martinez, p. 54).

Based on their analysis, Aguirre and Martinez maintain that colleges and universities have an opportunity to improve such diversity among their faculty and administration by developing and implementing institutional strategic plans that include diversity initiatives that can facilitate changes in long-standing institutional practices. Truly effective educational leadership, they argue, requires timely leadership practices that concentrate on transforming the organizational culture that is in place in order to diversify their faculty (Aguirre & Martinez). Pursuant to their study's purpose, the authors report that leadership practices that seek to implement diversity in the organizational culture of higher education must advance the social reality that diversity is real, it has meaning, and it has a purpose in society. In sum, these authors conclude that, "Institutions of higher education have not been very responsive to the issues raised by rapidly growing diverse communities in the United States. The institutions' response to diversity is not unexpected given that higher education is relatively conservative about changing its institutional practices" (p. 54).

The purpose of a study by Armstrong, Blake and Piotrowski (2000) was to examine how best to measure the effectiveness of educational leaders by providing an overview of the 360-degree feedback model that can applied to administrator improvement and self-growth. According to these authors, "This program proved effective and was well received by participants for its emphasis on managerial development (in contrast to managerial evaluation). This innovative approach, at the University of West Florida, is the first effort in Florida's state university system to implement a 360-degree model to enhance managerial (administrative) effectiveness" (p. 691). The 360-degree feedback model, also called a multirater or collateral feedback, represents an increasingly popular approach in the areas of applied psychology and contemporary organizations, with a growing number of companies competing in a wide range of industries implementing such feedback approaches as a component of their managerial development programs (Armstrong et al.).

Nevertheless, these authors also emphasize that current applications of the 360-degree feedback model have been either overlooked or discarded in favor of other approaches (or none at all) in many higher educational institutions, especially in the area of development of leadership skills. As Armstrong and his associates point out, "Research findings from the business community confirm that the 360-degree feedback process provides self-insight and leads to the enhancement of managerial proficiency and leadership skills. So why have 360 [degrees] feedback programs not found a home in colleges and universities across the country?" (p. 691).

Based on their analysis, these authors maintain that there is a growing body of evidence that indicates from a strictly pragmatic perspective, the viability of such educational administrator evaluation programs has been in… [END OF PREVIEW]

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