In recent years, concepts of shared and distributed leadership that view leadership ‘as a group quality, as a set of functions which must be carried out by the group’3 have emerged as popular alternatives to heroic and individual approaches. A shared leadership perspective shifts the focus on leadership from person and position to process and is now widely advocated across public, private and not-for-profit settings where there is a need to influence and collaborate across organisational and professional boundaries.
Within higher education, shared leadership offers a compelling alternative to the discourse of managerialism (based on principles of new public management), which has become increasingly prevalent within the sector. In a context where many are sceptical of traditional influence and authority, it has been suggested that shared leadership may offer a means of reconnecting academics with a sense of collegiality, citizenship and community.
Drawing on the authors’ extensive experience of researching and developing shared leadership in British and Australian universities, this stimulus paper explores what individuals and institutions can do to help develop and sustain more inclusive and shared leadership cultures and practices. It is targeted mainly at middle- to senior-level academic and professional service managers, and leadership and organisational development specialists, and seeks to provide practical as well as conceptual guidance for day-to-day leadership practice and development.
A wide range of sources has been used in compiling this paper, going beyond abstract concepts to present resources and examples of using a shared leadership approach to achieve change at many levels and across many institutions that make up the higher education sector in the UK and Australia. A key aim of this paper is to bridge the gap between shared leadership theory, practice and development.
The paper is structured into three main parts – context, practice and engagement – that consider, in turn, the conceptual framing, institutional practice and individual and cultural change aspects of shared leadership. Alongside a review of relevant theory and research, these sections present a series of resources, cases and examples to help assess current leadership practice and identify future action for shared leadership.
The tools, practices and insights in this report will help debunk common myths and misconceptions about shared leadership and offer a systemic framework for developing and sustaining a shared leadership approach in higher education. Practical examples from Australia and the UK are included throughout, and each section contains reflective questions to assist in learning and application.
Overall this paper suggests that shared leadership offers a viable and effective approach for developing and enhancing leadership in higher education and for engaging a wide range of interests and expertise in the leadership process. It is not, however, a panacea and we encourage the reader to take an open yet critical approach in which consideration is given to the wider social, political and cultural context in which leadership takes place.