In North America, pressures on higher education organizations continue to escalate as a result of an increased focus on systemic accountability, fiscal responsibility, and renewed calls for addressing the needs of a diverse population. In Europe, educational institutions face similar demands. In 2009, van Vught, analyzed the innovation agenda of the European Union for higher education, and addressed some of the major challenges including the issue of access and equity, limited world class research excellence, the need to further increase knowledge transfer efforts, and the lack of private funding in higher education and research (p. 1). In his analysis, he reported the assertion of the 2003 European Commission that “the European university world is not trouble-free, and the European universities are not at present globally competitive” (p. 7).
New challenges result in a need for frameworks that give rise to actionable solutions based in newly-found understandings that move away from traditional and more technical leadership concepts. Thus, as a result of these and other challenges; global changes; new, ambitious goals for higher education; and higher education’s high visibility and public responsibility, the necessity for new approaches to leadership is particularly salient. Moreover, the question of whether professional development can advance effective leadership praxis presents a dilemma that has undergone extensive scrutiny. Given these challenges, and in particular, those posed by the increasing diaspora and hence diversity of the student body, there is a need for leaders to develop what Burns (2003) calls a morally-based foundation for leadership, while Oakes and Rogers (2006) posit the need for disruptive knowledge and a dialogue that eliminates pre-conceived understandings of widely- accepted beliefs.
To respond to these and other challenges, Shields (2012. 2016) has posited the need for transformative leadership—a comprehensive leadership theory that includes organizational efficiency and effectiveness but that also focuses on inclusion, equity, and social justice.
Purpose of Paper, Research Questions, and Theoretical Framework
The purpose of this paper is to explore, through a transformative leadership lens, the context and content of a professional development workshop presented to a multi-disciplinary group of director-level leaders in a tier-one research university. This paper will demonstrate the challenges, in a diverse environment, of conducting leadership development. To do so, one of the authors will offer a participant observation of the professional development program. The research questions we seek to answer, include:
- How might a transformative leadership lens affect the expected workshop outcomes?
- What are the organizational benefits that could be realized through a transformative leadership approach?
- What existing frameworks must be deconstructed to establish a transformative leadership environment?
- Why would transformative leadership improve equity within the higher education environment?
The theoretical framework of this paper is based on the eight tenets that Shields (2016) posits as the foundation of transformative leadership. Shields grounds the theory of transformative leadership in inequity, inclusion, and social justice. Transformative leadership theory also emphasizes the need to deconstruct existing knowledge frameworks and assumptions if they perpetuate inequity, as well as a need for emancipation, democracy, equity, justice, and the moral courage to act. The theory’s eight tenets, taken together, respond to Bakhtin’s call for recognizing that historical forces have a significant role in shaping belief systems, culture, and worldviews with an understanding that there must be an evolution of the leader’s lens (in Shields, 2011). The complex and loosely interconnected nature of higher educational institutions highlights the need for a comprehensive and flexible leadership framework for a holistic impact on leadership praxis.
Burns, J. M. (2003), Transforming leadership, New York: Grove Press. Ellis, C. S., & Bochner, A. (2000). Autoethnography, personal narrative, reflexivity: Researcher as subject. In N Denzin & Lincoln, Y. (Eds.), The Handbook of Qualitative Research. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Oakes, J., & Rogers, J. (2006). Learning power: Organizing for education and justice. New York: Teachers College Press. Shields, C. M. (2011), Bakhtin’s “novel” proposal: Lessons for educational leaders. In E. J. White & M. A. Peters (Eds.), Bakhtinian pedagogy: Opportunities and challenges for research, policy and practice in education across the globe. New York: Peter Lang. Shields, C. M. (2012), Transformative leadership in education: Equitable change in an uncertain and complex world. New York: Routledge. Shields, C. M. (2016). Transformative leadership Primer. New York: Peter Lang. Spradley, J. P. (2016). Participant observation. Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press. Su, J. A., & Wilkins, M. (2014). What’s your Ripple Effect? Leader to Leader, (72), 52-57. Van Vught, F. (2009), The EU innovation agenda: Challenges for European higher education and research, Higher Education Management and Policy, 21/22. Pgs 1-22.
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