Further Education leaders reflect on approaches to leadership in disruptive times
On Tuesday 30 June 60 heads of Further Education (FE) Colleges who are alumni of the Further Education Strategic Leadership Programme came together for a session convened by Saïd Business School, in collaboration with the Education and Training Foundation (ETF), to reflect on how their leadership practice has been shaped by the extraordinary demands of the coronavirus pandemic.
The session began with insights from Professor Tim Morris, who talked the FE leaders through his Leadership Framework and stimulated discussion about the ways in which they had undertaken the critical leadership tasks of shaping, engaging, choosing, and connecting over the last three months.
There were many illuminating examples and insights from these leaders, highlighting the exceptional ways in which they have worked with their teams, staff, learners, and external networks to ensure their colleges adapted to circumstances and continued provision of education in incredibly challenging conditions.
- A number of leaders spoke of returning to their fundamental values and vision; many agreed that they had accelerated the development and delivery of their digital strategies.
- Nearly all agreed that their engagement style had changed: that they revealed more personal and vulnerable dimensions in their communications with their staff and learners to create trust and empathy during times of uncertainty.
- Whilst the crisis in its initial stages was very much about ‘coming together,’ many observed that the initial phase of ‘command and control’ or ‘autocratic’ leadership subsequently shifted to a more distributed leadership approach, which was trust-based, built around a shared ‘framework of expectations.'
- Interestingly, those in smaller organisations – often more reliant on informal exchanges in corridors – had found the transition to virtual ways of working more challenging.
- In regard to where to leaders were choosing to focus their attention and the kinds of decisions they were making, there was a sense that the contrast between short-termism and more strategic decision-making was stark: ‘days flip between the strategic and the operational’ observed one experienced leader of a large college.
Reflecting on what might be retained and built upon, it was observed that there is a real opportunity to take forward some of the new leadership approaches, particularly in the area of engagement: the ways in which communication had become more frequent and less formal, might be retained in the service of building culture, driving innovation, and leading change.
Louise Watts, Client Director, Public Value, stated:
'Colleges are critical "anchor institutions" in our society, and CEOs and Principals have worked tirelessly to find innovative and creative ways to continue to serve the needs of their learners, staff and communities. We are extremely proud to be working with them and supporting leadership development for the FE sector at such a critical time.'