• Ani Kodjabasheva

Leadership Skills Crucial for Universities’ Response to Crisis

Updated: Apr 22

Resilience depends on leadership, and good leadership is based on trust.



The Covid-19 crisis is posing many and growing challenges for higher education institutions. Uncertainty surrounds when to resume in-person classes and how to maintain enrolment in the future, for example. In this situation, resilience and long-term success depend on a key factor: leadership skills.


Read more: How Universities Respond to the Covid-19 Crisis (Survey)


The importance of responsible leadership

All higher education professionals, from university presidents to student support officers, are called on to practise good leadership in a time of crisis. By employing the right skills, they can instil trust in their constituencies, keep up morale, and inspire great performance.


The consulting firm Accenture distilled the qualities and actions that matter most in leaders based on a survey of 15,600 workers in different sectors globally. While leadership always affects performance, people’s needs for responsible leaders are even stronger during crisis, Accenture notes.


The survey found that the number one mark of good leadership is trust. People trust leaders when they can observe the following three behaviours:


  • Leaders show that they care “for each individual, the community, and humanity as a whole”;

  • They are transparent, even when things are uncertain;

  • They are proactive and plan for the future.


Leaders who demonstrate these qualities can motivate their constituencies and steer them successfully through rough waters. That can make the institution as a whole more resilient.


What higher ed professionals can do right now

In addition to defining these key traits, the survey authors compiled 10 actionable tips on what you can do to improve your leadership in crisis. For example, they recommend communicating via stories and using narrative techniques like analogies, rather than just sharing data. A centralised communications strategy is also advised.


Another suggestion is trimming all non-essential responsibilities for everyone at your institution. That is something many universities have already done, for example by switching their grading to pass/fail this term in order to reduce faculty and student stress. Rather than having people burrow down into busy work, you should encourage them to get together, share, and collaborate as much as possible.


For the full list of leadership tips, you can read the summary of the results here.

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