The new LH Martin 2013 Leading University program
Leadership is a skill and can be learnt; leaders motivate others and drive change. I have a major interest in American history and the famous quote about leadership from John Quincy Adams (sixth US President and an ardent educationalist) often comes to mind: "if your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader". I therefore feel very fortunate to have been nominated by the Vice-Chancellor and selected by the LH Martin Institute to take part in a new program on Leading Universities this year. The LH Martin Institute is a national organization with an Australasian higher education focus that aims to strengthen management and leadership in the sector.
This original program has been specifically designed to provide guidance and advice for those who may aspire to become senior university leaders including perhaps one day Vice-Chancellors. The application process comprised submitting a two page personal statement outlining my motivation to join the program, a supporting statement from the VC and a copy of my CV. I was delighted to be selected; there is a significant time commitment required in and out of sessions, and candidates are expected to undertake residential living arrangements, but the advantages of this approach in terms of team based learning and camaraderie quickly has become very obvious.
The course brings together a small group of University leaders from around Australia (limited to 16 in total), and is held over 3 weeks in 3 different cities a few months apart; the program kicked off in Canberra in July this year. Once in the program, each candidate undergoes a battery of psychological tests (which are revealed to you in the first week residential - illuminating!) and built in is a 360 degree feedback process from peers, direct reports and senior management (in the second week). Further, one is required to undertake a detailed project to be delivered at the end of the course (I chose building research innovation and success through structural change in a climate of reduced Australian Competitive Government funding). The option to be guided by a senior mentor is included, based on the concept of leadership coaching (which is an excellent model and widely used in the corporate world in the US and elsewhere).
I still have two weeks of sessions to go, but the first week proved fascinating. We had small group sessions with six distinguished VCs, a former department Secretary, a current senior treasury official, a senior public servant from the Department of Industry Innovation, Climate Change, Science, Research and Tertiary Education, a Chancellor and former Secretary to the Prime Minister, a senior economist, and a member of the secretariat of COAG (the Council of Australian Governments, the peak intergovernmental forum). The candor of the presenters was remarkable and refreshing; we were offered real leadership cases (sometimes in real time) and saw how potential solutions played out (or failed as they do in life).
There are direct and indirect benefits of the program. The building of a broad Australia wide professional network is one I can't underemphasize - I have made new friends, found new colleagues and gained immeasurably from the group experience of working together. The external and internal perspectives offered by University and other leaders has made me feel better equipped to tackle the issues likely to be faced here by us in the future. As a brand new intensive program, we are also providing constructive feedback that will help shape and improve future similar courses.
In my view leadership is about bursts of inspiration and then perspiration (lots of it), but you also need a robust tool kit that can help you deal with the broad range of highly complex internal and external issues likely to be encountered in Universities (I certainly understand and appreciate the "herding cats" analogy since coming back into the Australian University sector from the US over 3 years ago). I have deeply appreciated the opportunity to refine my skills and experiences in the LH Martin Leading Universities program, and look forward to sharing my knowledge as the course unfolds.
Professor Nick Talley
Acting Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research)