The journey to leadership: a study of how leader-academics in higher education learn to lead

Inman, Margaret (2007). The journey to leadership: a study of how leader-academics in higher education learn to lead. University of Birmingham. Ed.D.


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There has been a significant increase in interest in the development of Educational Leadership in recent years, not least in the school sector. However, little research exists on how leaders in higher education have learnt to lead, particularly those in ‘middle-leadership’ positions such as heads of faculties and departments. This study explores the journey to leadership of eighteen leader-academics within six chartered and statutory universities in the south of Wales and the west of England. Semi-structured biographical interviews were used between November 2005 and April 2006 to secure academics’ perceptions of their own life history, including the significance of their formative years, career trajectories, motivations, training and less formal learning, to equip them with the necessary attributes to lead. The findings show that the nature of leadership for middle-level leaders in higher education is complex and demanding and requires a combination of management and leadership skills. Formal professional development for leadership was relatively uncommon. The majority of what leaders do is learnt, self-taught and acquired throughout their life history. The influence of critical incidents and significant people has a profound effect on how leaders have learnt to lead. This study captures insights which should inform the future research agenda in higher education and highlights the possible inadequacies of formal leadership development for leader-academics in higher education. The challenge is to bring the informal processes of learning gained throughout a leader’s life history into a meaningful context for professional development. By doing so, training and development initiatives can be brought into the leader’s real world in a structured way to become more relevant and productive to those who participate. Strategies include the establishment of formal mentoring systems, encouraging the formation of networks and providing guided critical reflection on practice, whilst promoting opportunities for collective articulation and sharing of experiences. A suggested framework for integrated leadership development is proposed to enable middle-level leader-academics to experience more planned and meaningful development. This should then enhance those aspects of leadership which have been acquired through individual life histories and consequently should better equip them to support, manage and lead their faculties.

Type of Work: Thesis (Doctorates > Ed.D.)
Award Type: Doctorates > Ed.D.
College/Faculty: Schools (1998 to 2008) > School of Education
School or Department: School of Education
Funders: None/not applicable
Subjects: L Education > LB Theory and practice of education > LB2300 Higher Education


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