A new style of leadership for internationalisation

A new style of leadership for internationalisation

The function of the International Office has evolved over the past ten years. Increased responsibility is being placed on Senior International Officers (SIO) in the strive to internationalise our institutions. As Senior International Officers, we need to be able to adapt and evolve in response to this changing environment. We need to embrace change, and a more modern style of leadership.

In February 2013, thirty SIOs from Europe, the USA and various other regions gathered at the University of New Orleans for a full day of intense discussions on their leadership roles, providing some interesting insights. Invited presenter and strategic advisor at the University of Melbourne, Jacyl Shaw, gave a presentation on modern leadership in business, looking at how it could be translated for use in higher education institutions. Here are some of the main points he explored.

We are leaders who engage in distributed leadership

The context in which we work has changed. We should not play the power game anymore but focus on influencing decision makers. The culture has changed from one of a controlling nature to one of a more autonomous nature. The way by which we effect change has developed from top down to interdependent, at multiple levels and from the bottom up. Our relationships have moved from an individual basis to a collective identity. Our activities focus on a shared purpose through cycles of change.

We are plate spinners

We need to work at different levels, with different players and stakeholders; we need to live with paradoxes in our leadership roles. Colin Price talked about three paradoxes in his publication, Leadership and the art of plate spinning:

  1. The paradox of change and stability. The environment asks the organisation to adapt and to change. Constant change destabilises organisations and individuals. As leaders, we have to promote a sense of stability and make small incremental or even peripheral changes to achieve transformation needed for improved performance.
  2. The paradox of control and empowerment. Excessive control will undermine the sense of purpose of the employee. Nobody wants to work in a straitjacket. Control is needed in times of change of direction and empowerment is needed when the new course is set.
  3. The paradox of consistency and variability. Delivering quality on time to our stakeholders needs to be consistent in everything we do. Variability might be perceived as a waste of time and effort. On the other hand, we do not want consistency to create rigid mindsets; we do not want to prevent our teams from becoming risk averse; we need innovative people. We seek team members who dare to take risks. We learn more by making mistakes.

Embracing these paradoxes, as Price argues, will help us keep our eyes on our spinning plates and identify the interventions we need to make in order to keep our institutions in line with an international strategy.

We are ambidextrous

We should take the initiative, be pro-active and alert to opportunities, while knowing the limits of our jobs. We should cooperate and seek out opportunities to combine our efforts with colleagues. We should be ‘the broker’: always looking to build internal linkages. We should multi-task and be comfortable wearing more than one hat. And lastly, we should never stop learning.

By Hans-Georg van Liempd, EAIE President