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Leadership in higher education: some lessons from other sectors

Ewart Wooldridge (The Leadership Foundation for Higher Education, London, UK)

International Journal of Leadership in Public Services

ISSN: 1747-9886

Article publication date: 17 August 2011




There is a tendency in every sector to argue that its culture and leadership issues are unique, and that concepts and processes for leadership development do not travel well across sector boundaries. Higher education (HE) is well known for adopting this point of view. Drawing from the author's own experience of working in many parts of the private, public and third sectors, the purpose of this paper is to unpack that paradox and suggest some important lessons and practices that can survive the transition across these boundaries.


The examples of such practices are drawn from the worlds of broadcasting, the arts, education, local and central government. They include embracing the “tight/loose” tension conceived by Charles Handy, the conceptualisation of the customer experience in a way that can engage HE staff and the vital contribution that universities can make to the “leadership of place”.


The author has found three general concepts of leadership, which seem particularly relevant to the challenges facing UK HE today. Agility – the ability to embrace new business models, new organisational relationships and new technological opportunities whilst holding on to the core purpose of HE. Distinctiveness – seeking through institutional dialogue a shared understanding of difference, either as a single institution or as part of a unique cluster of universities. Alignment – finding the optimal meeting point between top‐down institutional goals and the traditional bottom‐up collegial culture.


This paper provides an opportunity to reflect on development programmes run by the Leadership Foundation, and to test them against the wider context of public service leadership development.



Wooldridge, E. (2011), "Leadership in higher education: some lessons from other sectors", International Journal of Leadership in Public Services, Vol. 7 No. 3, pp. 245-250.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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