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Academic leadership – special or simple

Stephen Graham Anthony (Department of Management and Languages, Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh, UK) (Institute of Six Sigma Professionals, Newport, UK)
Jiju Antony (Department of Business Management, Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh, UK)

International Journal of Productivity and Performance Management

ISSN: 1741-0401

Article publication date: 12 June 2017




Is academic leadership unique? Is it special? Do academic leaders require certain knowledge, skills and behaviours that only a career in academic can develop – or is it fundamentally the same as traditional leadership? This paper explores whether or not academic leadership is special or simple. It starts by defining the context and environment academic leaders find themselves in, moving onto explore characteristics and the overlap with traditional leadership thinking and finally concludes with current trends and a working definition of what academic leadership really is. The purpose of this paper is to explore the uniqueness of academic institutions and whether or not they require certain leadership characteristics which can only be found in academic career progression or could an exceptional individual from outside academia lead academics, researchers, administrators and support staff?


Based around a literature review of current thinking on academic leadership and then the production of a Venn diagram to compares these current trends with more traditional definitions of leadership.


The key findings of this paper include a definition of academic leadership, and how it is similar in many ways to traditional leadership thinking. However, there is a uniqueness centred on the culture and politics of an academic institution which many traditional leaders would not need to work within.

Research limitations/implications

This paper is part of a wider research project relating to academic leadership and Lean Six Sigma and thus the author has searched out papers which support both areas of the author’s interest.

Practical implications

Anyone in a position of academic leadership may be interested in how it relates to traditional leadership concepts and where their field differs from others.


No research current exists which overlaps academic leadership with traditional definitions and characteristics and thus this paper is a new view of academic leadership.



Anthony, S.G. and Antony, J. (2017), "Academic leadership – special or simple", International Journal of Productivity and Performance Management, Vol. 66 No. 5, pp. 630-637.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2017, Emerald Publishing Limited

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