What is Academic Leadership?

Dr. Murthy K N B
Vice Chancellor

We live today in an academic world like never before. There was a time when academicians were those people with long beards, surrounded by stacks of dis-organized books and equipment strewn all around, teaching with passion or doing experiments in long white coats, with no desire for any material things. That imagery has changed a lot. The demands on academics and academicians are much more complex. The governments expect academic institutions to produce more and better research outputs; the industry demands better employable graudates; parents expect all-round development; society expects furtherance of social causes and equity; the faculty expect a fulfilling career that is at par with the industry; the management expects growth, efficient operations, brand building and proliferation of courses. It is not difficult to imagine the burden of expectations on academic institution in such a situation. While meeting all these expectations requires many stakeholders of the institution to work together, it most certainly needs a leader who can provide the leadership necessary to visualize, articulate, coordinate and implement strategies to achieve goals and satisfy all stakeholders. Without the appropriate leadership, the institution will be like a ship without a rudder. It will meander, go hither and thither, will become directionless and finally sink, taking with it, all its passengers. So, the importance of leadership in an academic setting is as important as anywhere else. Having established the importance of academic leadership, let us turn our attention to what traits a good academic leader should have so that he can achieve the complex set of goals mentioned earlier. 1. An academic leader has to be a visionary: To reach a goal, one should first know what the goal is. And if that goal is in the future, the leader should have the capability to imagine the goal, perceive it and then make plans to achieve it. 2. An academic leader has to be articulate: While it is important to have a vision for the institution, it is not enough. In order to make the whole institute work towards achieving the vision, it is imperative that the vision has to be articulated in a way that makes every stakeholder work towards achieving the vision. He should have the capability to persuade, convince and paint a picture of the future that is considered as desirable to everyone. This is no mean task. 3. An academic leader has to be an academician: An academic leader’s words carry no credibility unless he is ‘one of us’. When you consider leaders like General Patton or Mahatma Gandhi, one of the main reasons why they has credibility was that they came from the ranks. People whom they led could easily relate to them. When that happens, the passion, dedication and commitment to a cause naturally surfaces. Anybody from outside that circle will be seen as a leader thrust from above and will be treated like a ‘foreigner’. 4. An academic leader has to be a team player: While leadership thrusts major responsibilities on a person, it is important that the leader carries himself as a ‘first among equals’. He should not create walls and boundaries between organisation layers. He should be always available, open to suggestions and should gladly welcome opposing views. It is through discussion and debate that useful knowledge evolves. A follower is more likely to respect an open and democratic leader and hence contribute positively to growth. If the leader is dictatorial, the followers are likely to show outwardly that they are following orders, but over a period of time, they become apathetic. This is counter-productive to the goals of the organization. 5. An academic leader has to lead by example: The leader has to be a role model to everyone. People will believe in people who lead by example. Leading by one’s own behavior is the greatest message that one can give. Not leading by example leads to loss of credibility. 6. An academic leader should have the courage of conviction: A leader will not be able to achieve anything, unless he truly believes in the goals that have been set. Once he believes in them he should have the courage of conviction to convince other stakeholders about the path to be followed. If he wavers or has doubts about the goals, it will send confusing signals down the organization. Apart from these, there are other traits like ability to work hard, ability to be available 24X7 etc. What we have dealt with above are some of the major leadership traits that go into making an academic leader.