‘It’s time for a more modern approach to leadership’



A leadership role isn’t the most popular career path for most Dutch academics. How can we make leadership more appealing and at the same time attract better and more diverse leaders?

When it comes to leadership roles most academics have a ‘somebody has to do it, but not me’ attitude because it inevitably means spending less time on research, says Harry Garretsen, professor of International Economics and Business at the University of Groningen. Usually organisations select leaders based on good leadership skills, he explains. “Unfortunately this is not the case in academia. Leaders in academia excel in research or in attracting funds, but not necessarily in leadership.”

Commitment and pragmatism

According to Rianne Letschert, rector at Maastricht University, the world of academia has a very old-fashioned view of leadership. “We need a more modern approach to select leaders and to deselect them if they don’t perform well,” she says. Letschert also poses the question why the head of a department always has to be a professor. “Why not an associate professor with a talent for leadership?” The VSNU – EUA Conference is the first step towards increasing recognition and rewards for leaders in academia, says Garretsen, who is also director of the leadership expertise centre In the LEAD (Leadership, Evidence, Advice & Data). “Implementing the plans won’t be easy. We need commitment.”

What’s next

  • Give academics more time, room and appreciation for leadership roles.
  • Inspire and stimulate academics who are young, female or have a non-Western background to become leaders in academia.
  • Find out, in the early stages of their career, which academics have a talent for and a desire to become leaders and offer them the possibility to develop their leadership skills.
  • Make sure leaders in academia can also continue to spend time on research and education.
  • Create a good mix of objective and subjective (or evidence-based and non-evidence-based) criteria to assess academics instead of just ticking boxes.
  • Don’t ignore but stimulate academics’ informal leadership roles.
  • Don’t refer to ‘academic leadership’ but rather ‘leadership in academia’.
  • Refer to ‘support’ staff differently, many of whom are also academics.
  • Remove the disconnect between academic staff and support staff, and encourage collaboration.

Recognition & Rewards

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