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News vom 22.10.2013

New study on the understanding of leadership rectors and presidents prefer to involve higher education institutions (HEI) members rather than adopt an authoritarian style of governance

University presidents and rectors characterise their institutions as especially conflictive organisations: the autonomy of HEI members, indispensable for good scientific work, must be maintained and at the same time the ability to pursue a strategy must be guaranteed in the interest of the entire organisation. An explorative study by the CHE Centre for Higher Education shows that, for leaders close communication and the integration of HEI members (rather than authoritative top-to-bottom “ruling”) is a decisive factor in this. HEI leaders were interviewed about their understanding of leadership the key areas of university management and the challenges from outside.

Vitus Püttmann, author of the new publication “Leadership in Higher Education”, said: ”Even after strengthening the position of HEI rectors´ and presidents in recent years, we cannot speak of a tendency towards top-to-bottom ‘ruling’. The interview partners considered authoritative leadership styles inadequate. The assessment showed that participative leadership styles are adopted more often than not.”
Half the interviewees emphasised the challenge of mediating between strategic management which is typical for businesses, and the special features of HEI. University presidents and rectors are therefore expected to have communicative and social skills.

Despite the basically participative attitude that prevails, there are still authoritative elements in leadership styles, and these are stronger if concrete measures are to be implemented. External rectors and presidents have a less authoritarian and more participative understanding of leadership than those that are elected internally. Clichés such as “external action men” and “internal colleagues” were not confirmed in the research. However, there are indications that the participative nature of the leadership style increases with the size of the institution and the number of years the HEI manager is in office.

One increasingly demanding leadership task is to carry out a target-oriented steering in order to confront today’s multiple challenges. This is also mirrored in the heterogeneity of leadership activities. The study analyses the leadership instruments used in this regard. In addition to traditional interactive and communicative forms, the new steering instruments and incentive systems provide process-related elements for target-based management. Several forms of documents covering both traditional academic constitutions and strategy papers complement the spectrum of leadership instruments analysed.

“The interviewees described leadership in higher education as a versatile process requiring obviously both personal assertiveness as well as the professional design of processes and structures,” said Püttmann.


Further Information can be found in the publication stated below.

Publication in relation to this news
  • Püttmann, Vitus: Führung in Hochschulen aus der Perspektive von Hochschulleitungen – Eine explorative Untersuchung einer Befragung von Präsident(inn)en und Rektor(inn)en deutscher Hochschulen, Gütersloh, 55 Seiten,
    ISBN 978-3-941927-46-9,
    ISSN 1862-7188

Printable version

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