Digital Leadership in Higher Education

Last month the German Forum for Higher Education Digitalization organized a one week long conference event which was called „The Digital Turn“. The organizers  asked me to write a piece on „Digital Leadership“ in higher education. The topic seemed handy to me… but I must admit – looking back now – that it was one of the hardest articles to write… But have look yourself… I translated it into English below… Comments welcome…

Direct shortcut to article:  Digital Leadership in Higher Education

The issue “digital leadership” in higher education (HE) is challenging in two ways: Firstly, it is unclear whether we talk about the concepts of “digital leadership” or rather those of “leadership in the digital age”. Secondly, it is an urgent topic: An increasing number of higher education institutions (HEIs) are involved in permanent change processes. This leads to their managers struggling build and implement a coherent strategy for the institutions’ digital transformation processes that is also externally visible.

A tricky situation. It is true that strategic and managerial concepts in the context of HE have realized that only considering the individual HEIs as loosely connected subsystems of a wider system impairs the development of a clear strategy. However, the new picture of an entrepreneurial HEI that provides clear strategic management decisions is neither sufficiently elaborated on, nor are HEI members aware of it yet. Moreover, it is difficult to draw a clear line between retaining an independent science system while at the same time governmental incentives evoke needs. Although many HEIs have hit the road towards digitalization already, the approaches that serve as role models are still the pioneering ones characterized by versatile and brave pilot projects. Some of the major challenges for HEI management consist in including the HEI’s personnel effectively and convincingly into change and transformational processes (Herbst 2007). Despite managers occupying a key role for successful change processes, surprisingly little research on digital transformation processes in HEIs. Whereas other research fields (e.g. management, military) can rely on a rich base of empirical research on the topic of leadership, there is a lack of research for “leadership in education”. Furthermore, only a few attempts exist to date (and to the author’s knowledge) that aim at identifying the dimensions of (good) HE-leadership inthe light of the increasing digital pressure for change.

The aim of this paper is to conduct a status quo analysis thereby undertaking a first attempt to provide a systematization of potential fields of action. HEIs should pay close attention to these fields to avoid switching back and forth between the various “trending” digital strategies. The remainder of this paper is organized as follows: Firstly, we want to shed some light on the term “digital leadership” (chapter 2). Secondly, we argue that digital HEIs must establish an organizational culture and elaborate on a possible framework for leading the digitalization in an HE context (chapter 3). Thirdly, we present the transformational leadership concept as a model for “digital leadership” (chapter 4).

To know more, here is the complete Article: Digital Leadership in Higher Education


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