Leading universities in turbulence era

leading university

The problem of leadership in university institutions is always problematic because the problem of leadership is not independent. It is also related to various things, especially those related to the demand for quality. The demand for quality is also closely related to the way organizations to reach its vision. Quality is also often referred to as a way of life for organizations.

We can ask a simple question here what way should we take so that we can improve the quality, and thus at the same time encourage the building of pride in the institution. Or in a clearer language, I can say as a strong desire to be the best, a passion for excellence. One of the key points is ‘strong leadership’.

To be a strong leader in university, there are a few things to watch out for. First, the university’s leadership style must be adapted to the times. Second, leadership must be in-line with and lead the ‘quality revolution’. A university leader must be able to direct where the university will be moved. In what ways should all university members and ‘stakeholders’ work so that the university organization can work well. All energy and attention go to the ‘quality revolution’. University leaders will not let any energy, motivation, and commitment be wasted for interests that are completely unrelated to the mission and vision of the university. Therefore, thirdly, the leadership at the university must be strong. Strong with vision (visionary), strong with a mission (implementing the goals and expectations that have been formulated together), strong in holding a firm commitment to achieving the vision and mission of the institution.

The question then is what should a strong university leaders do? In my opinion, several important things must be considered and done in university leadership. They are:

First, every university leader must understand carefully what the vision and symbol of the university institution are. He must be able to communicate the values that lie behind the formulation of the university’s vision and symbol, so that all university stakeholders—teaching staff, administrative staff, students, parents, community, other supporting staff—understand the values that will and must be achieved by the university.

Many experiences have taught that failure often occurs and is experienced by a university leadership because many university employees do not understand correctly what the university’s vision and mission are. Most university employees work of their own free will. Or even they work based on their interpretation of the future achievements of the university. What the university leadership wants to happen is not the same as understood by university employees, so each one goes by itself. University leaders work according to their own will, teaching staff also carry out their activities at their own pace, while administrative staff also carry out their work with the same routine without clear directions and goals.

Second, University leadership must be developed in a more complex style. University leaders must be able to serve all institutions. He must not only be present in his own office, but he must be present amid various institutions within the university institution or even must ‘be able to exist’ in institutions outside the university. In this context, I would like to borrow the terminology used by Edward Sallis to describe the leadership style as above. Salis calls it ‘management by walking about’. Thus, a leader at a university must have the ability to be ‘down to earth’, go out into the field, have a dialogue with university employees, check carefully whether the vision and mission have been carried out by what has been outlined, know what are the obstacles in the implementation level and try to solve, provide solutions to the problems that occur. The main point is that a university leader must be present in his community. If he is not present among the university community, then the university’s leadership is disorganized. When university leadership is disorganized, what follows is chaos in regulation and coordination. The rules of the game that became the working system of the university stagnated and even did not function. Coordination becomes pseudo. Communication is only symbolic which may not be understood by all university employees. The university organization is in a non-working situation.

Leaders can no longer just be ‘above’, ‘in the ivory tower’. Educational leaders and leadership styles must be closer to university employees. Even recently, in an era that is rapidly changing due to globalization and the hegemony of capitalism, university leadership must be closer to the customer. University leaders must be able to bring the institution closer to the main customers that are the focus of the ‘university market’. In this context,  there are at least four types of customers that should get the attention of university institutions. The four types of customers are:

First, the first level customers are those who directly receive the services of university institutions. They are students, teaching staff, and administrative staff. University leaders must have a ‘close’ relationship with students, faculty, and administrative staff. We can call this type of “customer” as the main customer.

Second, customers at the second level will also greatly affect the performance of the university’s leadership. At this second level, there are parents of students, government officials, sponsors (a group of people who can sponsor university activities), leaders of institutions outside the university who can affiliate, collaborate, and cooperate with the university. Customers in this second level must also get sufficient attention. The negligence of university leaders regarding the availability to build close relationships with these second-line customers will greatly hinder the development and improvement of the institution’s performance. I call this type of customer ‘secondary customers’.

Third, customers at the third level don’t have a direct relationship with the university institutions we manage, but sometimes they have a ‘crucial stakeholder in education’. These customers, oftentimes, also determine their presence, especially when our graduates want to enter the workforce when they give their perception of the performance of our university institutions when they assess the ‘trade mark’ of our university institutions when they position our university institutions. The university leadership must also be fully aware of such a third type of customer. Customers like this I call “tertiary customers”.

Fourth, customers are often ignored by university leadership. It’s not even impossible to be hostile, to be eliminated. This fourth type of customer exists and is involved in the university institution itself. They are teaching staff, administrative staff, or even students who always think critically, criticizing various policies set by the university leadership. They carry out various critical analyzes of the university’s operation which they perceive to be somewhat different from the path to be taken based on their perception of the achievement of the university’s targets. These ‘critics’ are a group of people who work and provide themselves to work as ‘sparring partners’ for university leaders in implementing the vision, mission, and how to achieve that common goal. They also have the same hopes and ideals as citizens and university leaders. They also have the energy and desire to realize a shared dream about the future of the university. The difference lies only in the perspective and approach that is believed to accelerate the achievement of shared goals. I call this type of customer an ‘internal customer’.

A university leader, in my opinion, must have the ability to build intensive communication with the four types of customers as I mentioned above. Failure to develop positive interactions with these four types of customers will result in a delay in the performance of university institutions, or perhaps even an involution of the participation process. If this happens, the university institution will experience a slowdown in development. The slowdown in development, if it occurs continuously, will systematically have an impact on the decline of ‘passion and pride’, and even have a major effect on ‘a passion for excellence’, the enthusiasm of university members, work intensity, and its derivatives.

If so, then one of the ‘expertise’ of university leaders that must be mastered is to build a ‘sense of whole’, rhythm, passion, intensity, and enthusiasm. This expertise is one of the main keys or is the most basic requirement or a very important qualification for a leader in an educational institution such as a university. University leadership must be able to be present at every institutional level so that the process of improving performance, improving quality can take place continuously. Commitment to quality, which is the main driver of leadership styles in the current era of change, is an unavoidable prerequisite. Quality improvement, as a minimum requirement to compete in the era of change, is very important to encourage the quality of coordination in leadership. Leaders, apart from functioning as ‘rulers’, but also at the same time as ‘managers’. Therefore, he also acts as a manager so he must devote his time to ‘lead and command’. Thus, manager have more time to lead, plan ahead, develop new ideas and work closely with customer.

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