Closing the Leadership Gaps Between Theory and Practice: A Glimpse of the Major Leadership Issues in Higher Education

Closing the Leadership Gaps Between Theory and Practice: A Glimpse of the Major Leadership Issues in Higher Education

Viktor Wang (Florida Atlantic University, USA)
Copyright: © 2012 |Pages: 11
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61350-068-2.ch024
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This article intends to illustrate that there exist gaps between leadership theory and practice. Well-reasoned theories run through the pages of books; they are hardly applied to practice. In higher education, these gaps seem to be compounded by the lack of technical skills or leadership ethics. To demonstrate the true gaps between leadership theories and practice, the author provides a real example. While the different leadership theories are briefly reviewed, the author’s intention was to show that they need to be applied to practice in order for leaders to guide followers in the right direction. Closing the gaps between leadership theories and practice may take many years and much effort. By reading this article, the readers/researchers will discern clearly the gaps that exist in higher education.
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Read any job description for an administrative (leadership) position at an institution of higher learning, and the following characteristics are probably listed:

  • 1.

    We are looking for leaders who are visionary and must take the university or program to a new height.

  • 2.

    We are looking for leaders who are committed to shared governance.

  • 3.

    We are looking for leaders who possess conceptual, human, and technical skills.

  • 4.

    We are looking for leaders who have an excellent record of teaching, scholarship and service.

  • 5.

    We are looking for leaders who are committed to doing the right things and doing things right.

The list may go on and on. In addition to searching for leaders who possess leadership skills, institutions of higher learning are particularly interested in those individuals who have skills in teaching, research, and service. This is understandable because according to Taylor’s principles of scientific management (as cited in Wang, 2011, p. 15), leaders, whether they are hired as department chairs, college deans, university provosts, or presidents, first of all, must know the field. In order to know the field, these “would be” leaders must have practiced in a certain field for quite a few years before they can be “labeled” as experts. Without being experts, these leaders will not be in a position to carry out Taylor’s principles of scientific management. Principles of scientific management are useful and helpful to leaders as leaders are looking for the one best method to lead followers. Leaders want followers to be highly productive in a certain field. As stated in the principles of scientific management (Taylor, 1911, p. 9), leaders, like managers, should focuses on that one best method in their followers.

Then, the question comes to mind, “How can leaders look for the one best method?” Institutions of higher learning have set the standards. In other words, leaders must be excellent in their teaching, research, and professional service. Without modeling the teaching, research and scholarship expectations for their followers, there is no way leaders can evaluate followers’ performance and find the one best method (based on principles of scientific management; of course leaders may use multiple methods) to help followers to be productive in the field. Common sense tells us, “The more leaders know their followers, the better they can help followers identify that one best method to be productive in the field.” Thousands of years ago, in order to pass a certain trade, fathers had to be experts in a certain field first (Roberts, 1965; Wang & King, 2008; Wang & King, 2009). Otherwise, children could not learn a trade from their fathers.

Even to this day, leaders are still learning to be leaders by “trial and error” although there are all kinds of leadership training academies. Leaders in higher education are not born to be leaders. And they usually do not have a degree in leadership, just a degree in their content field. Most of them first work as faculty members. After a certain number of years, they become excellent faculty members in teaching and scholarship. Then these faculty members look for leadership positions. Some are chosen based on their excellent teaching and scholarship, plus they may possess the traits of effective leaders.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Situational Approach: This approach addresses a directive and a supportive dimension of leadership. Subordinates’ need for direction and support can be high and can be how. Depending on such a need, leaders can determine how competent and committed when subordinates perform a certain task. Then, leaders can assume different leadership roles in helping subordinates achieve their goals.

Transformational Leadership: It refers to the process whereby a person engages with others and creates a connection that raises the level of motivation and morality in both the leader and the follower. Leaders who possess transformational leadership pay attention to the needs of followers and motivate them to reach their fullest potential.

Leader-Member Exchange Theory: The interactions between leaders and members are emphasized. This theory allows leaders to treat members in a collective way, as a group.

Contingency theory: This theory addresses styles and situations. Leaders’ styles should match particular situations. It is also called leader-match theory.

Skills Approach: It is commonly argued that effective leadership relies on three basic personal skills: technical, human and conceptual skills. Research on this approach started in the 1950s when Harvard Business Review published an article by Katz (1955) titled Skills of an Effective Administrator.

Path-Goal Theory: This theory emphasizes the relationship between leaders’ style and the characteristics of the subordinates and the work setting. If subordinates believe that they are capable of performing their work, they will be motivated. Leaders are supposed to meet subordinates’ motivational needs. Therefore, path-goal theory is about how leaders motivate subordinates to accomplish designated goals.

Style Approach: Scholars studied the style approach and concluded that leadership is composed of two general kinds of behaviors: task behaviors and relationship behaviors. It is evident that task behaviors explain how people can attain their goals or accomplishments while relationship behaviors help subordinates achieve a harmonious relation with their leaders and other subordinators.

Academic Mobbing: This refers to certain university administrators retaliate against other administrators or faculty members with the help of their friends normally from different academic departments of a university. These university administrators may choose to “gang on” others who oppose their political agendas. This phenomenon is nothing new, but there is not much in the literature about academic mobbing. Friedenberg (2006) defines academic mobbing as most academic mobbing going undetected because professors fear losing their reputations as scholars. To be demoted or removed from a teaching position is severe punishment, but to be blacklisted unable to find work elsewhere is far worse--not just a loss of a beloved career but loss of an identity.

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