Leadership in Academia Training in Romania

Attending the training in Romania provided an opportunity for discussion with other academically from the EU on the different struggles they experience within academia as well as the techniques they use to overcome these. In the course, there was an exploration of what academic leadership is and the different types of leadership, and recognising that multiple approaches as settling for one may not be suitable for all environments and circumstances. There are several approaches which I have learned which will be embedded into my working practice moving forward.

Introduction to academic leadership

The first day introduced leadership with academia and allowed those attending to explore what leadership meant to us. One core theme from the discussions was that we all expected leaders to support and assist the team’s growth. In the session, we explored the difficulties associated with this expectation, as leaders are there to support team and individual development. In addition, how vital empowerment and encouragement are for staff. It is estimated that 79% of employees will leave or begin to seek alternative employment after receiving inadequate appreciation from their management. Thus, it suggests the importance of leaders regularly getting to know and engaging with their team. Developing a solid relationship could reduce the need to seek appreciation elsewhere. A key theme of this was emphasis within academia; due to understaffing and over-recruitment in students, there was a question on whether staff feel appreciated for handling these issues or it becomes simply an expectation. If the latter becomes a demoralising environment, prompt seeking employment elsewhere.

As well as this, it was recognised that 35% of people identify their boss or management as one of the sources of stressors at work. This was due to the lack of engagement and more of a dictatorship approach to leadership. It was recognised that management or leaders might not be aware of the work pressures that a dictatorship approach places others under, suggesting alternative methods may be more suitable. One of the stressors explored was the inability to communicate effectively as a team with the leader, suggesting a barrier between them. Suggesting that within academia, this is an area which needs to be addressed.

Different leaders are accounted for within academia, managers, heads of schools, senior academics, VC and administrative leaders. Regardless of their level of leadership, a focus on environmental growth and development for staff will improve the stress levels and working environment. All leaders should obtain four key areas – planning, risk-taking, motivation and processing. Leaders should be able to provide clear and informative plans that inform staff and allow those to share and query the planning process.

Leadership Shield

As a cohort, we were invited to create a leadership shield, whereby we needed to consider the two leadership skills we felt were essential and two values of influence on how you would lead others. Finally, an accomplishment we felt proud of. A wide range of answers was provided for the shield focusing on the leadership skillset we felt was needed for effective leadership as well as demonstrating what values impacted our approaches to leadership

Leadership skills

  • The need to be a people person
  • Authentic
  • Good planning
  • Active listening
  • Effective communication
  • Knowing your team and involving them
  • Strategic processes
  • Open
  • Good listener
  • Organised
  • Risk-taking
  • Motivating people

Values that influence your leadership

  • Kindness
  • Accountability
  • Honesty
  • Empathy
  • Communication
  • Empathic
  • Trustworthy
  • Space to reflect
  • Creativity
  • Friendly and approachable
  • Delegating
  •  Trust within others
  • Freedom
  • Fairness
  • Respect
  • Flexibility


Academia often replies to emails to communicate, and sometimes there is misinformation or miscommunication. Also, it is different from recognising the tone of the email; therefore, this could be easily read. Therefore, as a leader, it is essential to identify practical communication tools for the team. In particular, when referring to feedback, as noted above as many seek new employment if they do not feel appreciated. In our discussions, we commented on the lack of conciseness sometimes in emails and the lack of clarity sometimes provided. It was recommended for the sender to think before they send. What are they trying to say? What is the purpose of this email?

Following the principles of the seven Cs of communication – clarity, conciseness, concreteness, correctness, completeness, consideration and courtesy- it was emphasised how these are not followed accordingly in some situations. Thus, there needs to be a stronger emphasis on these:

  • Clarity
    • Have a clear set of goals provided for personal development.
    • Using SMART goals – in particular, establishing a time frame of completion
    • Reducing overcomplicating the message and ensuring the team members are aware of what is expected of them.
  • Conciseness
    • To the point and direct
    • Avoid the need for unnecessary meetings when an email could summarise the key points
    • Use of bullet points rather than full paragraphs.
    • Reducing the jargon and irrelevant points
  • Concreteness
    • Important facts presented first
    • Use of an agenda in meetings to ensure focus on the message
    • All facts and important information is provided
  • Correctness
    • Communication should be actual
    • Direct and limited if no grammar or spelling errors
    • Inclusion of the right people in emails, ensuring the issues and information is being direct to the right person
  • Completeness
    • Provision of all the facts
    • No vagueness
    • Does not leave room for interpretation
  • Consideration
    • Who is the audience
    • Consider their level of expertise and knowledge
    • Avoid patronising
    • Involving the audience and asking their viewpoint
  • Courtesy
    • Courteous manner
    • Use their preferred name
    • Avoid passive tones
    • Open and honest
    • If you do know the answer, say this, do not try and develop a misguided reply

There are several barriers impacting communication, in particular since Covid-19. Whereby more colleagues are hybrid, most communication is online or via email. This suggests there may be a disconnect with effective communication as we have become too dependent on quick-firing emails rather than picking up the phone or having a face-to-face meeting. Time and distance are becoming a common issue in academia, with timetabling and student number impacting the ability for staff to physically all attend one meeting. This impacts effective communication and the team dynamic, resulting in more silo working environments within a department. Another barrier mentioned was the perceptual barriers, which influence how messages are interpreted. Therefore, moving forward, further team building exercises are recommended to break these barriers down to also filter the issues which could lead to miscommunication or assumptions within communication

Emotional barriers were also explored. Relationships between a team are the foundation of the courses and department. Many staff feel overwhelmed at certain times of the year, so an emotional barrier could form. These include anxiety, pain, anger and pride. Anger is the most common, as people become defensive over their work, particularly in academia, whereby teaching teams are often moved around, or module leadership is reallocated. This could cause friction; therefore, leaders need to be equipped to communicate effectively to reduce the team’s anger. Anger leads to limited production, loss of logical discussions, and difficulties within the team moving forward. Pride is again linked to anger. Many feel difficulty in letting projects they worked on, which can be seen as an ineffective approach to communication as pride prompts a focus on themselves rather than the team. Reducing active listening leads to others feeling less engaged.

Anxiety is difficult to overcome, as certain situations could prompt anxiety. Therefore, leaders need to consider how to remove the emotional aspects of a problem. Allowing the team to share their views and develop a brainstorm which could be a visual aid for them to release some of their tensions. It is recognised that anxiety may need further long-term support beyond effective communication.

Betari Box

The Betari Box, a simple tool, could be used to overcome some of these barriers. It can help establish the impact of the attitudes and behaviours of others and what impact the situation or surroundings has on a person. For example, when a member of staff is questioning the judgment of another, it can be easy for that person to become defensive. Instead, active listening could be a way forward, listening to their ideas, and establishing whether they thought about it from a different angle. Coming off as defensive impacts the relationship between colleagues, reducing the ability to build a trusting relationship. By using Betari Box, it could break the vicious cycle.

The Betari Box shows that one person’s attitude and behaviour influence and impact another. Therefore, changing your behaviour and attitude will positively change the other person. However, this may not be effective in all cases, as regardless of the positive attitude and behaviour adopted, the other person’s approach may remain harmful. Nevertheless, the Betari box showcases that a positive attitude towards a situation can unconsciously change behaviour. Behaviour refers to actions, including body language. The other person then reacts to this, as perception is formed based on your attitude and behaviour response. To effectively use this approach, there needs to be a break within the change, a decision point on where and how the attitude and/or behaviour will change by one of the parties.

Emotional Intelligence

In the session, we discussed and explored our own emotional intelligence and the ability to solve problems and act accordingly. One key area explored was the importance of providing empathy within the workload. Due to the high-level stress associated with academia and having to balance personal or home life, empathy is a core value that needs to be embedded within the workload. Compassion and cognitive and emotional empathy are required. Compassionate empathy offers sympathy to the situation; cognitive provides an understanding of the well-being and mental state of the person. For instance, managing yourself in their shoes can be challenging. Finally, emotional empathy involves discussing and feeling the distress and emotions felt by a person. Good emotional intelligence can provide the ability to offer empathy and understand others’ emotions. As a leader, this can assist in the development process within the team and assist in the team development. They also need to be self-aware of their emotions so they do not negatively impact the team. However, the leader demonstrating passion and showcasing their limitations can positively encourage and empower the team.

Motivation, as noted above, is a core aspect of emotional intelligence, and being motivated in the workplace will assist the team in working together to achieve goals. However, it is essential to note that everyone may have different motivations within the team; therefore, leaders need to source what encourages or motivates people to complete tasks and goals. This also links with the social learning theory – of Bandura 1977, which we explored. The concept is that the mental state is essential for learning, and learning does not always mean that behaviour changes will occur. Instead, focusing on personal factors, environment, and behaviour must be considered to format a change and motivate people. As pointed out above, communication is critical. Leaders need to have social skills that allow them to build a relationship with their teams effectively.


As a leader, there will be times when different forms of communication will be provided. In training, a prompting question was asked of why we need to shift the balance of feedback from evaluation to descriptive. Evaluation is a summary of feedback – good, excellent or needs improvement. Meanwhile, descriptive feedback provides an ongoing conversation and showcases the specific tasks or goals needed to be focused upon for improvement. Hence, the need to establish good relationships with the team to understand the goals of the team members and how can the leader improve them to meet their needs. The session explored our feedback experiences and what approaches worked best for us.

Descriptive feedback was preferred. It allowed an insight into the strengths. For example, using phrases such as “I noticed that…” or “this is quality work because..”. Again, showcasing the promising approaches to the work that has been completed. As noted, appreciation was one area lacking within academia; therefore, positive reinforcement of the work completed. Following this, we discussed how we would prefer to have the areas we need to improve upon approaches. This will not place the improvements in a negative light. For instance, phrases such as “your thinking shows…”, “when explain you may wish to consider…”.

Another approach which was mentioned was the improvement strategies which could be adopted. For example, “your next step might be” or “you might have better results if you try”. Again, positive responses to improvement. Linking to this is the importance of active listening, which was explored within the session:

  1. Pay attention –
    1. being aware of the situation
    1. put aside the distractions
    1. Spend time with your staff and consider the importance of the environment the meeting is, are you committing to solely that meeting?
  2. Show that you are listening
    1. Use body language
    1. Use facial expressions
    1. Open posture
    1. Encouraging with small verbal confirmations
  3. Provide clear feedback – avoid jargon
    1. Reflective
    1. Clarity key points
    1. Summarise comments
  4. Defer judgement
    1. Allow speaker to finish
    1. Do not court argue
    1. Feedback effectively
  5. Respond appropriately
    1. Honest
    1. Assert your opinion in a kind manner
    1. Treat others with respect
  6. Show empathy

Co-creative approach and delegation

One effective way explored in training was developing an environment that provides shared leadership. Allowing an environment where people feel confident and comfortable sharing with others and feeling their voices are heard. The idea is to emphasise the importance of teamwork and collaborative approaches. In addition, to share responsibility which in terms shares success. The concept focuses on bringing people together to share leadership approaches and encourage the team to work on their group approaches. Furthermore, working together to source solutions as a team encourages people to voice their views respectfully, without a dictatorship.

A co-creative approach is recommended as it showcases the importance of building connections and relationships within the team. As Malcolm Parlett (1991) explained, “when two people converse or engage with one another in some way, something comes into existence which is a product of neither of them exclusively. . . . A shared field, a common communicative home, is mutually constructed. The guidance of co-creative approaches is – togetherness, shared accountability and here-and-now development. Firstly, together shows dependence upon one another. Accountability focuses on the contribution of all. Here and now promotes dialogue and allows people to share the space. Sometimes mistakes occur within this space, but the space allows no judgement or fear to be developed.

 As noted, I felt I learned about several key areas whilst attending the conference. It allowed me to consider myself and my leadership approaches and the importance of adaptability within certain situations. Sometimes, dictatorship may be required, although not my preferred approach to leadership. In addition, I feel I have been able to adopt several new approaches which will benefit my module leadership approach and as research coordinator for Public Health.

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