Time for some quiet leadership?

Steph O’Halloran

Lead Consultant, AUA Consulting

Steph is a Lead Consultant and Coach with AUA Consulting. An experienced learning and development professional with a wealth of experience in engaging managers and leaders to bring about behavioural change, Steph is a tutor on the Open University’s MBA programme, a qualified coach and an ILM Accredited Action Learning Set Facilitator. She is CIPD qualified with a Masters in HR.

The people-management challenges facing university leaders and managers are enormous, from motivating and supporting teams who now work from home for at least some of the time, to dealing with the mental health challenges that the impact of Covid-19 has had on so many people (as explored in earlier AUA blogs by Alison Levey and Pete Quinn).  So how do we ensure that those leaders and managers have the right qualities to effectively handle this paradigm shift in the world of work?

Firstly, we need to determine just what those qualities are.  Clearly, having high levels of emotional intelligence is a fundamental requirement for anyone responsible for managing others, and this is even more important when people are dealing with significant changes in their lives.  To have empathy – to be able to suspend judgement and put yourself in another’s shoes – is critical, as is the desire and humility to want to know how you are doing by seeking honest feedback from others. The importance of taking time to listen to others cannot be overstated, but how many of our leaders and managers are extroverts and often do most of the talking?  How many managers are very good at ‘talking the talk’ but fall short when ‘walking the walk’?  How many of us in leadership positions recognise the need to improve our listening skills?

Susan Cain, in her book “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking”, argues that extroverts are over-represented in senior leadership (by as much as 98%) and now might be the time for quiet, reasoned leaders who listen more than speak, consider deeply the ideas of others and are more than happy to credit others where it’s due. 

How do we ensure that those leaders and managers have the right qualities to effectively handle this paradigm shift in the world of work?

So what can we do to help develop these qualities in those in leadership and management positions and ensure we recruit the right talent to new roles?  The AUA’s Continuing Professional Development Framework can really help here: it was designed by the HE sector for the sector highlighting nine behaviours that distinguish effective performance for all professional services staff.  The Framework can be used in the recruitment process to identify and articulate the behaviours required in professional services roles, and as part of the appraisal process to set goals against which performance can be monitored and reviewed.

Behaviours such as “Being aware of own behaviour and mindful of how it impacts on others” and “Recognising and valuing the different contributions people bring to the process” are explicit in the Framework and can be used to focus conversations, elicit valuable evidence during interview or appraisal and ensure expectations are crystal clear. 

The AUA’s CPD Framework is a free resource with supporting tools that numerous UK universities have been benefitting from for many years.  It can be used by individual managers and teams on a localised basis or it can be adopted in an integrated way across whole institutions.  Either way, AUA Consulting can help you make the most of it!

AUA Consulting is a consulting practice ‘of the sector for the sector’. AUA Consultants are practitioners in higher education administration and management with a depth of experience and professional expertise.   AUA Consulting also offers a team of qualified coaches with expertise in personal, professional and career development.  To find out how AUA Consulting can help you and your team, email consulting@aua.ac.uk. Read more at AUA Consulting.