Though there is abundant research available about leadership practices, the empirical literature focusing on studies about the impact of leadership training programs remains scarce. The present study addresses this gap in the literature and aims at evaluating a leadership training intervention with the aim to raise academic leaders’ awareness to adopt transformational leadership. Leaders from one public university were involved in a six-week leadership development training program. Qualitative analysis of interviews, taken before and after the intervention, helped to develop a picture of changes in transformational leadership behaviours. There is a clear impact of the intervention. Compared to the pre-intervention interviews we observe consistent increase in awareness for all six transformational leadership behaviours. These results are discussed in view of follow-up studies in a broader research context.
Keywords: Intervention; Academic leadersTransformational leadership; Higher education; Intervention study; Qualitative study
Among the other challenges in higher education, authors present leadership development as one of the most crucial challenges for the future (Bolden et al., 2012). Brown already stated in 2001 that the changes in quality requirements, demands from the public, funding agencies, new technological demands, ... requires “leaders who thrive on the challenge of change” (p.312).
The current state calls for leadership that supports the transformation of organisations to be able to tackle the changes in higher education. This accounts for our rationale to put forward a focus on transformational leadership. An empirical study design was set up to evaluate the impact of the intervention involving leaders from a public university in Pakistan.
2.1 Leadership development programs
Both theory and practice suggest the need for leadership development programs. Higher education especially in developing countries - face growing pressure to ensure high-quality teaching and learning outcomes (Al-Husseini & Elbeltagi, 2014). Within higher education, leadership development programs, therefore, reach a critical level of importance (Madsen, 2012). Ruben (2004) writes in this context: “leaders with extraordinary capabilities are needed to help the institution meet these challenges” (p. 288).
There is growing literature focusing on leadership development (Stigmar, 2008), mainly stresses the multidimensional leadership development process, and points at potential ways to enhance and study leadership development (Day & Harrison, 2007). This is in sharp contrast to the emphasis on the need for leadership development. Training duration, approaches and target participants are crucial in leadership development programs. In his seminal paper, Conger (1993); McCall (2004) stressed the systematic training programs.
2.2 Interventions focusing on leadership development in higher education
The literature is lacking when it comes to train leaders in higher education. Authors suggest higher education should learn from the corporate sector while adopting a more entrepreneurial outlook (Davies, Hides, & Casey, 2001; Kulati, 2003). In this context, the focus on leadership development has been reinforced by Brown (2001), who states “leadership development is an underutilized strategy in higher education” (p.313). Collins and Holton III (2004); Steinert, Naismith, and Mann (2012) identified in their review of higher education leadership training approaches between 1985 and 2010; only 19 studies focused on 14 interventions with leadership as a primary focus. Considering this gap between theory and practice, the current research article addresses this gap and studies the impact of a leadership development intervention in a higher education context.
2.3 Transformational leadership in academic organisations
Plenty of literature is available discussing leadership styles (DuBrin, 2012). In this study, we focus on transformational leadership. Empirical research also shows a significant amount of interest in transformational leadership with respect to leadership development (Dinh et al., 2014).
Transformational leadership is a multidimensional concept. But most approaches share the perspective that effective leaders transform the organisations. The essence of transformational leadership as described by Brown (2001), “this type of leaders (…) thrive due to the challenge of change; foster an environment of innovation; encourage trust and learning and (..) can lead themselves, their constituents and units, departments and universities successfully into the future” (p.312). In this context, Podsakoff, Mackenzie, Moorman, and Fetter (1990) presented six behaviours concerning transformational leadership: articulating a vision, providing an appropriate model, fostering the acceptance of group goals, high-performance expectations, providing individualized support, and intellectual stimulation.
3.1 Research question
The study aimed at increasing the awareness of university leaders through a leadership training program based on transformational leadership. We put forward the following research question:
The earlier survey results (Zulfqar, Valcke, Devos, Tuytens, & Shahzad, 2016), help to determine the nature of leadership in Pakistani universities. The nature of leadership is transformational to some extent. To strengthen academic leadership, we have developed a training program for university leaders to strengthen their personal awareness about transformational leadership behaviours in their faculties/departments. An empirical study was set-up to explore changes in their TL-behaviours before and after the intervention. Semi-structured interviews were designed, based on the six behaviours of transformational leadership. All participants were interviewed before and after the intervention. Informed consent was obtained from all participants prior to the first interview after giving information about the nature of the study, the way data would be treated and the fact the interview was being audiotaped.
Taking into account the engagement of the leaders we divided the sample into two groups and conducted one session per week for each group. Overall, six training sessions, each lasting two hours, were set up by the first and the second author of this article. The training sessions were defined on the base of an in-depth literature review about the six TL-behaviours. Each training session focused on a particular TL-behaviour. Next to the conceptual base, concrete examples and cases were added that fit the Pakistan university setting and that had been collected during earlier survey studies (Zulfqar et al., 2016) involving Pakistan leaders. The problem solution was carried out with the Metaplan technique (Metaplan, 2000). In addition, during each session, leaders were involved in role-playing, and they could listen to exemplary audio clips, (recorded during earlier survey studies) (Zulfqar et al., 2016) from other leaders discussing a particular TL-behaviour. At the end of each session, a video-clip was presented to round-off the session.
In an earlier study, a stratified sample was defined, building on a total of 34 private and 50 public universities situated in Punjab, one of the main provinces of Pakistan (Zulfqar et al., 2016). From this sample, one public university was selected to be involved in this intervention study. This university was chosen at random. In total, 15 leaders were invited to participate - from three different faculties. Only, nine participants could take part in all six sessions, due to their working agendas.
The average age of the respondents was 45-60; the average years of experience was 10-30. The participants assumed a range of leadership roles and responsibilities at the faculty (dean) and on a departmental level (head of the department). The names of the participants and the university were re-coded to ensure anonymity.
3.4 Data collection
As stated above, a semi-structured interview was designed based on the six TL-behaviours. All the participants were interviewed before and after the intervention. All interviews were audiotaped in view of the analysis.
3.5 Data analysis
Building on the methodology as suggested by Matthew, Miles, and Huberman (1994), each interview was transcribed verbatim in view of the analysis. WeftQDA (2004) was used to manage the data. The researcher coded all transcripts. A content analysis was carried out, to determine the content units for analysis based on the six behaviours of transformational leadership. A deductive method was adopted to develop a category matrix. Next, the interview data were reviewed for interpretation of and reflection on the identified categories related to each TL-behaviour (Polit & Beck, 2004).
The analysis focused on identifying differences before and after the intervention. The findings of the study are presented in a quantitative form. Following the study design and analysis, the coded data can be compared meaningfully using frequencies and percentages of codes (Curtis et al., 2001). To check the reliability of the coding a second researcher coded all nine transcripts; the resulting inter-rater reliability was 94% (Matthew et al., 1994).
We structure this result section by first looking at the general picture that could be developed prior to the intervention. In relation to this “baseline,” we indicate what leaders mainly point at in relation to each TL-behaviour. Next, we describe what leaders stress after the intervention.
4.1 Pre-intervention results
Before the training intervention, the interview data reflect a - basic - awareness in leaders about all six TL-behaviours. We will emphasise the categories observed in most leaders’ responses.
The following quote clearly depicts these results:
‘If a leader has an exposure then his vision will be broader too. He can set an inspiring vision for his department with the help of his extensive experience.’ (BZF3H4)
One of the leaders said:
‘If you ask about administrative tasks, I would say yes, they do. But in science disciplines, you cannot put constraints on the faculty members to work together.’ (BZF1H4)
4.2 Post-intervention results
One of the leaders explained this behaviour as follows:
‘I challenge my teachers from time to time, to keep them focused to achieve the vision. In doing so, teachers do not get lazy, and they do not forget the goals and objectives of the department. If you do not remind them of the targets, then they will forget all about them. In the end, you will not achieve anything.’ (BZF3H2)
This suggests a marked increase in their awareness level after the intervention (N 77 as compared to 39).
A leader explained this behaviour as such:
‘Your positive behaviour matters a lot. If I am polite with my colleagues, and respond to them quickly, they will respect me. If any of the teachers is embarrassed or not performing well, do not insult him, and treat him with respect.’ (BZUF2H2)
A leader explains:
‘Without setting standards, you cannot expect the best from your colleagues. If we do not set or follow the standards, we will lose our position/ranking.’ (BZF1H3)
Another leader said:
‘Feedback is essential, however, the right way of giving and taking feedback both from teachers and students. The leaders should also provide feedback to their teachers on their performance, both formally and informally.’ (BZF3H1)
The findings of high-performance expectations are interesting because – when – compared to the data prior to the training intervention, - leaders have clearly evolved and present a larger (N 98 as compared to 41) and richer variety of awareness elements.
One leader said:
‘We had faced problems in exam supervisions. After attending the training, I realized the importance of shared work. We recently had exams in our department, and I constituted committees to work together and to help each other. Now, the exam system is more peaceful and efficient than before.’ (BZF1H5)
After the intervention, interview data reflect an increase in the awareness level about this behaviour (N 71 as compared to 30).
‘I try to create an environment where my colleagues feel relaxed to say everything; they can share their problems with me. I always try to help them. I create a friendly environment. I am ultimately involved with them in their work.’ (BZF1H2)
To sum up, after the intervention, the training seemed to have developed a new insight in relation to providing individualized support (N 92 as compared to 44).
One leader said:
‘I learned through training that there are many ways to motivate your team other than providing financial rewards, e.g., appreciate them, say well done, give a pat on their back and provide them with a spacious office place in recognition of their efforts, etc..’ (BZF1H1)
Leaders stress to a much larger extent this type of behaviour (N 94 as compared to 37). Leaders were now clear how to use non-financial rewards to encourage intellectual stimulation.
Discussion & conclusion
There is a lack of leadership intervention studies in the context of higher education. To fill this gap, we developed a leadership intervention based on transformational leadership by involving academic leaders of a Pakistan University.
Based on the literature we identified indicators of change in leaders’ awareness related to the six transformational leadership behaviours. Post-intervention results confirm a significant change in the awareness level of leaders. This increase in awareness through a leadership training program is comparable to what was found in the study of De Vries et al. (2009) they organized a TL development program for executives. In addition, Hannum and Martineau (2008) stress that next to changes in awareness, they could also observe positive changes in organisational outcomes. Barrett and Barrett (2007) also identified in their research; leadership development programs were being implemented, and it was believed by some at the ‘centre’ that there was a strong correlation between successful departments and the capabilities of heads. Our positive results are further strengthened by what Avolio, Reichard, Hannah, Walumbwa, and Chan (2009) identified in their research: there is a 66% chance of the positive adoption of new behaviour. Our study findings based on transformational leadership also confirm the study results of Abrell, Rowold, Weibler, and Moenninghoff (2011) they found improved results after the leadership development training program.
The findings of our study show that already after six weeks, leaders reported a growing awareness in relation to six TL-behaviours. However, some limitations of the present study have to be acknowledged.
Firstly, we only involved a small sample from one university in a focused six-week intervention. This methodological constraint calls for a larger sample in a longer lasting intervention.
Secondly, we adopt a qualitative research methodology, building on interviews that could be enriched with data from observations. This could allow to go beyond studying awareness as perceived by the leaders and to focus on behavioural changes. In addition, a mixed method design could look for a confirmation of changes in related quantitative data, resulting from, e.g., surveys. Lastly, we did only involve leaders in our research methodology. The intervention impact could also be studied by interviewing or studying teachers and by analysing their perspective on changes in related TL-behaviours.
The importance of leadership training could have been considered as a stronger policy priority. The importance of leadership training is often accepted, but not prioritized. The latter could be enhanced by discussing leadership development at the macro level with, e.g., the Higher Education Commission to define this as a quality indicator of state-of-the-art universities.
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22 November 2016
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Education, educational psychology, counselling psychology
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Zulfqar, A., Valcke, M., & Devos, G. (2016). The Makeover: A Leadership Development Training Intervention in Higher Education. In Z. Bekirogullari, M. Y. Minas, & R. X. Thambusamy (Eds.), ICEEPSY 2016: Education and Educational Psychology, vol 16. European Proceedings of Social and Behavioural Sciences (pp. 574-583). Future Academy. https://doi.org/10.15405/epsbs.2016.11.59