Understanding the dynamics of complexity: new insights for senior leadership practice in one higher education institution in England

Steed, Carol (2022) Understanding the dynamics of complexity: new insights for senior leadership practice in one higher education institution in England. EdD thesis, University of Nottingham.

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The higher education sector in England is having to rethink how it will operate in the future. The speed and scale of change; uncertainty and ambiguity; emergence from a global crisis; and the increasing complexity of the environment the sector is operating in has challenged some of the traditional norms of leadership. With senior leaders, and in particular senior leadership teams, needing to take an active role in this re-engineering, many are recognising that the dial has been reset in terms of the leadership practices that have served them well for many years. Now more than ever it is clear that a greater emphasis needs to be placed on developing leaders who can lead complexity (Uhl-Bien 2021).

This research, using a case-study based approach in one English university, has used the lens of the complexity sciences to provide a different perspective on the HE sector and the leadership practices of senior leaders, including the response to change of the senior leadership team in this case study university. First, it highlights the connectivity and inter-connectivity of individuals, the university and the wider sector, showing them to be part of a complex system which is continually emergent and requiring intentional adaptation. Second, it shows the significance of cognitive complexity, and how individual perspectives can influence our personal perception of whether something is complex or not. Finally, it suggests that organisational maturity - or readiness - are important considerations in terms of the ease with which an organisation’s design can or will accommodate emergence and entrepreneurial novelty alongside compliance, stability and order as mutually necessary parts of a complex organisational system.

Through using a grounded-theory based approach, this research contributes to, and extends, existing research into leadership in higher education in England.

The main contribution of this research is the development of the Bricolage Leadership Practice model, which seeks to bring together a range of elements that are suggested as being necessary as part of individual, or collective, leadership practices moving forward. In addition, this research also helps to fill a gap in the evidence base by looking at senior team leadership in a university context, reviewing the collective team’s attitude and aptitude for change.

Item Type: Thesis (University of Nottingham only) (EdD)
Supervisors: Greany, Toby
Speight, Sarah
Keywords: higher education, HE, senior leadership, Bricolage Leadership Practice model
Subjects: H Social sciences > HD Industries. Land use. Labor
L Education > LB Theory and practice of education > LB2300 Higher education
Faculties/Schools: UK Campuses > Faculty of Social Sciences, Law and Education > School of Education
Item ID: 71692
Depositing User: Steed, Carol
Date Deposited: 01 Nov 2023 14:06
Last Modified: 01 Nov 2023 14:06
URI: https://eprints.nottingham.ac.uk/id/eprint/71692

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