Distributed leadership in higher education: Hong Kong academics’ perceptions and practices

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Research and Development in Higher Education: Higher Education in a Globalized World Vol. 37

July, 2014, 352 pages
Published by
A. Kwan, E. Wong, T. Kwong, P. Lau & A. Goody

Distributed leadership provides a theoretically-grounded framework with which to examine leadership practice. The concept ‘distributed leadership’ is relatively new and still lacks a widely-accepted definition. Research in higher education, at the same time, has found shared or dispersed forms of leadership, rather than hierarchical leadership, are more beneficial to sustainable improvement (Clark, 1998; Knight & Trowler, 2001; Shattock, 2003). Distributed leadership in higher education, however, is rarely examined. It is thus the aim of this study to explore Hong Kong academics’ perceptions and practices of leadership in higher education, focusing on one key research question – How is leadership perceived to be distributed throughout a local university in Hong Kong? The study uses a qualitative approach based on individual interviews with nine purposively selected academics from a case-study university in Hong Kong. The concept of distributed leadership can be found in the key informants’ understandings of leadership practice across multiple levels of the university. Distributed leadership practice is identified as a process of ‘top-down’ and ‘bottom-up’ efforts that involve different formal and informal ways of communication, and in which collective practice of leadership occurs. Leadership practice is enacted and supported through different strategies, such as a mentoring scheme, peer observation, and so on, from university level to faculty and departmental level. Implications concerning higher education leadership practice, as well as further leadership studies, are discussed at the end of the paper.

Keywords: higher education leadership; distributed leadership; Hong Kong 

Distributed leadership in higher education: Hong Kong academics’ perceptions and practices

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Wan, S. W-Y.