Synthesising theory and practice: distributed leadership in higher education
Changes facing higher education from increased government, student and community demands are resulting in a greater focus on leadership within universities. Attempts to adapt to higher education theory that underpins leadership in other sectors have been criticised for failing to recognise its unique role in the development of creative and innovative thinking required to increase and exchange knowledge. What is needed is a new approach to leadership that goes beyond individual control and management bureaucracy to embrace more sharing and collaboration. One such approach is distributed leadership; however, existing research into distributed leadership in higher education has been criticised for being normative and less democratic than is suggested in its theorisation. The research for this paper focuses on the reflections of participants in projects designed to use distributed leadership to build leadership capacity in learning and teaching in Australian higher education. The outcome was a resource designed to identify actions needed to enable a distributed leadership process that is genuinely aimed at engaging staff in influencing leadership decision making. The authors propose that this paper extends research in distributed leadership beyond the normative, subjectivist functionalist research for which it is criticised, towards a more universally applicable research paradigm.