Leadership Literacies for the Knowledge Era: PhD Research Project

This PhD project, completed in 2012, aimed to identify through the literature appropriate leadership literacies for the knowledge era and then explore these to test whether they were being practiced and/or theorized in Australian universities.The word ‘literacies’ is used as an umbrella term for the many ways to describe leadership in theory and practice, i.e. traits, competencies, capabilities, skills, qualities etc.

Davis, H (2012) Leadership literacies for professional staff in universities [PhD Thesis] School of Management, RMIT University.

Aims The aim of this research is to investigate whether leadership literacies for the knowledge era are evident in the theory and practice within Australian universities.

In a knowledge-driven economy leaders have a different set of literacies to absorb and they are very different to the command and control doctrine of the industrial era.Leadership literacies for the knowledge era focus on people-centred competencies and encourage leaders to see themselves as teachers, enablers and stewards who encourage commitment and responsibility in themselves and their followers by tapping into intangible qualities like trust, values and commitment.Contemporary leadership literacies are also closely connected to, and expand the notion of, learning.In times of paradigmatic change the definition of learning needs to include notions of deep impact learning, re-learning and un-learning.

Significance  Underpinning these issues is the importance of knowledge—its creation, production and dissemination—as a driver of economic growth.In times of change and emphasis on knowledge as a driver of economies and nations, a nation’s higher education sector can be seen as a marker of its likely prosperity in an increasingly globalised, networked and competitive world.It follows then to expect higher education institutions to be cognisant of, and practice and promote, appropriate knowledge era leadership literacies.

A key indicator of Australia’s likely success in these new times—a valued, responsive, prepared and vibrant higher education sector—does not compare favourably with current international benchmarks or knowledge-based economy literature.

In the absence of hindsight and regardless of the complexities associated with trying to analyse current conditions as they unfold, two key issues emerge for the higher education sector out of even the briefest consideration of these changed and changing times:

i) the extent of Australia’s preparedness to adequately support and fully engage in a global knowledge-driven economy; and

ii) the positioning of the higher education sector as both the driver and vehicle of Australia’s capacity building endeavours in order for Australia to prosper in these new times.

Leadership appropriate for a knowledge intensive economy and a renewed sense of purpose are central to addressing these emerging issues and so the identification of appropriate leadership literacies for new times in higher education is crucial.

The research questions

This research project is in two stages and will address the following research questions

1.  To what extent are leadership literacies appropriate for the knowledge era being practiced in Australian Universities?

2.  To what extent are leadership literacies appropriate for the knowledge era being theorised in Australian Universities?

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