Education Echo Blog

University of Redlands School of Education

Transformative Leadership in Higher Education

Lead with a Social Justice Perspective

A transformative leader in higher education is one who seeks to make long-lasting, meaningful change that has the potential to forever enrich the lives of students. 

First and foremost, this requires an awareness of the inequities that exist across all facets and levels of higher education. You cannot lead effectively without addressing the challenges and acts of oppression students face with a sense of humility and a willingness to learn.

In this way, transformative leadership is an unwavering commitment to equitable access for all students in every aspect of their lives at your school—from academics to extracurricular activities to support services. You serve as an ally and advocate for the underserved, shaping institution- and industry-wide policy changes that promote equity, inclusivity, and justice.

Develop Actionable Solutions through Data-backed Analysis and Research

Effective higher education leadership is rooted in data-backed decision-making. It draws upon research and analysis to problem solve and forecast. To do this, rely on your institution’s analytics experts to capture and process data and flow this information freely into enrollment, financial aid, academic, and student life offices.

What’s more, there needs to be an acknowledgment that your school does not exist in a vacuum. This draws upon a working knowledge of the intersection of policy, finance, and law, as each of these factors come into play, many times all at once, in nearly every department on campus.

Create Student-Centric Initiatives

In higher education, the long-term success of and trust placed in an institution often comes back to how well were the students served. As an administrator in this space, you must ensure they are at the center of every program and offering. This is not always the easiest task to complete when there are financial, operational, and organizational challenges attached. 

However, to stand out as a transformative leader, you must push back against initiatives that are solely self-serving for your college or university. Instead, commit to a relentless pursuit of student success through the academic and student life programming offered by the school. In this way, you are seeking to support the whole student through holistic, integrated endeavors.

Don’t Be Afraid to Break the Mold

Higher education is notorious for being entrenched in a spirit of tradition. While this helps to carve out a unique identity for schools, it also has the power to handcuff their progress, often to the detriment of their students. 

Accordingly, being a transformative leader requires boldness and an entrepreneurial outlook that challenges long-held ways of thinking and operating.

Maintain Relationships with your Community

An effective leader at a college or university is one that is dialed into the needs of every member of the community, including students, faculty, staff, and parents. It requires true partnership, interaction with individuals who themselves are community leaders, in order to truly grasp their needs and perspectives, which are vital to the institution’s strategy for success.

To do this, seek out every opportunity available to you to connect with as many colleagues, students, alumni, and community members as you can on a regular basis. Build and maintain these relationships in order to keep your finger on the pulse of your community because it is impossible to serve them without hearing directly from them.

This foundation of authentic connection with your community helps keep you working collaboratively toward a goal of supporting student achievement and fulfillment. 

Drive Change with Superior Communication Skills

In order to make progress and drive change, it is imperative that teams fully understand the shared goals, obstacles, and responsibilities. This demands that higher education leaders and administrators possess 21st century advanced communication skills, in written and verbal formats.

Refined communication skills include an emphasis on expectations and transparency, ensuring that all aspects of the initiative at hand are laid out completely and clearly from the start. This heads off confusion, keeps members engaged, and addresses both positive and negative aspects of the project with honesty and integrity.

This adds a level of accountability to every endeavor and places trust in the abilities of colleagues to rise to the occasion and deliver. 

Take the Next Step in Becoming a Transformative Leader in Higher Education

Transformative leaders in higher education are effective communicators, motivated by student success, authentic, and data-driven. These qualities translate into a well-trusted and connected leader that can positively shape a college or university’s future.

Elevate your leadership ability by exploring the educational justice-focused Master’s in Higher Education degree at the University of Redlands School of Education.