Finding a balance: Leadership in a time of chaos




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Peer reviewed


"They control everything, how fast you work, when you work, even when you go to the bathroom, everything.”

This quote from Huw Beynon’s Working for Ford (1975) comes from an exploration into leadership within the automotive industry. The reality of life in a car factory at this time was a leadership style that stressed one-way communication and an approach that placed all power firmly with those at the top of the hierarchy.

Those working below the level of manager had one job and that was to follow orders; deviations or any form of freethinking was not permitted; instead, micro-management stopped anybody deviating from the overall plan.

Managing in challenging times

Leading others during a period of instability and ever-changing parameters demands a more dynamic and heterogenic style of leadership.

There is a requirement to have an element of control to steer the direction of the organisation in line with guidelines set by external agencies. Yet, on the other hand, staff need the space and flexibility to cope with the pace of change without additional pressure and stress from “the top”.

To empower and engage staff, there needs to be a culture of trust and delegated responsibility. In the current, turbulent environment that the education sector finds itself in, the search for a form of leadership that meets these challenges is of vital importance.

Despite the rise of a compliance culture ethos in education and the omnipresence of metrics within the sector, few academics would argue that Beynon’s described leadership is either present, or even possible, in most of higher education, despite any benefits it might bring in terms of consistency of approach.

The deeply established concept of professional judgment means that individuals are empowered to challenge things they disagree with and whilst there has been some evidence that universities have increased the use of mechanisms to ensure consistency and more overt checking of academics, few would argue that leadership techniques are similar to those described by Beynon.



Leadership, Higher Education, Pandemic, Crisis


Wolstencroft, P., Kivits, R. and de Main, L. (2021) Finding a balance: Leadership in a time of chaos.


Research Institute