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Rachel Gascoigne

Rachel Gascoigne



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Developing leaders Strengthening Leadership Capability by Rachel Gascoigne
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Strengthening Leadership Capability

The Education sector is facing a need to adapt to a changing world. Whilst change has long been established as the only constant, the context within which Universities operate is unquestionably more Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous (VUCA) than ever before.  This manifests itself through a range of challenges associated with delivering teaching excellence within an increasingly competitive environment, as total number of applications to study falls and student expectations rise.  Wider uncertainties connected to funding models and the impact of Brexit on research funding are adding to the challenge. 

Universities are thus feeling the pressure to be sharper and more efficient, with a trend towards an increased need for measurement and demonstration of return on investment.  This is backed up by pressure stemming from metrics such as the National Student Survey, the Teaching Excellence Framework and the quality of research measured by the Research Excellence Framework. This is driving a need to maximise overall organisational performance and central to this lies the question of leadership. Universities are therefore looking for innovative and impactful ways of strengthening the capability of their leaders within a VUCA world.

The first question to address relates to understanding the qualities required from leaders within Universities. Our analysis of the sector has identified that whilst many aspects of leadership remain unchanged, the current context is making a series of additional demands on leaders. In particular the following eight themes seem to be emerging:

  1. Greater emphasis on the ability to translate strategy for those around them, bringing it to life in a clear, consistent and authentic way
  2. Increased demands on the ability to instigate and lead change
  3. Leaders’ personal resilience being tested like never before
  4. A need to reconcile the student as a fee paying ‘customer’, with the demands of education needing to be a two-way collaborative process
  5. Leaders themselves needing to do more to continually develop themselves
  6. A need for leaders to show greater concern for achieving performance targets, including delivering objectives within commercial boundaries
  7. Leaders needing to be supported in finding their own dynamic and authentic leadership style, rather than teaching them inflexible principles for all situations
  8. Greater demand placed on leaders to be visible ambassadors for the organisation, engaging much more with businesses regionally, nationally, or internationally to gain access to funding

As well supporting an increase in performance, development in these areas has helped reduce the reliance on HR and has enabled senior post holders to operate as true commercial leaders, rather than academics with management responsibility.

At Wickland Westcott we build exciting development programmes to support such leaders. Whilst there are often common themes across these programmes, we tailor each design to focus on the specific development priorities and operational context of that particular organisation.  

Each programme is tailor-made by selecting elements from a wide range of learning opportunities including self-learning logs, 360-degree feedback, personality profiling, structured practical exercises, development centres, on-line resources and coaching, as well as other innovative learning solutions. And crucially, we work in partnership with HR and other internal parties to co-create a programme that meets the precise needs of all stakeholders. 

We would be delighted talk to you about the specific challenges you are facing in your organisation. For a conversation about your leaders and how to support them, please call 01625 508100 or email

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