Leaders of the future should assume responsibility for the University as a whole

Colleagues who assume responsibility for the big picture at their workplace nurture the leadership culture that Torbjörn von Schantz wants to see at his University. The heads of department, managers and deans of the future need to consider what is best for the University as a whole in addition to their own area.

Torbjörn von Schantz, vice-chancellor. Photo: Gunnar Menander

“We are not there yet, but we are going in the right direction”, says the vice-chancellor who encounters this overall perspective increasingly often, both in his own Management Council and among participants on LU’s leadership courses.

 LUM met the vice-chancellor to talk about leadership at a time when most faculties’ nominating committees had just concluded a very busy period. Five faculties are due for a change of dean and it is not always easy to find willing candidates for these posts.

In connection with the appointment of the deputy vice-chancellor, the vice-chancellor asked why more people did not apply or nominate colleagues for the position. He had also personally asked around ten people if they were interested and received just as many answers as to why they were not interested in applying.

“Many of them were afraid that it would wreck their career as a researcher.”

Torbjörn von Schantz understands that and has himself made the journey from researcher to head of department to dean to vice-chancellor. A job as vice-chancellor or deputy vice- chancellor takes up a lot of one’s time. And potential candidates perhaps feel that the major part of their research should be completed before taking on that type of academic leadership position.

“I discovered that I did far more for my department as head of department than as a researcher. Even so, I went back to research for a while before I became a dean. However, being a dean rather spelled the end of research”, he says.

He can confirm that the role of vice-chancellor takes over a large part of one’s life. It has been a long time since he had control over his own time. And pressure from different organisational interests within and outside the University is also palpable. This is something he recognises even from the other side of the vice-chancellorship. Torbjörn von Schantz has also sat at the coffee table and criticised his department management, and as head of department his faculty management, and as dean his vice-chancellor.

“Of course, it’s easier to be in opposition and criticise, but at the same time, I don’t have the double responsibility for the best interests of my own area and the entire University. I just have the latter…”, he says.

The autumn controversy surrounding the appointment of the deputy vice-chancellor has not altered Torbjörn von Schantz’s conviction that collegial leadership should prevail within academia. He understands the disappointment of the Electoral College, which had only one candidate to vote for, and he hopes that the analysis group that is to be formed will answer two questions in particular:

“How to make the process more transparent and how to open the way for the appointment of external vice-chancellors and deputy vice chancellors as well”, he says.

He hopes that the new leadership culture will continue to develop within LU. Considering the best interests of the whole University will become necessary, argues the vice-chancellor, in a future where state funding of universities and higher education institutions is not likely to increase. He always feels pleased and hopeful when he has met people on LU’s leadership programme – those who are expected to take over the University’s leadership positions. In the past, he has been involved in training heads of department and, at that time, head of department was regarded as a forced assignment. Now the atmosphere is very different.

Birgitta Reisdal, who heads the programme for LU’s leadership ladder, confirms that the view of leadership, especially among heads of department, has changed.

“There are not nearly as many who see it as a chore, rather the majority are interested in leading and think it’s enjoyable to try things and want to learn more.”

The programmes “Curious about leadership” and “New leader”, which are both offered twice a year with 20 places available each time, are very popular. The third step in the ladder, “Experienced leader”, held once a year, usually has some 15 participants. A fourth step in the leadership ladder, currently being prepared, is for individuals and concerns management group development. The leadership programme intended specifically for female academic leaders, AKKA, was closed down several years ago. Despite this, female deans outnumber male deans at present.

“I am proud of this”, says Torbjörn von Schantz whose current Management Council has five female deans and three male deans.

However, at the turn of the year there will be a male majority among the deans, which the vice-chancellor regrets. He does not see any particular differences between female and male leadership, but thinks it is important to have female role models in leadership positions for women further down the hierarchy.

“And among the colleagues that we all have at our workplaces, it’s not those who constantly wonder “what’s in it for me” that we need as leaders in the future, but those who assume responsibility for their colleagues and their workplace”, says Torbjörn von Schantz.