I am thrilled to introduce this blog on effective co-leadership. I love that Xue Zhou and Etieno Enang offer their lived experience and practical insight into how they adjusted to a new way of working together. The authors offer a candid review of how they resolved initial apprehensions and tensions to overcome issues of power dynamics and trust in what was essentially an imbalanced working relationship. A particular strength of the blog is how these two colleagues conceptualise the nature of those adjustments, as psychological, technical and behavioural. It is heartening to read how they were able to play to their strengths whilst also learning from engaging with each other. Perhaps these two academics have experienced shared module leadership less as a double-edged sword and more as two sides of the same coin?
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Authors: Xue Zhou, Senior Lecturer, Queen Mary University of London; Etieno Enang, Lecturer, Coventry University.
Shared module leadership is a double-edged sword. It has been advocated as a risk-management strategy for managing staff absenteeism or illness which may result from the ongoing pandemic situation (Fernandez and Shaw 2020). Such a strategy will allow institutions to develop future leaders and capture tacit knowledge when they pair a more experienced member of staff with an early career academic. However, shared module leadership has also been associated with difficulties between the two leaders related to power dynamics and trust (Drescher et al., 2014) that may hinder cooperation.
The two authors of this blogpost were paired to lead a large business module with more than 370 students and five educators. Initially, they were apprehensive for different reasons. The more experienced academic was wary of the additional mentoring responsibility on top of her already existing workload. Moreover, since she had led the module the previous year by herself, she was worried about the dynamics associated with power sharing in this case. On the other hand, the early career academic was apprehensive at the prospect of power and responsibility distribution, especially as neither of them had met each other before that time. Despite initial misgivings, they developed a very harmonious working relationship with one another, which led to an excellent module evaluation score of 94%.
Students felt that:
“Module leaders had a quick response to their questions.”
“Structure and content of the module were professional and relevant.”
“Quality of teaching delivery was very high.”
These students’ comments demonstrate effective teamwork. In the following sections, we would like to highlight how we overcame the initial hurdles to become a winning team that accomplished excellent results even during the ongoing pandemic situation.
Psychological Adjustment – Openness to the ideas of co-module leadership and sharing power.
Psychological adjustment involved trust building and learning how to navigate the complexity of power sharing as well as understanding how our leadership may impact on our module team and students. We built trust through weekly meetings and informal catchup to ensure that we were both on the same page and had the same understanding or interpretation of key issues concerning the module. Developing trust enabled mutual respect as we saw each other as members of the same team rather than competitors. This allowed openness to new ideas like using audio feedback and updating some of the previous module content.
Technical adjustment – Recognising and leveraging each other’s expertise.
Technological adjustment involved resolving the power and responsibility distribution issue by recognising and leveraging each other’s expertise to achieve the objectives of high-quality teaching, high student satisfaction and effective delivery of the module. It also involved recognising each other’s core areas of expertise and dividing our responsibilities accordingly. This enabled better time management and helped avoid overlaps. The more experienced academic was comfortable with letting the early career academic develop the lecture and content for the module. On the other hand, the early career academic leveraged on the knowledge of the other academic with respect to the policies and quality control aspects of the module. Additionally, we alternated how we designed student quizzes and handled student and module team enquiries.
Behavioural adjustment – Sharing successes and problem solving.
Behavioural adjustment involved establishing modes of conduct and communication within the team. This included setting up clear guidance and expectations for the team with respect to timelines for key deliverables. For example, we celebrated success as a team regarding our ability to conclude our marking within the required turnaround time. In terms of problem-solving, when teaching online, some staff were not comfortable using certain types of technology. Therefore we both took turns to provide one-to-one training and support to the module team. This allowed both of us to feel a sense of equal authority.
Effective shared module leadership can bring about great students’ achievement and satisfaction, as well as great teamworking for big teaching teams even in the context of crises situations (Kezar & Holcombe, 2017). The key to successfully implementing shared module leadership is to ensure psychological, technical and behavioural adjustment to overcome the challenges associated with power sharing, as well as power and responsibility distribution. Moreover, both leaders can leverage on mentorship opportunities to develop relevant leadership practices, needed for a career in higher education.
Dr Xue Zhou is a Senior Lecturer (Associate Professor) in the School of Business and Management, Queen Mary University of London, UK. Her research interests fall in the area of digital literacy and cross-culture adjustment. Her work has been published in the Journal of Learning, Teaching and Education Research, Research in Learning Technology, and Compass: Journal of Learning and Teaching.
Dr Enang’s research interests revolve around the intersection between strategy process and practice research and innovative approaches to qualitative research methods. Therefore, she is fascinated by understanding how things happen and can be made to happen within organizations. Hence, her core aim is to bring into focus the nature of ‘living activity’ of organizing and strategizing that enable strategic change.
Drescher, M. A., Korsgaard, M. A., Welpe, I. M., Picot, A., & Wigand, R. T. (2014,).
The Dynamics of Shared Leadership: Building Trust and Enhancing Performance.
Journal of Applied Psychology,99(5,) 771-783.
Fernandez, A. A., & Shaw, G. P. (2020). Academic leadership in a time of crisis: The coronavirus and COVID‐19. Journal of Leadership Studies, 14(1), 39-45.
Kezar, A. J., & Holcombe, E. M. (2017). Shared leadership in higher education. Washington, DC: American Council on Education.