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Leadership Insights Library

Spotlight Series for Senior Strategic Leaders (Series II)

Four impactful online workshops designed to support new, aspiring and established senior institutional leaders from all parts of the higher education community, including professional and academic areas.

Our Spotlight Series for Senior Strategic Leaders is designed to turn the spotlight on a range of topical development challenges for senior leaders in this ever-changing world. Each spotlight session will have its own clear focus, and those who wish to embark on a journey with us across the whole series can do so at a discounted price.

Ahead of the start of the Spotlight Series II, in this blog Doug Parkin, Principal Adviser for Leadership and Management at Advance HE, reflects on the current return to campus challenge and what it may mean to lead back better in the emerging environment for higher education.

This second series has been put in place to focus on four core, topical challenge areas: positive engagement, inclusion, conflict and creativity. These half-day, impactful sessions will support senior leaders to reset, re-energise, and rejuvenate as the sector moves into the 'next normal'. 

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Final workshop in Series 2 - A Spotlight on Conflict

30 September 2021

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The time and space for self-reflection is hugely beneficial and I would recommend the Spotlight series whole heartedly."

Helen Newall, Professor of Theatre Praxis, Edge Hill University

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In this video Doug Parkin, Principal Adviser for Leadership and Management at Advance HE, provides an overview of what participants can expect from the forthcoming Spotlight Series II for senior strategic leaders: reset, re-energise and rejuvenate. 

Who are the Spotlight Sessions for?

The Spotlight Sessions have been designed to support new, aspiring and established senior institutional leaders (both professional and academic). Institutional roles might include experienced and established heads of department, school, or academic subject centre, faculty deans, newly appointed deans or those aspiring to the role, and directors and experienced assistant directors of professional services.

"I found this was a very timely workshop which resonated clearly with the climate in which we are currently operating in HE”

Delivery and outcomes

These varied and engaging sessions will provide timely content for those leading their institutions through these challenging times, through a mixture of presentations and working in small groups. Participants will benefit from diverse opinions and networking, alongside practical and applicable tools and frameworks to take back into their role.

The Spotlight Sessions

A Spotlight on Inclusion

9:00am (BST), 25 May 2021
Doug Parkin and Clare Pavitt

A Spotlight on Creativity

9:00am (BST), 8 July 2021
Doug Parkin

A Spotlight on Positive Engagement

9:00am (BST), 16 September 2021
Doug Parkin

A Spotlight on Conflict

9:00am (BST) 30 September 2021
Doug Parkin
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A Spotlight on Inclusion: The thoughtful and inclusive leader

9:00am (BST), 25 May 2021
Doug Parkin

Where attention goes, energy flows” (James Redfield). Thoughtful leadership is always concerned with balance, with giving an even focus of attention and energy to both sides of things: balancing freedom and control, continuity with change, push and pull, leading with following, yin and yang, and task-focus with people-focus. 

This ambidextrous (Michael Tushman, 2016) and thoughtful leadership is the essence of inclusivity. Maintaining a balanced view of the world, people and events, even when the world becomes highly uncertain, enables thoughtful leaders to have the poise to go on valuing others ahead of themselves. It is thoughtful and inclusive leadership, working with balanced energy, that will ultimately move the sector mindset from ‘survive’ to ‘thrive’.

The multiplicity of backgrounds, personalities and characteristics that diversity seeks to celebrate and enable is rendered still more complex by the challenges of leading virtual and disconnected teams/organisations. Deliberate and intentional inclusion holds the key, ensuring that quiet, remote and marginalised voices have the opportunity to speak with influence alongside everyone else.

Though great the benefits of inclusion are hard, if not impossible, to fully quantify. They certainly cannot be expressed in a neat sentence or two. However, the importance of inclusive practice for leadership is well worth reflecting upon. There are moral and social arguments, of course, and powerful reasons to do with connecting communities and particularly marginalised groups, but there are also clear benefits to do with enhancing performance and strengthening innovation.

This spotlight session will be an opportunity to capture and consider all of the benefits of inclusion in your leadership.

    Senior leaders working

    Watch the video - Doug Parkin, Principal Adviser for Leadership and Management at Advance HE, provides an overview of the Spotlight on Inclusion workshop.


    Through participation in this spotlight session delegates will have the opportunity to:

    • Discuss the leadership balances that resonate in their context, and how achieving balance enhances leadership impact and effectiveness,
    • Explore the numerous acts of enabling that help create a positive and progressive culture of inclusion,
    • Reflect on the link between thoughtful, balanced processing and inclusive leadership practice,
    • Focus on the collective advantage of diversity as a potent source of innovation,
    • Review the impact of unintended consequences during periods of rapid change or disruption, and how to constantly reassess leadership decisions for the benefit of all,
    • Consider strategies to enhance inclusion in key contemporary challenge areas, for example, the leadership of virtual teams. 
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      A Spotlight on Creativity: “People are naturally creative, resourceful and whole” **

      9:00am (BST), 8 July 2021
      Doug Parkin

      The academic endeavour is at its core a creative one. Even very technical and rigorously precise research has a creative basis. From the most complex curriculum review challenge to the most wicked interdisciplinary research question, creativity unlocks human potential at every level. It ignites ideas, inspires and develops focus, commitment and energy. And leadership can and should complement this by being creative, thinking creatively and using creativity as the basis for communication and engagement. 

      Creative leadership engages the hidden energies that bring life and meaning to work. This is the essence of modern enlightened leadership.
      Alongside relationships, achievement, prestige and influence, creativity is probably the most satisfying aspect of belonging to an academically focused community, regardless of role. 

      The power of learning, discovery and transforming lives, the three-fold essence of higher education, is all rooted in creativity. And the role of senior leadership should be to inspire this in every aspect of institutional life, not just those labelled enterprise and innovation. If you want to release potential, you need to release creativity. 


      Through participation in this spotlight session delegates will have the opportunity to:

      • Discuss how to release the ‘hidden energies’ that bring life and meaning to work
      • Explore how to use creativity as the basis for communication and engagement
      • Engage with some creative approaches for thinking differently about goals, challenges and problem solving
      • Consider the triggers for innovation and how these can be enhanced
      • Reflect on the powerful connection between creativity, motivation and inspiration
      • Jump-start their leadership with poise and agility through creative thinking.
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      A Spotlight on Positive Engagement: “The land of the possible is simply a happier place to be” 

      9:00am (BST), 16 September 2021
      Doug Parkin

      Here’s a question that’s a good place to start – who wants to be led by a pessimist? Not many of us would put our hand up to this. The alternative is not, however, someone who claims to have all of the answers. That might sound positive, and yes in a highly disrupted environment it may feel attractive to have someone rescue us, but over time that can actually erode confidence and it is also not a great way of developing collective commitment. 

      In fact, being brave enough to show vulnerability, some personal emotional strain, and admit you do not know the answers may for a leader be the most positive place to start. However, it is important this is combined with a sense of energy, motivation and a real opportunity orientation as regards the future. 

      The mindset shift of positive leadership is towards optimism and the land of the possible. In Rainy Brain, Sunny Brain (2013) Elaine Fox explains that optimists “have a natural tendency to accept the world as is but believe that the way you deal with things determines who you are”. This crucial disposition is key for leading others today, because for all concerned “the land of the possible is simply a happier place to be” (Parkin, 2017).


      Through participation in this spotlight session delegates will have the opportunity to:

      • Reflect on the effect of positive emotions on team and organisational performance
      • Explore how to inspire yourself and others
      • Consider how to create a positive and authentic dialogue that engages colleagues and energises work relationships
      • Rethink how you think
      • Focus on the ‘ripple effect’ in your leadership, particularly during periods of disruption and change
      • Discuss the role of optimism and outlook in senior leadership, and the link between mood, climate and team/organisational culture.
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      A Spotlight on Conflict: Why can’t we all just get along?

      9:00am (BST) 30 September 2021
      Doug Parkin

      In any family, community or organisation there are different needs and interests. These interests can sometimes appear opposed or contradictory, and in times of high emotion when trust for whatever reason appears precarious these differences can become magnified as damaging conflict. The higher the emotion and the lower the trust the more intractable the conflict may seem, but it is amazing how often we end up pulling hard in opposite directions to achieve essentially the same thing.

      Responding to conflict is not about creating artificial harmony. Whether working with fellow managers, other parts of the institutional community, senior figures, colleagues in your own area, or even partners beyond the walls of the institution, creative conflict can be a positive catalyst for change and powerful decisions. Communication that increases understanding and reduces barriers and boundaries holds a big part of the answer. When conflict is managed effectively, it can inspire new levels of understanding, empathy and trust between those involved, and can help the team or organisation grow. 

      The strategic dimension to this, particularly during these disrupted pandemic times, is keeping your eye on the prize and focusing on those core goals and values that transcend the smaller differences. These are the things that unite us, and as regards conflict it is salutary to keep in mind that if you look closely enough, we all have far more in common than we do difference. However, if we want to see the world through the lens of conflict as villains and victims we will never move forward.


      Through participation in this spotlight session delegates will have the opportunity to:

      • Reflect on conflict and its causes
      • Consider the things that can intensify or reduce unhelpful and destructive conflict
      • Discuss the role of smart and empathetic communication in building trust and cohesion
      • Review how to take a considered and rational approach to conflict
      • Identify how creative conflict can be a positive catalyst for change and powerful decisions
      • Explore how mastering our own inner story can change the villains/victims narrative
      • Uncover the core goals and values that have the power to transcend differences.
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        Doug Parkin 
        Principal Adviser for Leadership and Management, Advance HE

        With a focus mainly on leadership, Doug is responsible for a range of Advance HE's national open programmes as well as undertaking bespoke consultancy assignments for universities both in the UK and around the world. Key interests include educational and research leadership, the leadership of professional services, strategy development, leading change, and leading with emotional intelligence. An accomplished teacher, facilitator, coach, author and conference speaker, Doug has achievements across a wide range of leadership, educational and organisational development projects.

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        Doug Parkin roundel

        Excellent session very engaging and inspiring. Doug was brilliant as usual, can't wait to put some of the concepts into practice."

        Sheryl Williams, Academic, Loughborough University

        * Parkin, D. (2017). Leading Learning and Teaching in Higher Education: The Key Guide to designing and delivering courses. Oxon and New York: Routledge.

        ** Kimsey-House, H., Kimsey-House, K., Sandahl, P. and Whitworth, L. (2011). Co-Active Coaching: Changing Business, Transforming Lives (3rd Edition). Boston, MA: Nicholas Brealey Publishing.