Deliberative leadership: Sustainable practices for public universities?
Keywords:deliberative leadership, deliberative attitude, webs of commitment, legitimate compromise, public good
The higher education landscape is experiencing a period of serious uncertainty, an interregnum wherein there is considerable disagreement as to its orientation and sustainability. Some suggest that ongoing incremental adaptability is sufficient, while others insist nothing short of radical transformation will suffice. These disagreements are reflected in competing, and conflicting, discourses on leadership, into which we posit the potential of deliberative leadership, not as a silver bullet, but a work in progress; a reconsideration of the public good mandate of higher education, recognising that what counts as ‘public’ or ‘good’ is increasingly contested. Using data from a larger study on formation in higher education, we describe deliberative leadership, its characteristics, and underpinning values. We provide empirical evidence from one institution as to how deliberative attitude and deliberative communication, when combined and stretched over an organisation. In doing so, they create conditions where, through horizontal and vertical brokering, individual webs of commitments are acknowledged, yet legitimate compromises are forged without compromising on values. This paper commends the quiet resolute melody of deliberative leadership to readers, recognising that the case made here is advanced on evidence from one institution, yet recognising its potential contribution to forging a more sustainable deliberative leadership praxis.