Ask an Expert November 2017

Ask an Expert

Q: I shepherd a leadership development program for both academic and administrative employees in my higher ed institution. At a recent session introducing our current cohort to the LPI® 360, one of the participants (an academic) remarked that the “business” language used in the materials is not necessarily suited to the academic environment. Others have voiced this concern before and I'm wondering if you might be able to suggest how I could best respond?

A: There are a number of approaches you might consider in responding to this type of concern. First and foremost, however, is to keep in mind that 3+ decades of research has proven over and over again the validity of The Five Practices conceptual framework for understanding leadership across a variety of settings and circumstances, as well as the reliability of the LPI® for measuring leadership behaviors. The findings are consistent: regardless of any demographic or organizational factors, it is how leaders behave that impacts how their direct reports feel about their workplace and their willingness to provide discretionary energy.

At Santa Clara University (SCU) the LPI has been used since 2000, primarily with staff leaders and also several faculty leaders in the last three cohorts. Of the more than 200 leaders who have participated, we have yet to have anyone question the language or express the opinion that the materials, in general, are geared so much toward business that they don’t represent academia. This is quite similar to the feedback we’ve received working with academic leaders at the University of Calgary and the University of Alberta specifically, as well as several other academic institutions across Canada. Higher education institutions around the world, for example King Saud University (Saudi Arabia) have successfully incorporated The Leadership Challenge into their leadership development efforts.

That being said, however, there are a few recommendations that may help you preempt—or more effectively address--your participants’ concerns.
  1. For incoming cohort participants, consider conducting an orientation session that includes a panel of past participants (both staff and faculty leaders, as appropriate). Having an opportunity to talk with colleagues who have first-hand experience with the materials is highly informative and very valuable. You may consider having someone on your campus with direct experience present at your orientation session for incoming program participants. 
  2. Empirical research undertaken by scholars, graduate students, and academicians provides valuable insight into the effectiveness of leaders in a variety of setting and circumstances—including higher education and secondary education. Explore some of the hundreds of abstracts and executive summaries on The Leadership Challenge website and be prepared to call upon those resources as the need arises to address questions of applicability and relevance of The Five Practices and academia. You can also refer your leaders to the website where they can see for themselves all the research with academic and university leaders and how the LPI has been used successfully. 
  3.  Have on-hand copies of the whitepaper, Bringing the Rigor of Research to the Art of Leadership (download from The Leadership Challenge website here). Reinforcing the evidence-based research and the rigor of the LPI will be important to academics. Kouzes and Posner’s The Academic Administrator’s Guide to Exemplary Leadership is also a quite handy reference, and full of examples specific to a higher education setting. 
  4. Last, but not least, is The Leadership Challenge® Workshop experience itself. Specifically pay close attention to the Personal Best Reflection and Group Storytelling activities. The themes that inherently surface put The Five Practices into the participants’ own words and language—very important to their understanding and meaning making, and enhancing face validity of the model and LPI. 
Cheryl Johnson, a Certified Master of The Leadership Challenge in both facilitation and coaching, is Assistant Director of Human Resources, Employee Development at Santa Clara University (SCU) who has been using The Leadership Challenge as a facilitator and coach with SCU leaders since 2008. She can be reached at

Lillas Marie Hatala,
MCEd, CPHR, CMC, is Executive Director at Integrative Leadership International, and former director of business and leadership programs at the University of Saskatchewan. With over 30 years of experience as a leadership and management development practitioner—including extensive work with The Leadership Challenge—facilitator, coach and consultant, she is coauthor of Integrative Leadership and The Business Care for Leadership Development, and can be reached at


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