Dr Mohanty on Educational Leadership

Earlier today I attended a special guest lecture by Dr Ajit Mohanty (http://ajitmohanty.org) at The Entrepreneurship Development Institute of India (EDII), Gandhinagar, Gujarat (www.ediindia.org). On the dais was Dr Mohanty sandwiched between his teacher (Dr Misra) and his student (Dr Shukla). It is rare to see three generations of teachers (or students) sitting together and sharing their mutual warmth. I feel privileged to have had the good fortune of seeing and listening to them. Now to the subject of the lecture itself.

A well known, seasoned and celebrated academician in India, Dr Mohanty, was true to his topic. He had his agenda clearly laid out. The presentation was easy, smooth and candid. His astute observations brought to light some of the key leadership issues and challenges that the Indian Higher Education System faces. As a researcher, I enjoyed the approach taken by Dr Mohanty and the innumerable opportunities it provides for further scholarly investigation.

Most well made speeches start with a bang and today’s was no exception. He stated a well known truth – ‘our education systems are a large scale failure’ (wow! I could not think of a better way to put it). He did not stop by stating the obvious, but took a deep dive into the possible reasons for the problem. Some of them are: macro level policy hurdles, leadership, chaotic nature of academic environments, debatable business role of today’s faculty members, narrowing gap between for-profit enterprises and socially inclined enterprises such as educational institutions, amongst others. As a true academic he did not promise to provide a panacea to the challenge – but restricted his remaining talk to one aspect of the challenge: leadership.

He beautifully captured through the ‘ringing bells’ example how our educational systems strive to remain status quo. He also spoke how most selected leaders are better academics than administrators. He used the popular ‘Peter Principle’ to highlight the leader identification and appointment problem. It seems that most leaders in educational institutions focus more on ‘chaos avoidance’ rather than ‘innovation and entrepreneurship’. He clearly established the fact that academic skills are not sufficient to lead educational institutions.

With examples from India and around the world, he gave a number of examples and cases of both success and failures of educational leadership. He also justified his stance that probably the Indian educational system is not ready for transformational leaders, but can greatly benefit in the interim with change-producing leaders. His examples provided leading thoughts on a possible solution – ‘distributed leadership’. Distributed Leadership is not delegation, but leaders at every level. Higher education truly requires leaders at all levels, who can bring change (in a small way, though routinely), which in turn will result in habits and eventually a change in culture.

I liked his approach towards the end of his presentation where he offered solutions, which he said we could choose to reject (not accept). It speaks a lot about the person.

This was one of the occasions where I did not want the talk to end. May be because it was on a topic close to my heart or was it my love for teaching or was it that I was listening to a true academic after long? A short amount of time, borrowed from lunch was used for answering Q&A.

I left the talk inspired about academics and with number of ideas for future research. I am excited at the timing of the lecture since I am currently working on some ideas of applying entrepreneurship to higher education.

Thanks to EDII for arranging this insightful lecture.

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