Emerging issues in Higher Education Leadership in relation to liminal COVID-19 contexts



Education, higher education, leadership, liminality, wisdom, wise leadership, COVID-19, pandemic, universities, VUCA, Canada, South Africa, USA


This paper aims to explore the positive and negative impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on Western higher education leadership, primarily as the pandemic either increased the existing challenges in higher education leadership or opened a pathway for innovation and experimentation due to the liminal environment. Understanding that leadership effectiveness centres on the tripartite elements of leader, follower and context, this qualitative study sought to understand how the liminal context of a global pandemic affected the leadership of higher education institutions. Accordingly, this qualitative study uses a phenomenological and grounded theory approach. The team facilitated semi-structured interviews, and at the height of COVID-19, when higher education leaders became less available due to the challenges posed by the emerging context, we hosted the interview questions in a Google Form and solicited written responses. Our sample included 18 higher education leaders from Canada, South Africa and USA: 5 semi-structured interviews and 13 Google Forms. The emerging issues in higher education leadership moved into sharper focus during the COVID-19 pandemic. As such, the emerging issues and the emergent leadership wisdom to address them accord well with the existing literature on skills leadership and emergent leadership in liminal contexts. The study uncovered the utility of the Polyhedron model of wise leadership as a meaningful mindset to drive effective leadership in the liminal pandemic context.

To cite: Elkington, R. & Ruttenberg-Rozen, R. 2023. Emerging issues in Higher Education leadership in relation to liminal COVID-19 contexts. Journal of Management & Administration 17, 23–44.
DOI: 10.5281/zenodo.10622850

Rob Elkington, PhD






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