Positive Leadership Award

Presents my submission materials for the Positive Leadership Award, summarising my work in this field

In December 2022 I received the wonderful news that someone had nominated me for the inaugural Positive Leadership award. Nominees were also allowed to submit a self-nomination by explaining how they addressed the four aspects of positive leadership: positive climate, positive capital, positive motivation, and positive direction. I hesitated doing so, as I had received a few similar awards in the past (see below) and I am very aware of the “Matthew effect” in academia.

However, I would very much like to spend more time to work on changing academia worldwide to be characterised by positive climates, positive capital, positive motivation, and positive direction. I felt that a successful nomination might help to further this goal. Academia has a huge role to play in creating a more inclusive and positive world, but to do so it needs to be inclusive and positive itself.

So, I went ahead and submitted a self-nomination. I also asked some of my mentees to support the nomination. Even so, I didn’t expect to be successful and was thrilled when in January 2023 I was elected as one of only 24 nominees, selected from 11,688 nominations. This post presents my application materials.

Scope of my positive leadership

My positive leadership occurs in a wide range of settings. At Middlesex University, I am a staff development lead, offering an extensive programme of researcher development. I am also a research mentor, providing one-on-one support to dozens of academics.

In addition, however, I also provide positive leadership outside my own organization through CYGNA, the women's network I have established, and through my website, which has been online since 1999. My website includes a wide range of free resources for academics worldwide. It has more than a million page visits a year.

Positive climate: #Positive Academia

“A Positive Leader ensures trust, inclusion, authenticity and virtuousness to foster the right climate for positive change.”

The initiative that probably best illustrates the leadership value of positive climate is my launch of the #PositiveAcademia movement in 2022. It was conceived in the depths in the second pandemic winter when I was looking for a way to cheer up my colleagues, many of whom were struggling with both their workload and mental health.

In this movement, I encourage academics to celebrate the positive aspects of academia (without denying the many challenges and problems we face). In its first year, I have given voice to this movement by writing and sharing LinkedIn recommendations for colleagues, mentees, co-authors, and others I admire. I did this daily in January 2022 and then weekly from February onwards. I encouraged others to do the same or to simply send a nice email to one of their colleagues, providing clear examples of how to do this.

Two of my junior Middlesex colleagues, a PhD student and hourly paid lecturer – Christa Sathish – and our new HR assistant – Shaz Ali – joined the initiative. Christa posted about her well-being activities with students and Shaz wrote profiles introducing Middlesex staff members.

I have also written a wide range of blogposts providing concrete examples of how to make academia a kinder place and provided resources to support this movement. I will expand the initiative in 2023 by developing three strands: resources supporting #PositiveAcademia, LinkedIn recommendations, and initiating discussions on LinkedIn around core #PositiveAcademia themes.

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Positive capital: www.harzing.com

A Positive Leader cultivates optimism, hope, self-efficacy and resilience in others to build their positive capital for positive change.

The initiative that probably best illustrates the leadership value of positive capital is my website. From 1999 onwards, my website has offered academics free tools and resources that promote inclusiveness, proactiveness, and resilience, and develop hope and self-efficacy among academics worldwide, including those at under-resourced institutions who do not have access to support locally.

My website now counts nearly 700 pages chockfull of tools, resources, and advice based on my 30+ years of experience in academia. Everything on my website is free and I do not carry any advertisements or sponsorships. Here are some of its key resources:

Positive motivation: CYGNA

A Positive Leader provides autonomy, develops mastery and fosters positive connections to ignite others’ motivation.

The initiative that probably best illustrates the leadership value of positive motivation is my role in CYGNA and more generally being a mentor and role model for female academics. I am the initiator and driving force behind CYGNA. This network was established in 2014 to promote interaction among female academics and provide a forum for learning, support, and networking. Currently, the network has around 320 members in 30+ countries.

Our meetings focus on a wide range of topics. The matrix below lists most of the topics we have covered in the past 8.5 years. To date I have (co-)organized no less than fifty 2-3-hour meetings which have been attended by hundreds of female academics. We also have a mailing list on which we share useful resources related to gender in academia, but also share job opportunities.

Many members have indicated how important the network is to them in developing more confidence in their own roles, providing a “safe place” to discuss challenges, learning new ways to cope and conquer adversities, and asking questions and gaining knowledge without judgment. Here are some testimonials on how CYGNA is helping members.

CYGNA is different from other networks which typically focus on growing quickly, but without a strong connection between members. At CYGNA we focus on quality and develop close bonds between members. There are no switched off cameras in our online meetings ūüėä. Although every female academic is welcome, they can only join the network and mailing list if they complete a survey which taps not only into their academic background and advice sought/offered, but also into more personal characteristics such as family circumstances, personality type and career passions. This facilitates networking and trustful relationships.

The membership spreadsheet with survey results allows CYGNA members to connect with others with similar or complementary profiles. I also broker connections. For instance, recently a female/international academic contacted me out of the blue as she is having problems with her male/local boss. I invited her to CYGNA and connected her with someone in the same country who has done research and advocacy on female/international academics. However, I also connected her with two academic career coaches in the CYGNA network that could help her make decisions about her future in academia.

In supporting female academics more generally, I am also very open about the challenges in academia and have written motivational posts and given interviews about this. I have found this motivates junior female academics, as it clearly shows that successful academics were not “born successful” and have all had their own challenges too. See e.g.

Positive direction: an inclusive and proactive academia

A Positive Leader creates a meaningful vision and inspires others to move from good to great together.

The initiative that probably best illustrates the leadership value of positive direction is my role in staff development and as a public speaker on the importance of inclusiveness, proactivity, and support for early career researchers. I have been Staff Development Lead at Middlesex University Business School (now Faculty of Business & Law) since 2014, working with some 150 academics. Middlesex is a Business School that prides itself on doing research with societal impact and has been very successful in this, ranking first in the UK.

However, our academics still need to compete in a wider academic world that might use different performance metrics. So, I have developed a very extensive programme of support that runs from workshops & training on all aspects of academic careers and informal meetings (research lunches and research receptions), to individual tailored support both internally and externally. A video with an overview of our programme is here.

My work building supportive, inclusive, and collaborative cultures and supporting early/mid career academic is recognised by frequent invitations to present on this topic, most recently for the British Academy of Management (Supportive, inclusive & collaborative research cultures) and the European Foundation for Management development (Supporting Early Career Researchers).

I have also been very critical of research in my own field (Why IHRM research needs to change) and have encouraged junior academics to “Dare to be different”. I have also urged university managers to move from words to action and from outcome to process. Most recently I have started to hold senior academics to account on their role in shaping positive academic cultures.

Mentees tell me that they appreciate my three-pronged approach. I provide support for early/mid career academics and a role model to mid-career academics (one of them said “you embody the roadmap we can hopefully follow”). However, I am also setting a standard to my peers of what senior academics leaders should be like, encouraging them to be less focused on maximising their own careers and income and more focused on helping the next generation.

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