Ingredients to lead

Ingredients to lead

By Allan Howells

Start with an academic who is well connected in the sector, add a dash of leadership skills and an ounce of ambition and charisma and you used to be able to find your next leader: Head Teacher, Principal or Vice Chancellor.

Not so today, with the demands of universities, colleges and MATs being more akin to those of large businesses and the heads of these organisations becoming more like CEOs. The recipe has changed over the years and rather than reading from a cookbook the recipe is now akin to an ‘app’, which asks you to select from a list of preferred skills, including commercial, international, sector specific, sector agnostic, values, strategic thinking, builds high performing teams, customer focused…etc. However, all good cooks know that even with the right ingredients, it is how they are sourced, sequenced, blended, cooked, arranged and then served, which delivers the perfectly tasting dish.

Whereas in the past you could draw on your local network ‘the corner shop’ to find candidates with the right ‘ingredients’, today you need to look nationally and internationally and often outside of your traditional network – because finding the perfect fit is critical. Get it wrong and the price, in a very competitive market for students, funding, leadership and staff talent, can be very high.

We recognise this challenge and, unusually, in our team we combine the skills of those who have worked in leadership roles with those of experienced search consultants and business psychologists to help organisations within the education sector get it right.

Take for instance a recent example where a northern based, Russell Group University was looking for an experienced individual with the ability to bridge the gap between academia and industry. The specialist role needed would build upon a well-established function that delivered innovative knowledge exchange and technology transfer to go forward and develop strategic and operational partnerships with key organisations.

Finding a credible individual who can understand the world-class research taking place across the vast array of disciplines found in a large research-intensive university is a challenge in its own right! A key ‘ingredient’ for our client was the individual’s ability to operate at a senior level and to establish delivery of new sustainable income streams. They would also need to have a track record of commercialising and transferring leading-edge research. We looked beyond traditional search pools to secure a unique candidate who could engage academic researchers and industrial R&D managers alike.

Throughout the assignment we spent time working with the client to ensure that candidates could demonstrate both competency and cultural fit. The successful candidate had gained the majority of their skills and experience from outside the education sector whilst working in a multi-national corporate (pharma) industry in roles where they partnered with universities undertaking research and development activities. The ‘ingredients’ of cultural understanding and fit were visible and clearly demonstrated, so much so that there was little need to utilise our offer of integration coaching to support their smooth transition into the role and the sector.

The care and attention that we take is reflected in our key performance indicators. These show that 98% of candidates appointed a year ago are still in post, that our candidate net promoter score (NPS) currently stands at +75 and the respective client NPS scores at +83. We care enough to get it right on all fronts and ensure brand reputation is always protected and as a business, we offer more than securing permanent senior appointments. We have completed similar assignments helping organisations secure interim managers, along with Trustees, Governors and Non-Executive Directors.

Finally, it is worth remembering that leaders aren’t born, they are developed. They are individuals, just like you and I, who want to make a difference. Organisations succeed not because of the organisation but from dynamic and effective leaders. Leadership is key and talented leaders are, just like 5* restaurants, rarely just around the corner.

For more information on our services please contact Wickland Westcott on 01625 508 100 or email

Signup to our Newsletter

By signing up to our newsletter, you are agreeing to receive monthly marketing emails containing thought leadership, event invitations and other industry insights. You can unsubscribe or change your preferences at any time. View our privacy policy for more information.

* indicates required