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25 Jul 2023

Top 5 qualities of a good leader In Higher Education

Top 5 qualities of a good leader In Higher Education

Higher Education is an extremely dynamic and evolving sector and as one of the first Asian female Deans to be appointed to lead a Business School in 2015, in this article, I reflect on what I believe are the top five qualities that make a good leader. I have over 20 years of experience in the Higher Education sector, having worked in a variety of leadership roles. I am currently the Deputy Pro-Vice Chancellor (academic) and the Dean of the Faculty of Business at Arden University.

I believe there is a strong need to address the theme of leadership in the Higher Education sector due to its rapidly evolving landscape that constantly presents new challenges and opportunities. As an example, Artificial Intelligence (AI) has recently shaken up the HE sector and several institutions are in a dilemma with regard to its use in academia advocating the need to “punish” students as it dilutes the integrity of degree programmes. Whilst on the other hand, some Higher Education Institutions are exploring the benefits of embracing AI to support and facilitate teaching, learning and assessment.

Effective leadership is essential to navigate through these constant changes, lead through uncertain times and steer our institutions towards success.

Benefits – 5 top qualities of a good leader

Emotional Intelligence

I believe emotional intelligence (EI) is a fundamental leadership quality that enables effective interpersonal relationships and promotes a positive and inclusive work culture. Leaders with high EI can empathise with others, handle conflicts with sensitivity, and foster a supportive environment that encourages open communication and collaboration. As a senior leader at Arden University, I have found emotional intelligence to be a key quality to get buy in from staff especially when leading transformational projects and managing change.


Communication is also a key quality of effective leadership. Outstanding leaders excel in their ability to adapt their communication style to suit diverse audiences. Whether it's delivering an inspirational presentation to the entire faculty or having one-on-one discussions with a struggling student, skilled leaders tailor their messages to resonate with each individual. At Arden University, we emphasise the development of strong communication skills, recognising that it is the key to building trust and developing an open and inclusive environment.


Leaders who demonstrate the quality of integrity excel in their careers as they are truthful, transparent, and honest with others and themselves. Strongly believing in your values and making ethically driven decisions is critical to gaining trust and confidence from your staff and creating a sustainable and responsible business. Not making false promises and taking shortcuts instils confidence in your teams and they are more likely to support your decisions as there are clear and transparent expectations on both sides.

Strategic Decision-making:

The capacity to make well-informed, strategic decisions is another pivotal quality that distinguishes good leaders. This skill involves analysing complex situations, considering long-term implications, and making well-informed choices that align with the institution's goals. At Arden University strategic decision-making is essential in shaping the curriculum to meet industry demands, allocating resources efficiently, and identifying strategic partnerships that enhance research and learning opportunities for students and staff alike.

Collaboration and Team Building:

Collaboration and team-building qualities are essential for leaders in Higher Education as they work with diverse groups of stakeholders. Effective leaders encourage interdisciplinary collaboration among staff and promote cross-functional teamwork to achieve shared objectives. By nurturing an environment of mutual respect and trust, staff and students are more likely to work together and enhance the overall student experience. At Arden University collaboration and team-building skills enable me to create a cohesive and effective academic community.


By combining emotional intelligence with integrity, staff and students are empowered to pursue academic and personal growth with real purpose, drive and passion. Effective communication, collaboration and team-building skills create a culture of interdisciplinary cooperation, enhancing the collective impact of staff and students. Similarly, strategic decision-making ensures that resources are optimally allocated, enabling the Faculty of Business to adapt and thrive in the ever-changing Higher Education landscape.

aDilshad has over 20 years of experience in the Higher Education sector gained from multiple roles. She currently holds a dual strategic leadership position as Dean of the Faculty of Business at Arden University and is also the Deputy Pro Vice Chancellor (Academic). Born in Nairobi, Kenya, and the youngest of seven children, she has enjoyed a successful career in industry prior to making the jump into academia. Realising this was where she could enact genuine change, she moved across as a result of her desire to help students from widening participation backgrounds achieve their goals and support their communities. Dilshad’s most recent win was the most prestigious CMI Volunteer of the Year Award 2022 having been the former regional chair for the West Midlands and Northwest. Dilshad continues to engage with audiences across a variety of sectors with the ambition to encourage and inspire more females, especially from ethnic minority backgrounds, attaining senior leadership roles.



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