How Kinesiology Leaders Can Use the Constructs of Adaptive, Complexity, and Transformational Leadership to Anticipate and Prepare for Future Possibilities

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  • 1 Faculty of Global and Community Studies, Capilano University, North Vancouver, BC, Canada
  • | 2 Continuing Studies and Corporate Training, Okanagan College, Kelowna, BC, Canada
  • | 3 Student Life, Memorial University of Newfoundland and Labrador, St. John’s, NL, Canada
  • | 4 Faculty of Education, Western University, London, ON, Canada

In this article, we present a rationale for infusing adaptive, complexity, and transformational leadership theories into the kinesiology leader’s praxis. Understanding and incorporating these theories will prepare kinesiology leaders to respond to the emerging trends influencing the future of higher education and work leading into the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Specifically, we discuss the impact of the pandemic, which has transformed the way students and academics approach curriculum and pedagogy. We conclude the article with a discussion of the future of higher education and work and explore ways to cultivate kinesiology leadership approaches for anticipatory thinking and planning to respond to the transformation occurring in our field.

Leaders worldwide have grappled with the challenges and opportunities of reactively and responsively leading during the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet, leading during a pandemic has highlighted opportunities to reframe our circumstances and approaches to preparing leaders. We have been afforded understanding of pathways and tools that enhance leadership practices and enable leaders to anticipate future needs (Buck, 2014). Leaders in higher education must navigate the broader societal landscape and their institutional context, including organizational (sub-) hierarchies and faculty governance in these reimaginings (Austin & Jones, 2016). Leaders in the field of kinesiology, along with its dedicated faculty and students, have this opportunity to reflect and reimagine the future of the discipline, higher education, and employment prospects for graduates.

We draw on the words of Lawson (2014), who reminds kinesiology leaders, “one of the surest ways to secure kinesiology’s future is by investing in leaders and leadership” (p. 263). Specifically, how to invest in and build collective responsibility in varying levels of leadership is essential for kinesiology. Several articles addressing kinesiology and the unique complexity of leading in the 21st century are referenced throughout this paper (Block, 2014; Block & Estes, 2011; Lawson, 2014). As Block and Estes (2011) make clear, higher education faces significant challenges regarding digital transformation, marketization, quality assurance, and equity of access, matters that have surfaced more readily to higher education leaders’ attention during the pandemic. Extending the ideas in these leadership writings, we outline adaptive, complexity, and transformational thinking and praxes for the kinesiology community. We also discuss the application and implications of these leadership approaches in the broader contexts of higher education and the future of work as well as the specific context of kinesiology departments.

Drawing on this collective of leadership approaches we suggest that, based on one’s values and institutional context, leaders can lead in a more transformational way that fosters anticipatory thinking and planning. Kinesiology leaders who can read the landscape of higher education and anticipate the future needs of employers will benefit their departments and university. Their leadership action may be enhanced if guided by lessons from Marion and Uhl-Bien (2007), who propose that leaders employ generative interactions, dialogue, and innovation to enhance internal organizational flexibility and create a spirit of “survival of the cooperative” (p. 274). Since the pandemic, leaders have been called to navigate uncertainty, conduct scenario planning, and determine their department and university’s pathway forward. Kinesiology leaders can meet these demands and enhance their leadership, curriculum, and department operations by deliberating on the adaptive, complexity, and transformational leadership approaches we present in the next section.

Leadership Approaches

The leadership theories and practices presented in this section align with Buck’s (2014) encouragement that leaders include others in collective decision making. As we consider the future of kinesiology, there is value in kinesiology leaders collectively embracing the tenets and practices of varying leadership approaches that assist in anticipating and navigating the challenges of the future. Here we specifically outline three different yet equally applicable leadership theories for higher education leaders: adaptive, complexity, and transformational.

Adaptive Leadership

Northouse (2019) defines leadership as “a process whereby an individual influences a group of individuals to achieve a common goal” (p. 5). However, this does not necessarily mean that leadership is a top–down process. To address complex and multistakeholder issues present in higher education, a collegial and collaborative approach is often critical for success. Collaborative leadership focuses on building bridges with others and working strategically to achieve a common objective or shared outcome (Rubin, 2002). Higher education institutions function similarly to interconnected ecosystems, with each of the parts impacting the others and often requiring imaginative perspectives and approaches to address issues and retain order (Manning, 2018). Given the speed of change and the complexity of challenges facing higher education, it is unlikely that issues will successfully be addressed unilaterally; rather, they will require insight from various stakeholders to find solutions (Northouse, 2019; Yukl & Mahsud, 2010).

Arising from the theoretical foundation of collaborative and follower-centric leadership, adaptive leadership moves away from the traditional view that leaders provide answers and solutions to problems and toward inviting stakeholders to share the responsibility of addressing complex problems and generating solutions (Heifetz et al., 2004). Heifetz and Laurie (1997) declare “solutions to adaptive challenges reside not in the executive suite but in the collective intelligence of employees at all levels” (p. 126). Adaptive challenges are those that are not clearly defined, have unknown solutions, and involve many stakeholders who collectively create resolutions (Heifetz et al., 2004; Randall & Coakley, 2007). With a focus on mobilizing others and tapping into their knowledge to address such complex challenges, the goal of adaptive leadership is to “encourage shifts in mind-set” and achieve “positive change by provoking debate, encouraging new thinking and advancing social learning” (Heifetz et al., 2004, p. 26). The focus on changing attitudes and behaviors is frequent to ensure organizations remain responsive to internal and external systematic problems with no clear solutions. It is facilitated by mediating conflicting opinions and encouraging progress (Heifetz & Laurie, 1997; Yukl & Mahsud, 2010). The focus on a process rather than an individual, and the contributions of all stakeholders interested in resolving a problem, is critical for addressing challenges with unknown solutions (Heifetz et al., 2004; Randall & Coakley, 2007).

Based on the work of Heifetz and colleagues (Heifetz, 1994; Heifetz et al., 2004; Heifetz & Laurie, 1997), a Model of Adaptive Leadership has evolved, providing leaders with a framework to determine when and how to mobilize others. The framework identifies six particular behaviors critical to the adaptive leadership process and useful for kinesiology leaders to consider when leading a group to address complex problems and make subsequent changes. These behaviors include: (a) get on the balcony, (b) identify the adaptive challenge, (c) regulate distress, (d) maintain disciplined attention, (e) give the work back to the people, and (f) protect leadership voices from below (Heifetz & Laurie, 1997; Northouse, 2019). The act of getting on the balcony means to “to move back and forth between the field of action and the balcony” to observe and reflect, as well as the space to appreciate the views and solutions shared by the stakeholders (Heifetz & Laurie, 1997, p. 125). It is particularly worth highlighting because it is considered a prerequisite to the other behaviors (Heifetz & Laurie, 1997). This navigation may emerge for kinesiology department heads in the promotion and tenure process. While the university has prescribed processes that the department head must follow, there may be times that the department faculty would prefer to address faculty evaluation from a disciplinary vantage versus the university structural view. Department heads who can balance the requirements of the university structures and the informed perspectives of the faculty are indeed moving between action and observation. Regularly stepping back to assess the big picture and gain clarity is the hallmark of adaptive work and is essential to addressing complex problems, guiding the organizational change process, and successfully implementing this model.

The use of an adaptive leadership approach provides a strong tool kit for productive change, particularly in a complex, postsecondary environment. While criticized for being somewhat wide ranging and focused on ideas and assumptions rather than empirical research, it was developed as a practical leadership approach with steps leaders should follow when undertaking adaptive work (Northouse, 2019). Current examples of adaptive work may include anticipating the enrollment cliff after years of historically strong enrollments in kinesiology or enhancing productivity of interdisciplinary education and research across kinesiology subdisciplines (Knudson, 2016). To address such examples, the leader must decide when an issue is ripe for attention, garner interest from stakeholders, be comfortable and prepared to provoke discussion and debate, encourage new thinking, ensure all voices are heard when deeply held processes, values, and beliefs are challenged and work collaboratively with others to determine solutions and incorporate change (Heifetz & Laurie, 1997). Addressing challenges in this way creates habits of practice that are well matched to the fluid and complex contexts of higher education and kinesiology.

Complexity Leadership Theory

Complexity leadership theory (CLT) builds on the tenets of adaptive leadership. CLT fosters an emergent, interactive dynamic, and a collective impetus that works well in hierarchical organizations like higher education institutions (Lichtenstein et al., 2006; Uhl-Bien & Arena, 2017, 2018; Uhl-Bien et al., 2007). In CLT, leaders explore approaches “that foster organization and subunit creativity, learning, and adaptability” within complex systems and are coordinated within the organization’s hierarchy (Uhl-Bien et al., 2007, p. 299; see also Uhl-Bien & Marion, 2017, 2018). Leaders enable activity and imagination in the communal space of followers, technologies, and systems to improve group performance (Uhl-Bien & Arena, 2017, 2018). Following guidance from Heifetz et al. (2004), leaders must frame the internal and external institutional issues within the evolving context so other university members may comprehend the possibilities and challenges that emerge. One specific kinesiology example is the use of internships as experiential, work-integrated learning opportunities for students. A faculty coordinator of internships creates relationships with various sites for the students based on both student learning and site needs. The coordinator must consider the internal department and university curricular aspects with the expectations of external sites. Any change in the university or internship site has impact across the organization’s hierarchy, and the use of CLT orients participants to these changes (Schneider & Somers, 2006). Of note, brokering these types of internal and external university relationships or changes requires individual learning as well as organizational adaptability to new systems.

The kinesiology leader’s ability to analyze the context and relate with participants is essential. The CLT framework that Uhl-Bien and Arena (2017, 2018) emphasize notes rich connecting of ideas, information, resources, and stakeholders (e.g., students, alumni, other institutional units, and donors). Uhl-Bien and Arena (2017, 2018) situate what is referred to as the adaptive space between the entrepreneurial system (i.e., idea generation) and the operational system (i.e., university or department policies, procedures, and operations). The adaptive space is where networks of people would connect to yield helpful advancements (i.e., community members coalesce and cocreate something that has not previously existed). Extending the previous example on kinesiology internships, brokering relationships with the university’s information technology unit can enable the matching of internship site information and student application details to optimize experiential, work-integrated learning opportunities for students. In CLT, the leader’s ability to assess their own strengths and those of their colleagues is critical. It affords different faculty or staff the opportunity to broker relationships in line with their strength(s) as entrepreneurial, enabling, and/or operational leaders (Uhl-Bien & Arena, 2017, 2018).

From the perspective of CLT, the kinesiology leader’s responsibility is to foster the adaptive space and information flows that promotes connections forming within the kinesiology unit and out to various university units (Uhl-Bien & Arena, 2017, 2018). Given that conflict may arise among stakeholders from various university and disciplinary perspectives, the adaptive space and networks will need transparency, trust, and open systems (Blackmore, 2011). Helping to cultivate relationships cultivates information flow that builds transparency and trust throughout the university community. Drawing on the leadership approaches within the CLT framework to support individual and organizational adaptability, kinesiology leaders would be able to promote community alignment with unit and university goals. This CLT approach allows for both top-down and bottom-up change initiatives to help leaders capitalize on timely opportunities for the future (Lawson, 2014).

Transformational Leadership

Transformational leadership emphasizes the presentation of new ideas and inspiring people to think differently (Bass & Riggio, 2006; Eckel & Kezar, 2003). With the increasing number of students pursuing a kinesiology degree as a gateway to other specialized fields (physical therapy, medicine, teaching, etc.), the discipline has a perfect opportunity to redefine its value proposition to the students, faculty, and institutions it serves (Thomas, 2014).

Burns (1978) first defined transformational leadership, describing it as the process whereby a person engages with others and creates a connection that raises motivation and morality in both the leader and the followers. Bass (1985) expanded on Burns’ work and surmised that transformational leadership motivates followers to do more than expected by (a) raising followers’ levels of consciousness about the importance and value of specified and idealized goals, (b) getting followers to transcend their self-interest for the sake of the team or organization, and (c) moving followers to address higher-level needs (p. 20). There are four dominant factors that transformational leaders exhibit (a) idealized influence, (b) inspirational motivation, (c) intellectual stimulation, and (d) individualized consideration (Bass & Riggio, 2006; McCleskey, 2014; Northouse, 2019). Transformational leaders exhibit these four components in varying degrees to motivate and inspire followers. Recognizing these factors’ importance is pivotal to advancing a vision for the future value of kinesiology education.

Transformational leadership often uses moral purpose and undertones to motivate action (McCleskey, 2014; Northouse, 2019). Accordingly, transformational leaders are values-driven and motivate their team through inspiration, collaboration, and trust (Basham, 2012). They motivate others by sharing a vision, inspiring followers, mentoring, coaching, respecting individuals, fostering creativity, and acting with integrity (Bass, 2008; Bass & Riggio, 2006; McCleskey, 2014). Kinesiology leaders should work to incorporate their values into the field and the experiences of students as they choose their education pathway or professional pathway.

There are several strategies that transformational leaders employ to propel their followers toward the desired future state. One approach is to focus on first-order psychological needs for esteem, autonomy, and self-actualization (McCleskey, 2014; Sergiovanni, 1990). Meeting these needs can move followers to action, and considering these needs in those we serve can best direct our goal setting. Transformational leaders attend to these needs in motivating others to achieve a shared vision, and such an approach could be pivotal to impacting any systematic change in the field of kinesiology. Transformational leaders also cultivate trust, which creates an organization’s sense of integrity (Northouse, 2019). They exhibit charisma that enables them to inspire their team to strive toward the desired organizational change (Bass & Riggio, 2006), routinely exploring moral undertones to influence behavior. Finally, transformational leaders creatively deploy the self through positive self-confidence (Northouse, 2019). Transformational leaders use this confidence and charisma to become role models and build trust within their organizations and foster collaboration.

Altogether, the three leadership theories presented in this section offer kinesiology leaders a range of ways to conceive of and enact their leadership. Table 1 provides an overview of various aspects of the three leadership theories discussed in this section. Specifically, it overviews personality features and behavioral attributes of leaders adopting these leadership approaches, effects on followers, and criticisms of the approaches.

Table 1

Summary of Adaptive, Complexity, and Transformational Leadership

Personality featuresFollower centric

Views leadership as collaborative and interactional
Views leadership as an activity

Handles tension that system interdependencies creates
Builds vision and goals

Fosters participatory decision making

Drives change and creates passion within the organization
Behavioral attributesProcess approach

Focus on complex interactions between leaders and followers
Systems thinking approach

Collectivist thinking

Creates or supports innovation
Visionary thinking approach

Focus on the concepts of idealized influence, inspirational motivation, intellectual stimulation, and individual consideration
Effects on followersOpportunity to engage and participate

Supports follower’s response to changing environments and addresses conflicting values
Opportunity for people to participate in entrepreneurial, enabling, or operational systems and spacesOpportunity to convert followers into leaders, focus on collective goal leading to increased capacity and commitment
CriticismsMay be perceived as abstract, wide ranging and based primarily on assumptions and ideasMay be perceived as functionalist or too abstract to implementMay be perceived as manipulative and must be grounded by moral and ethical responsibility

Note. This compilation is similarly organized as tables presented by Northouse (2019).

Leadership for Future Thinking and Adaptability

Block (2014) challenges kinesiology leaders to respond to complex phenomena in a time of ubiquitous access to information and globalization. Block and Estes (2011) provide a summary of globalization as a boundary spanning phenomenon in which economies and knowledge intersect and may, for higher education, impact its authority for seeking truth. Arguably, this is especially salient as universities and societies recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and work to reinvent themselves. This section discusses future considerations for kinesiology leaders. A leader’s personal and institutional values will shape how kinesiology evolves (Block, 2014). Here we explore the future of higher education and work, encouraging kinesiology leaders to cultivate their leadership praxis for future anticipatory thinking and planning.

Future of Higher Education

The dynamic global landscape has created a need for higher education institutions to reexamine their mandate. Themes that are impacting higher education include emerging digital technologies, new online learning opportunities, funding challenges, rising costs, shifting demographics, declining enrollments, microcredentials, and lower fertility rates (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, 2017). These themes will play a role in the viability and sustainability of higher education institutions worldwide. As a result of the influence of these changing global social, political, cultural, and economic conditions, higher education institutions worldwide must reimagine and transform the curriculum, learning delivery models, and student supports. Surviving in the new world of education will require the field of kinesiology to evolve in kind, with kinesiology leaders cultivating the adaptive space in ways that promote innovation.

Reimagining Higher Education

The rapid onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted and changed higher education. The COVID-19 crisis has triggered a surge of online learning options (Wotto, 2020), providing the necessary impetus to improve digital learning pedagogy (Veletsianos & Johnson, 2020). The pandemic generated the opportunity for higher education institutions to reinvent how education is delivered with technological transformations continuing to grow worldwide (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, 2017). Offering well-designed online courses, expanding the quality of online learning, and increasing the diversity of students who can access education are some of the benefits of this new world of education (Veletsianos & Johnson, 2020). This new world of education has also required reexamination of students’ preparation for employment. Employers are calling for job-ready graduates, yet most academic programs do not directly teach what employers seek, such as social skills, emotional intelligence, teamwork, communication, and time management (Parker, 2020). Universities worldwide recognize the importance of these skills and have looked for ways to incorporate experiential, work-integrated learning into the curriculum accordingly. Higher education leaders may draw on tenets of transformational and adaptive leadership to inspire change within their institutions and to broker stakeholder relationships to create these learning experiences.

The U.S. Department of Education commissioned a white paper in 2018 entitled “Rethinking Higher Education.” This study explored the notion that higher education must examine the fundamental aspects of structure, philosophy, and diversity. This report identified three key areas to advance higher education reform: empower students, empower institutions, and empower innovators. Kinesiology leaders can build on these pillars to examine ways to attract a more diverse student population and develop additional pathways for students to secure further education or employment. For example, at an institutional level, leaders need to empower individuals to challenge our organizations to respond to the social justice issues of equity, diversity, and inclusion. Effective responses are essential to forming a robust workforce and equitable workplaces that enable innovation. Drawing on transformational leadership traits may be useful as leaders and followers work toward inclusive excellence. Colleges and universities need to cultivate innovative thinking to abandon old assumptions and methodologies that limit programming and possibilities. Academic leaders need to advance new metrics to evaluate student composition, quality of education, and outcomes. Higher education, as an institution, must not continue to rely on simplistic metrics, such as institutional selectivity, as proxies for academic quality (U.S. Department of Education, 2018). Instead, they must navigate the internal and external complexities of societal needs with institutional missions simultaneously to evolve their institutions. Creating the adaptive space, as noted in complexity leadership to gather people, information, and resources would be a useful leadership application for this evolution and innovation to occur in higher education spaces.

Themes for Future Thinking

Building on the “Rethinking Higher Education” constructs, Parker (2020) identified five themes to guide global transformation and optimization. These themes are (a) review strategy, (b) examine mission and purpose, (c) improve core capabilities, (d) adopt a target operating model, and (e) modernize technology (Parker, 2020, p. 14). Systematically addressing each of these themes will enable an institution to position itself for sustainability and survival during this disruption of higher education. Parker (2020) has identified seven considerations that are particularly relevant to kinesiology leaders and practitioners as they examine how to advance the field, meet the learning needs of students, and generate professional relevancy. These are (a) borderless learning, (b) shorter courses and degrees (microcredits), (c) digitally native cohorts (online learning), (d) experiential learning (work-integrated learning), (e) lifelong learning (upskill, reskill, and retrain), (f) competing at scale (on-demand personalized learning), and (g) lifestyle integration (part-time learners, working students, and parents). Each must be incorporated into the kinesiology curriculum and pedagogy to future ready the field, discipline, and related professions.

At a broader level, higher education institutions must explore ways to improve their core capabilities, transform operating models, and invest in technology (Parker, 2020). Institutions must address complex aspects of higher education with intentional leaders who can work in multidisciplinary teams and imagine cutting-edge futures together. Leaders will be called to foster innovative solutions that will advance departments and organizations, positioning them to survive and thrive in this increasingly competitive global market, and preparing graduates for the future of work.

Future of Work

Futurists believe that up to 85% of the jobs available in 2030 have yet to be invented (Weise et al., 2018). Employers’ needs are ever changing, as the evolution of work and the skills required changes with advances in technology, including artificial intelligence, and increasing automation. The World Economic Forum speaks to the Fourth Industrial Revolution creating significant changes for existing jobs but also providing new opportunities for career paths that are yet to be created (Weise et al., 2018; World Economic Forum, 2019). While higher education does not solely own the responsibility of developing a skilled labor force, leaders in higher education and industry as well as policy makers will be required to work together and have meaningful dialogue on meeting the evolving needs of the labor market (Weise et al., 2018). The changing workforce will require resilient kinesiology graduates to engage in lifelong learning and reinvent themselves throughout their careers. A variety of the institution’s internal and external stakeholders will be required to recognize this and creatively explore ways to provide exceptional, active, and deep learning opportunities for students and alumni to continuously learn and upskill. Facilitating this process will require impactful leadership approaches, such as adaptive, CLT, and transformational approaches presented earlier in this paper (Finley, 2021; Murphy, 2018). Such approaches can produce increased positive outcomes for students and external stakeholders while meeting the needs of the 21st century workforce.

Embracing the Disruptions

Key to the future of work is the foresight to envision disruptive changes that impact the labor market (Usher, 2020). As an example, the rise of Netflix is a technology disruption that is primarily responsible for the 90% decline in jobs in the videotape and disc-rental industry from 2007 to 2016 (Usher, 2020). Other disruptions, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, have required significant shifts in the workforce and catapulted a digital world requiring greater agility and flexibility in how and where people work (Dhaliwal, 2020). How can leaders in higher education prepare students for such disruptions, many of which of which will require individuals to continuously reskill and upskill throughout the technological revolution (Dhaliwal, 2020; Weise et al., 2018)? Lawson (2014) states “all levels of the education system, but especially higher education, is under pressure to reconfigure its offerings so that a 21st century workforce is systematically prepared for today’s jobs, but also to create tomorrow’s” (p. 272). Supported by national reports indicating that most graduates will change jobs and even careers several times (Carnevale et al., 2010), increasing emphasis is accorded to three priorities: (a) the development of 21st century skills (Partnership for 21st Century Skills, 2013), (b) preparation for future learning so that graduates are able to remain abreast of new knowledge development, and (c) demonstrated, advanced competence at the time of graduation—and with due recognition that a credential is hollow without competence, indeed advanced mastery. Human capital development is the umbrella term for this priority cluster and refers to an “educated and healthy workforce” (Lawson, 2014, p. 272).

Joseph E. Aoun, President of Northeastern University and author of, Robot-Proof: Higher Education in the Age of Artificial Intelligence strongly supports the value of higher education, with the caveat that higher education also needs to change (Aoun, 2017). Aoun has coined the phrase “Humanics,” which builds on the strengths of humans to perform tasks only humans can do (Schawbel, 2017). Aoun states, “we will need to re-envision the curriculum, invest in experiential education, and put lifelong learning at the heart of what we do” (Schawbel, 2017, p. 5). New technologies undoubtedly will impact future skills that are required; however, the uniquely human skills such as communication, creativity, and adaptability will continue to be highly valued in graduates as machines and humans increasingly work collaboratively side by side (Aoun, 2017). This requires kinesiology leaders to stay engaged with employers, as well as raise students’ awareness of the value of human skills in a time of rapid technological change.

Raising Skills Awareness

A study conducted by McKinsey & Company (2015) indicated that 83% of postsecondary institutions believed graduates possessed desired employability skills, however only 34% of employers and 44% of students concurred. Such data suggest a misalignment among key stakeholders in their perception of what students acquire from their educational experience. In preparation for future careers, leaders in higher education must ensure that graduates have learning experiences, both in and outside the classroom, that contribute to the development of sought after nontechnical or human skills such as critical thinking, problem solving, teamwork, and creativity (Finley, 2021; Weise et al., 2018). Baker and Henson (2010) state “the development and awareness of one’s employability skills is increasingly viewed as a way of improving individuals’ career prospects after graduation” (p. 73). Ensuring that students can develop, translate, and articulate skills gained throughout their education, and link them to career goals and the development of graduate outcomes, is a necessity for graduates’ career readiness to enter the workforce today and in the future. With students indicating their number one reason for attending postsecondary education is to prepare for their careers (Skinkle & Glennie, 2016) and higher education often claiming it develops career-related skills (Berdahl, 2021), postsecondary education has a moral obligation to deliver what it promises—to prepare graduates for the world of work now and in the future.

Future of Kinesiology: Recommendations

Block (2014) reminds kinesiology leaders that “truly being-in-the-world” together with colleagues, students, and fellow researchers enhances our human authenticity (p. 239). The kinesiology curriculum and research emerge from the fields root in human-based studies of physical activity. In addition, the field and discipline include impacts, trends, and science about individual and community health and society. Given the shifts anticipated in the future of higher education and work, this section revisits work of scholars that may ground kinesiology leaders in what to consider as they plan for the future of their kinesiology department.

Specifically, these scholars call on kinesiology to integrate the kinesiology subdisciplines as a way of and for the future (Bice et al., 2017, Knudson, 2016; Thomas, 2014). While their commentary focuses on the future direction of kinesiology research, it can also be considered for the teaching/learning and service aspects of the discipline. Knowledge generators and translators are key to building possibilities for the future that include “new tools, ideas, and dimensions for innovative future research questions” in kinesiology (Bice et al., 2017, p. 10). Furthermore, Lawson (2014) argues that this translator role is key for alumni and external stakeholders who hold potential to establish pathways within kinesiology departments for lifelong learning, particularly if considering online and alternative credential options. Kinesiology possesses a key strength with its human-centric disciplinary focus coupled with the capacity to integrate the multiple subdisciplines in curriculum development, research, and skills development. Therefore, faculty as teaching and research leaders may draw on adaptive, complexity, and transformational leadership tenets to influence students and colleagues by creating innovative credential approaches, experiential learning opportunities, and research agendas. Using their networks and relationships within their university units and those across partner universities can enable collaboration on future thinking activities that collect ideas and use promising practices for curriculum and research remaining relevant.

Focusing within the academy, we encourage kinesiology leaders to consider Heifetz and colleagues’ (Heifetz, 1994; Heifetz et al., 2004; Heifetz & Laurie, 1997) work about being adaptive while leaning on Lawson’s (2014) assertion to reduce being stagnant. Explicitly, Lawson (2014) calls on kinesiology to bridge with sister disciplines and generate excellence in our educational approach and service to the university. We further encourage kinesiology leaders to use the adaptive space (Uhl-Bien & Marion, 2017, 2018) and bring together the collective intelligence of faculty members, alumni, and students from various university units to support those departments and the university to prepare for the future developments of the 21st century. Kinesiology leaders are well positioned to see connections among these various departments and possess the leadership skills to influence and bridge kinesiology innovations to the larger university, disciplinary communities, and wider society. These leadership approaches may be employed to respond to Culp’s (2016) call “to strategically combat issues in our communities” (p. 273). Leaders must generate and work with an ethic of care, leveraging their positions to center community needs, social justice, and inclusive practices while considering future developments.

Kinesiology leaders employing adaptive, complexity, or transformational leadership approaches place people at the heart of learning and adapting to change. They may use terms like dialogue, collaboration, and cocreation. Working in this adaptive space, building trust, and steering conversations with colleagues and community stakeholders takes time, patience, and skill to ensure the status quo does not remain, but instead, people act together for meaningful change. Employing dialogue, collaboration, and cocreation to influence others promotes learning to prepare for the future and to teach students to be ready for the future. Culp (2016) notes that the dialogue in these collectives not only enhances community health but affords time to interrogate histories in a manner that uses the conflict to strengthen kinesiology’s collective trajectory toward democratic and socially just action. Transforming kinesiology students, faculty, and departments requires leaders to “get on the balcony” and include people in a way that allows them to imagine, to debate, and to embrace the future as lifelong learners. As scholars of human physical activity and related health impacts, this collective bridging and considering of interests will position departments and leaders “for the social, political, cultural, and economic realities of the 21st century” (Lawson, 2014, p. 273). Kinesiology leaders with a transformational vision and adaptive space are key to continue the momentum of the field with leaders prepared to anticipate for and lead into the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Concluding Implications

This paper overviews three leadership approaches to address complex, disruptive problems influencing higher education and kinesiology. Such problems will require flexible and impactful leaders ready to work with various stakeholders to ensure solutions are found and implemented. These solutions, like those tied to future employment of our graduates, remain undefined and yet will emerge from the collective intelligence of people and artificial intelligence. Empowering kinesiology leaders with intentional leadership approaches will enable them to work with their internal and external communities to position for the future. With 33% of skills in job postings from 2017 no longer required in 2021, developing resilient kinesiology graduates who are prepared to adapt and upskill requires innovative leadership and creative partnerships (Stokes et al., 2021).

The COVID-19 pandemic and Fourth Industrial Revolution introduce significant challenges to higher education. Leading people effectively in this context requires leaders to balance various needs while sustaining the practices that ground higher education and the field of kinesiology. Realizing and activating leadership in kinesiology that centers on human interactions, the imperative is that future curriculum, research, and community outreach must include multiple perspectives. These perspectives must coalesce the concepts of critical thinking, empathy, adaptability, and communication. Ensuring that kinesiology learners are intellectually prepared for a rapidly changing future, while teaching skills of relevance for today and the future, will require blending the art and science of adaptability, complexity thinking, and transformational leadership.


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