Case #12: Holistically Supporting Applied Leadership in a Higher Education Institute


DISCIPLINE: Leadership in Higher Education
RESEARCH AREAS: Applied leadership, holistic faculty and learner support models, excellence in thought and action leadership, empowerment and change management, curriculum design and quality assurance system


The FREEDOM Institute of Higher Education is a private higher education institute in New Zealand dedicated to facilitation, management and advanced and applied leadership in the professional fields of business, health and higher education (FREEDOM Prospectus).

FREEDOM’s objective is to ‘create thought and action leaders for the world and it achieves this through quality immersive leadership programs, expert educational facilitation, holistic faculty and learner support systems (Fielden, Stevenson, Going, Grant, & Zagala, in press), and the provision of multiple real world opportunities for learners and faculty to practice leading in the institute, community, workplaces and fields. Learners and faculty leadership projects include leading positive changes or promoting a cause or vision. These challenging projects in turn support the development of the Institute’s educational facilitator faculty to become educational leaders and their learners to follow pathways into leadership in a diverse array of fields, professions and endeavors. For example, the 2018 postgraduate applied leadership projects included dental care for local migrant and refugee communities, community diversity workshops, holistic well-being planning for community organisations, increasing retailer profitability and sustainability, evaluation and continuous improvement of a hospital IT systems.


This case study documents an immersive and holistic of institute approach to leadership development. Institute educational leaders begin supporting learners’ leadership goals and aspirations from before learners physically arrive at the Institute. National and international learners pursuing professional qualifications at FREEDOM apply for the program, are interviewed and, if selected, commence and may remain at the institution for up to six years. Faculty lead within their areas of expertise, assisted by practicing real world sector leaders who may also mentor learners. Educational facilitators and learners employ work-integrated, practice-based, interactive and reflective practice-based learning approaches to co-create opportunities, where the application of learning is experienced first in the institute and then progressively in real-world contexts. Learners regularly reflect (Kolb, 1984) and share their insights in a community of practice with peers, faculty and community to continuously improve their leadership effectiveness. The cycles of philosophy, theory, research and practice-based learning, followed by personal reflection, ensure that faculty and learners apply and improve their leadership practice through multiple real-world leadership learning opportunities. These are provided through applied research and community projects, workplace change initiatives, workplace leadership experiences, tutoring, supervision, coaching and mentoring (Jones, 2017). Evaluative research with employers of Institute graduates support the view that the resulting graduates are professional confident, work-ready and willing and able to take responsibility and lead.


The Five-Pillar Model of educational leadership is a valuable framework not just for educational leaders but in a broader sense for also creating field, professional and community leaders for tomorrow. The Five-Pillar Model purposefully supports development of faculty and learners in the following key areas:

Affective Qualities: Creating an environment where leaders, both educational facilitators and learners may collectively have weekly discussions on a twenty-point Institute Professional Honour Code which encourages communication, self-assessment and reflection on affective qualities such as empathy, integrity, honesty and openness. Institutional leadership, faculty and learners all follow the same professional honour code as employees, contractors and learners.

Mentorship & Empowerment: Creating a supportive and safe environment between leadership, faculty and learners by engaging in formal and informal mentorship of leaders within the institution, workplaces and in the community, ultimately builds confidence in new leaders. A key element in the effectiveness of educational leadership is mentorship by experienced others; this in turn empowers both educational facilitators and their learners to become passionate leaders who through their leadership capabilities can make real world changes at multiple levels.

“A key element in the effectiveness of educational leadership is mentorship by experienced others; this in turn empowers both educational facilitators and their learners to become passionate leaders who through their leadership capabilities can make real world changes at multiple levels.”

Action-Orientation: Promoting acts of leadership by faculty and learners builds confidence, knowledge and skill levels while honing beliefs, values, attitudes and the support systems leaders need. Learners within such a community of practice also develop the capacity to collegially support and encourage each other to achieve increasingly greater and more complex leadership feats. Anderson (2016) states that “students involved in leadership are by implication also involved in the day to day running of the school. A greater benefit of this is that by working together on school or wider community projects relationships between students and staff are strengthened. Students in leadership positions begin to take responsibility for their school. This in turn builds a positive school culture” (p. 21).

Teaching Excellence: Promoting and displaying educational leadership and especially professional feedback and feedforward skills, facilitators and learners support one another to identify each other’s needs, thereby optimising and accelerating learning by both parties. As teaching excellence results in exceptional learning, it also heightens real-world leadership capabilities. Giving and receiving regular feedback and feedforward in ‘safety’ creates an environment where facilitators and learners can improve rapidly. This enables both parties to adapt and adopt ideas from each other to build teaching excellence within the institution and for learners in their future places of employment and leadership roles.

Pedagogical Research: By incorporating action and appreciative inquiry-based research methods and working alongside faculty, learners, workplaces or community organisations, learners can create and publish works that add value locally, nationally and internationally. As Cooperrider and Whitney (2005) have noted, “The seeds of change are implicit in the very first questions we ask” (p. 85). Appreciative inquiry-based research puts students in the role of leaders, creating a vision and planning a change pathway. For example, as part of their program, a postgraduate leadership learner who had previously worked in a traditional human resource manager role for many years led a holistic and Indigenous model-based well-being initiative with community organisations. This has considerable potential to generate written and audio-visual research publications that support improvements in the holistic well-being of employees.


The short-term impact of creating an environment that encourages and promotes leadership within and between faculty, learners and community has had positive effects such as creating and building supportive and ongoing relationships, links with local community, fields and professions. The long-term impacts are expanding currently beyond the local environment and into the national and international environments as alumni, faculty and graduates gain leadership roles while being maintained by a strong supportive alumni and community network.


Anderson, R. (2016). Investigating changing patterns in student leadership in secondary schools. Wellington: Ministry of Education – Educational Leaders.

Cooperrider, D., & Whitney, D. (2005). Appreciative inquiry: A positive revolution change. In P. Holman, T. Devane, & S. Cady, (Eds.), The change handbook (pp. 73-89). Oakland, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

Fielden, K., Stevenson, S., Going, N., Grant, S., & Zagala, K. (In press). Whare tapa rima: The five-sided home holistic learner support model. Wellington: Ako Aotearoa- Press.

Jones, D. (2017). Leadership material: How personal experiences shape executive presence. UK: Hodder & Stoughton.

Kolb, O.A. (1984). Experiential learning: Experience as the source of learning and development (Vol. 1). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.


Headshot of Eliot Henderson

Eliot Henderson has held a role as a Director of the FREEDOM Institute of Higher Education and the New Zealand Curriculum Design Institute for over seven years. This directorship followed roles at Te Wananga O Aotearoa and in the retail sector in New Zealand. Eliot currently facilitates applied higher education leadership programs, focused on educational facilitation, curriculum design and educational management and leadership. He also provides consulting services to institutions seeking to improve quality and enhance faculty capability. A key work area is currently supporting the development of robust and innovative assessment through external moderation and professional development to support assessment design and implementation.


Alongside his directorship work, Eliot serves as Academic and Operations Manager at the FREEDOM Institute. Eliot has been a key part of the team implementing the Whare Tapa Rima – The Five- Sided Home – Faculty and Learner Support Model which won a national Best Practice Grant from Ako Aotearoa. The research will be published in written and film form in late 2019. Eliot is also engaged in the development of a national Business Leadership Needs project which will gather information about the needs of micro and small business sustainability requirements in New Zealand.



Leadership Institute Aotearoa New Zealand (LIAN)
International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (ISSoLT)
Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia (HERDSA)
Australia/New Zealand Evaluators Association (ANZEA)