For this assignment I was asked to describe my approach to leadership, the leadership theories pertinent to leading change in digital learning and whether my leadership approach was impacted by the introduction of digital technologies. I will also discuss, according to my assessment, the most important attributes of a leader when working with digital learning which is propelled by vast changes following suite the extensive technological advancements taking place in today’s environment.
After reading the Kouzes and Posner (2003) article titled “The five practices of exemplary leadership”, I reflected on my managerial roles well before I assumed the role of a team leader. The authors’ five practices of exemplary leadership are: (a) model the way; (b) inspire a shared vision; (c) challenge the process; (d) enable to act, and (e) encourage the heart. I came to realize that early in my career I strived to demonstrate these leadership behaviours that underpinned my achievements throughout my professional journey. Specifically (a) I looked to model leaders who walked-the-talk and stood up for their beliefs; (b) I aligned my objectives with those of the organization; (c) I offered improved ways of doing things; (d) I embraced teamwork and a “we” spirit collaborating with others; and (e) I demonstrated perseverance in the face of difficulties.
Nevertheless, reflecting on my own people leadership approach, I conclude that it constitutes of a mix of Adaptive and Transactional (Khan, 2017) leadership approach, depending on the business environment I find myself in and the mandate of my role each time. My leadership approach becomes transactional as it relates to my interactions with my direct reports, peers and superiors. As such, a key attribute I strive to demonstrate is honesty. According to Kouzes and Posner (2012), honesty is one of the qualities that contribute to one’s credibility and “[c]redibility is the foundation of leadership” (p. 37). Being credible plays a big part in developing relationships between a leader and members of their team. Therefore, I have come to conclude that leadership is primarily a relationship practice (Kouzes & Posner, 2003). Regardless if this relationship is one-to-one or one-to-many, leaders must master the dynamics of this relationship and know how to mobilize others towards a shared aspiration. Moreover, George (2012) underlines the importance of mindfulness, which means “recognizing your feelings and emotions and keeping them under control, especially when faced with highly stressful situations (as cited in Castelli, 2016, p. 219). According to Castelli (2016), mindfulness and self-reflection go hand-by-hand and self-reflection may be useless if self-awareness is not developed first.
However, as digital learning technologies evolve and necessitate continuous change and forward thinking, I value the importance of Adaptive leadership. Khan (2017) states that “Adaptive leaders do not just make changes, they carefully recognize potential changes in the external environment and consider the best path that will positively affect the organization (p.179).” According to Khan (2017), Adaptive leadership “allows flexibility toward change and considers what is needed, rather than providing solutions based on past experience” (p.182). In the face of constant change in digital technologies and learning environments, I believe that two key leadership attributes play an important role in adaptive leadership: forward-thinking and risk-taking. Sheninger (2014) describes digital leadership as forward thinking because it addresses the need for a vision to allow future successes enabled by a leader’s ability to anticipate change. The author states that digital leadership requires a unique set of skills to “establish a vision for the effective use of technology” (p. 2) in learning environments. Therefore, within this fast-changing reality, a leader needs to be able to think ahead and stay responsive, anticipating changes before they take place. On the other hand, Huggins (2017) found in his study that effective leaders need to be tolerant and receptive to new ideas with “tolerance for risk” of potential failures (p. 10). This indicates that it is necessary to research well any technology-related solution early enough and with an open mindset because innovation cannot take place if tolerance for risk is not acceptable. This resonated with me as I reflected the time when I worked on a mobile learning project to convert printed textbooks to eBooks soon after Apple launched the first iPad in 2009. At the time, digital reading capabilities using tablets were very little explored and despite the risks and resistance I encountered by many internal departmental leaders (Publishing, Distribution, Legal and Marketing) the project was very well received by the audience and soon after, it became a huge commercial success surpassing commercial training revenue forecasts.
In conclusion, digital learning requires an increased level of flexibility, openness to change and tolerance for risk-taking. As Castelli (2016) states “too much action is taking place without thinking, with a ready-aim-fire kind of mentality” (Waddock & McIntosh, as cited in Castelli, 2016, p. 217). The question lies whether organizational cultures are receptive to these leadership attributes and whether decision makers are willing to support digital learning initiatives in the face of many competing priorities.
Castelli, P. (2016). Reflective leadership review: a framework for improving organizational performance. Journal of Management Development, 35(2), 217-236.
Huggins, K. (2017). Developing Leadership Capacity in Others: An Examination of High School Principals’ Personal Capacities for Fostering Leadership. International Journal of Education Policy and Leadership, 12(1).
Khan, N. (2017). Adaptive or transactional leadership in current higher education: A brief comparison. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 18(3), 178–183. https://doi.org/10.19173/irrodl.v18i3.3294
Kouzes, J., & Posner B. (2003). The five practices of exemplary leadership. Retrieved from http://www.pnbhs.school.nz/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/The-Five-Practices-of-Exemplary-Leadership.pdf
Kouzes, J., & Posner B. (2012). The Leadership Challenge (5th ed.), San Francisco Jossey-Bass
O’Toole, J. (2008). Notes Toward a Definition of Values-Based Leadership. The Journal of Values-Based Leadership, 1(1).
Sheninger, E. (2014). Pillars of digital leadership. International Centre for Leadership in Education.