Thinking back to my initial post on leadership at the start of this course, my perspective has not changed so much as it has broadened and deepened. I continue to hold a strong belief in leading from within, which for me, means the ability to self-reflect, empathize and exhibit self-awareness (Sharpe, 2019a). After being introduced to reflective leadership (Castelli, 2016), I have found myself gravitating toward this approach recognizing more than ever the value that reflective practices bring to building team relationships. In a previous post, The Human Factor in Leading Change, conversations with colleagues who had either led or experienced change revealed “that leading change with a ‘people first’ mindset conveys a message that people matter. When people feel valued they are more likely to support change” (Sharpe, 2019b). These conversations, along with course activities and readings, have deepened my appreciation for reflective leadership as a core practice that supports an empathetic and emotional intelligence mindset. However, it is my recent experience returning to work that has reinforced the value of a reflective approach to leading change and left me feeling rather humbled.
Back in Time
At one time, I made the difficult decision to leave a position in an organization that was in the early stages of what would turn out to be massive upheaval. Change decisions were made without a thorough understanding of the systems and how people functioned in that system. Biech (2007) acknowledged that through a Systems Theory lens when one change occurs it creates changes in other sections of the system, thus impacting the whole system. Second the teams who contributed to building the systems and processes were no longer involved in decision-making. Al-Haddad and Kotnour (2015) offered that if people undergoing change are given the opportunity to provide feedback, this fosters a sense of investment: “when employees feel that change belongs to them, this holds them more responsible to ensure change succeeds” (p. 245). Within a short span of time teams were dismantled, processes unraveled, programs discontinued and naturally chaos ensued. In other words, the system began to fall apart.
I returned to this organization not to long ago, now under new leadership. The conscientious efforts on behalf of the new leader to connect with people, elicit employee input and genuinely recognize people’s contributions is making all the difference. It is a time of healing as well. As we move forward, leading a new path for change, ironically the models and systems, dismantled through the previous upheaval, are now our saving grace in restoring workflow processes. They serve as a familiar foundation from which to build out our programs, with the opportunity for re-imagining new learning spaces to serve the diverse needs of our learners. To participate in this new change endeavor, I feel very fortunate and at the same time humbled by the leadership displayed by colleagues who weathered the impact of these changes. The actions and behaviors of those colleagues who remained, along with the new leadership align closely with the six components of reflective leadership practice as outlined by Castelli (2016, p. 230):
- Creates safe environment that promotes trust
- Values open communication
- Connects work to organization mission
- Builds self-esteem and confidence
- Respects diverse cultures and customs
- Challenges beliefs and assumptions
As I delve deeper into my new position, I am becoming increasingly aware that the luxury of time and resources to plan for and lead impending changes will most likely be constrained. The pressure to perform quickly and generate revenue with dwindling resources are not unfamiliar. It is now the awareness of past lessons learned and the many considerations for leading change in digital learning environments that brings a fresh perspective to this effort. Knowing where to start with so many competing needs feels overwhelming at times. I remind myself of the strength of my colleagues who made it through the chaotic disruption and are now rebuilding the organization. With the knowledge and real-life evidence of the positive impact that reflective leadership can have in leading teams, this practice will serve as my ‘north star’ guiding me every step of the way. My hope is to start with small changes in consultation with colleagues and team members…and plan! Their presence as thought partners and change enablers throughout this next phrase will be critical to restoring and rebuilding the business. If you have experienced something similar or have any recommendations, would welcome your comments!
Al-Haddad, S., & Kotnour, T. (2015). Integrating the organizational change literature: a model for successful change. Journal of Organizational Change Management, 28(2), 234-262.
Biech, E. (2007). Models for change. In Thriving through change: A leader’s practical guide to change mastery. Alexandria, VA: ASTD [Books24x7 database].
Castelli, P. (2016). Reflective leadership review: a framework for improving organisational performance. Journal of Management Development, 35(2), 217-236.
Sharpe, M. (2019a, February 10). Personal leadership reflection: Leading from within [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://malat-webspace.royalroads.ca/rru0069/personal-leadership-reflection-leading-from-within/
Sharpe, M. (2019b, February 24). The human factor in leading change [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://malat-webspace.royalroads.ca/rru0069/the-human-factor-in-leading-change/