Final Reflections: A Humbling Experience

Quiet Reflections by M.Sharpe

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.

Present Day

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):

  1. Creates safe environment that promotes trust
  2. Values open communication
  3. Connects work to organization mission
  4. Builds self-esteem and confidence
  5. Respects diverse cultures and customs
  6. Challenges beliefs and assumptions

The Future

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!

References

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 performanceJournal of Management Development35(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/

 

The Human Factor in Leading Change

Figure 1. Summary of three perspectives on change management by M. Sharpe.

A recent conversation with three colleagues from higher education, health care and business about successful change management practices revealed shared beliefs that leading change begins with a ‘people first’ mindset. Two of the three leaders interviewed had led change efforts while the third colleague had experienced multiple change initiatives in her career. Although they did not identify any specific change management models, all three noted the importance of people-focused leadership and identified elements they believed are important to leading change and which support a ‘people first’ approach (see Figure 1). None of the interviewees had experience leading change in a digital learning environment; nevertheless, they agreed that regardless of the environment, change initiatives are more likely to fail when leaders or change agents do not take the human factor into consideration. All three colleagues took the position that organizational readiness, and employee buy-in and involvement in change efforts are more likely to support successful planning and management of change initiatives.

Organizational readiness is often an overlooked factor in leading change, yet plays a critical role in determining how prepared an organization is to implement change (Al-Haddad & Kotnour, 2015; Biech, 2007; Weiner, 2009). Weiner (2009) suggested that if change is highly valued by change recipients, there is a higher likelihood employees will exhibit the necessary behaviors and collective actions to embrace change. One of the interviewees, who oversaw human resources in a health care setting, reinforced Weiner’s (2009) notion that organizational readiness must consider people’s psychological and behavioral readiness for change. She pointed out that leaders who assessed organizational readiness from a cultural and structural standpoint were often able to identify gaps in readiness and address these gaps proactively by fostering an environment in which employees could voice their concerns. In turn, this two-way communication and inclusivity helped to create trust and support for change initiatives, or at least determine whether or not the organization was ready to move forward in change implementation. To this point, Biech (2007) advised that higher levels of successful change efforts are achieved as a result of employee investment and capacity, and indicated that assessing organizational readiness is key to this process. By assessing organizational readiness, resistance to change can be better understood and managed when change recipients are included and valued for their contributions in not only the planning stages of change but in implementation efforts as well.

                Building trust and confidence in support of change efforts can be achieved through employee involvement, buy-in and transparency in communication. All three colleagues supported this perspective (see Figure 1) with the acknowledgement that it takes time to develop trust and requires leadership commitment to not only listen but also value diverse input from a wide range of employees. To increase employee involvement and input in which decision making is not only top-down, Antwi and Kale (2014) proposed emergent change management models that favor bottom-up approaches. Given accelerated pace and complexity of change, Antwi and Kale (2014) argued that senior management may be better positioned to deal with such change by involving employees in decision-making around change efforts. Both leaders who have led change were supportive of a bottom-up approach to also foster employee in-put and trust. Depending upon change type and size, these leaders suggested that using employees as change agents or liaisons could help to ensure multiple organizational interests and concerns were represented. A perspective also shared by my business colleague who expressed value in considering feedback from a range of stakeholders so as not to bias decisions. Such views align with Theory O, Beer, Eisenhardt and Spector’s (1990) Six-Step Method, and Galpin’s (1996) Wheel Method which consider employee involvement and input as essential to change management (as cited in Al-Haddad & Kotnour, 2015). Although the consensus from my colleagues advocated employee buy-in and involvement, it was clear they all agreed that such efforts can only arise from leadership that values people.

                What stands out from these three perspectives and the change management literature is 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. Therefore for change leadership to be successful, whether for a digital learning environment or not, organizational member engagement and involvement in change efforts needs to be factored into the planning and implementation of change initiatives. One of my colleagues wisely shared that if we recognize organizations as a living entity, then we cannot afford to ignore the human factor as part of leading change.

References

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.

Antwi, M., & Kale, M. (2014). Change Management in Healthcare: Literature Review, (January), 1–35.

Biech, E. (2007). Models for Change. In Thriving Through Change: A Leader’s Practical Guide to Change Mastery. Alexandria, VA: ASTD [Books24x7 database].

Weiner, B. J. (2009). A theory of organizational readiness for change. Implementation Science, 4(67).

U2/A1: Change Management – It starts with People

Leading for me ideally revolves around the strength and contributions of those who hold a shared vision. This is not exclusive to only a group of decision makers, rather it involves the people who will be impacted by change when it is implemented. As a result, I gravitate towards theories/models that factor in organizational culture as a necessary consideration. To this point, Biech (2007) suggests considering the role of organizational culture in change management cautioning that “if the change is too different from the culture, it will create disconnects and be a continuing stumbling block for successful implementation” (under Techniques, Approaches, and Frameworks, para 6). Theory O, which Al-Haddad and Kotnour (2015) describe as a “soft approach” to leading change places value on fostering organizational culture and investing in people’s abilities. With a focus on high levels of employee participation, Theory O views building connections between employees and the organization as essential so that people feel invested in the organization they are helping (Biech, 2007). When organizational culture is disregarded, a loss of confidence and distrust result and the outcomes can quickly derail any efforts to implement change. These outcomes can come at a high cost to the organization and stall any type of productive change indefinitely not to mention devaluing employees.

Two methods that place value on employee involvement in change management are the Six-Step method, developed by Beer, Eisenhardt and Spector (1990), and Galpin’s (1996) Wheel method (as cited in Al-Haddad & Kotnour, 2015). The Six-Step method actively involves people from the start of problem identification (step 1) through to resolution and change implementation (step 6) (Al-Haddad & Kotnour, 2015). Noting that organizational change failures arise when people are not factored into the process, Galpin’s Wheel method as discussed by Armenakis and Bedeian (1999), “acknowledges the importance of taking account of the organization’s culture, policies, customs, norms and reward system when implementing change” (as cited in Al-Haddad & Kotnour, 2015, p. 47). Both these methods ideally align with my leadership approach and organizational context because they view people as an integral part of the change process rather than as bystanders to be pushed aside. However, what stands out as equally critical to implementing change is the notion of organizational readiness.

We have all experienced our fair share of change in organizations, but how many of those changes were implemented without consideration of organizational readiness? Weiner’s (2009) approach to organizational readiness relies on a “shared psychological state in which organizational members feel committed to implementing an organizational change and confident in their collective abilities to do so” (p. 1). Drawing from social cognitive theory and motivation theory, Weiner (2009) suggests that conditions to support organizational readiness can be achieved through change commitment and change efficacy. For change commitment to occur, organizational members must “collectively value the change” and commit to it (Weiner, 2009, p. 5). Change efficacy results from a shared belief amongst organizational members in their ability to collectively “implement a complex organizational change” (Weiner, 2009, p. 5). Furthermore, Weiner (2009) makes a clear distinction between organizational “capacity and readiness” that could alleviate “ambiguity in the meaning and use of the term ‘readiness’” (p. 7).

In my experience as an employee and manager undergoing massive organizational change, it is this distinction between readiness and capacity that could have better supported efforts to implement change. Although the capacity (structural resources) in our organization for change existed, in reality the organizational readiness was low. The lack of staff change commitment and change efficacy ultimately led to an unravelling of the change initiatives that were unsuccessfully implemented. What this signals is that for change management to be effective it has to consider people and the organizational culture at the forefront, and trust and transparency from the Leadership is core to fostering this level of readiness for change.

References

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]

Weiner, B. J. (2009). A theory of organizational readiness for change. Implementation Science, 4(67).

 

Personal Leadership Reflection: Leading From Within

Leadership is, at root, about understanding and managing our own internal experience (Schaetti, Ramsey, & Watanabe, 2008, p. 4).

The majority of my leadership experiences are grounded in higher education as an instructor and administrator of continuing education programs. In the past two years, I have been greatly influenced by the principles and practices of Personal Leadership, an intercultural communications methodology developed by Barbara Schaetti, Sheila Ramsey, and Gordon Watanabe. It draws from a theoretical base that uses leadership development, intercultural communication, positive psychology, wisdom traditions, and personal development to navigate differences that arise in intercultural exchanges (Schaetti, Ramsey, & Watanabe, 2008). As a result of Personal Leadership, my leadership style has shifted from an extrinsic to intrinsic focus, which I call leading from within. At its core, leading from within fosters emotional intelligence and closely aligns with the tenets of reflective leadership, a “conscious awareness of behaviors, situations and consequences with the goal of improving organizational performance”(Castelli, 2016, p. 217).  Although I have limited experience leading digital change, I believe the qualities of emotional intelligence could prove resourceful to leading change in a digital learning or work-related environment.

To understand emotional intelligence, Howard Gardner’s (1986) efforts to refute beliefs that a standardized test could determine a person’s intelligence should be recognized (as cited in Goleman, 1995). It was Gardner’s questioning of IQ that sparked theorists to further examine if only one form of intelligence existed (Goleman, 1995). Thankfully theorists such as Salovey and Mayer (1990) expanded on Gardner’s work and identified emotional intelligence as a  “subset of social intelligence that involves the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and actions” (under emotional intelligence, para 1). Through the development of competencies that comprise emotional intelligence: self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skill, Goleman (1998/2004) brought emotional intelligence to the forefront of business. His research demonstrated a link between high levels of emotional intelligence and effective performance in the workplace (Goleman, 1998/2004). When I first learned of this term, I had no understanding how important it would become to my leadership style. The destructive actions and behaviors of a former leader, although and individual who was intelligent and competent, resulted in a toxic, demoralizing environment that impacted departmental performance and employee turnover. This experience made me reconsider the significance of emotional intelligence as a required leadership trait.

As I have come to appreciate the value of emotional intelligence, I have also begun to recognize its symbiotic relationship to other leadership traits such as communication. Transparent communication is essential in any environment, but with increasing use of digital communications in the workplace and online learning environments, it takes on renewed importance. Castelli (2016) implied that as a result of globalization businesses have entered a new reality which requires, more than ever, the ability to  understand “differing communication practices and cultural values” (p. 223). Sheninger (2014) identified communication as one of the seven pillars of digital leadership emphasizing the importance of two-way communication. Although two-way communication is important, what seems more pressing is understanding cultural values and how they influence our communication particularly in an online setting. For instance, asynchronous communication modalities often lack social and facial cues which enhance communication. Goleman (1998/2004) raised the issue of increased cross-cultural misunderstandings in a globalized work setting arguing that an empathetic mindset, a component of emotional intelligence, is critical in resolving such misunderstandings. Based on my experience working on transnational projects with multiple international partners, misunderstandings were frequent, and frustrations arose despite the best intentions. It was only upon recognition of shared goals toward successful completion of these projects that enabled project teams to move forward. To achieve this state an empathetic mindset helped unite us and understand each other’s perspectives.

Although the ability to challenge beliefs and assumptions does not frequently appear in leadership quality lists, it enables us to think outside of the status quo which is often necessary in leading change. Castelli (2016) argued that the push to challenge static patterns of thinking requires a willingness to change, and openness to alternative perspectives and views on how the world works. The impact of globalization and the rate of change introduced by digital technologies are increasing and more likely to invite resistance. Khan (2017) advocates for adaptive leadership as a flexible and responsive solution to managing the changing landscape of higher education. Despite resistance that can arise if people feel their values and beliefs are challenged, Khan (2017) makes a case that an adaptive leadership approach is a viable solution to support organizational change. It is this ability to examine and challenge our own beliefs and assumptions when necessary that support effective change to the benefit of any environment. I have learned that feelings of resistance to an idea, person or perspective that may challenge my closely-held beliefs and values are often driven by fear. A fear of losing control, losing my identity or appearing incompetent. This is why emotional intelligence outweighs other attributes because it helps us to reflect and work through these fears providing the courage to challenge beliefs and assumptions that no longer serve a purpose.

What I have learned through the course of developing my leadership practice is that there are core qualities which serve as the foundation of any leadership approach regardless of the context. As a result, I believe emotional intelligence is the foundation from which other necessary leadership qualities can evolve, and which will hopefully support my growth in leading change for digital learning environments. Transparent communication and the ability to challenge beliefs and assumptions are two such qualities which I believe can flourish as a result of higher emotional intelligence.

References

Castelli, P. (2016). Reflective leadership review: A framework for improving organisational performance. Journal of Management Development, 35(2), 217-236.

Goleman, D. (2004, January). What makes a leader? Harvard Business Review, 82(1), 1-11. (Original article published in 1998).

Goleman, D. (1995). Emotional intelligence. New York, New York: Bantam Books.

Key Step Media. (2016, November 14). Crucial competence: Emotional and social intelligence in leadership [Video file]. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/GQhbFkB-oLc

Khan, N. (2017). Adaptive or transactional leadership in current higher education: A brief comparison. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 18(3), 178-183.

Salovey, P., & Mayer, J. D., (1990, March 1). Emotional intelligence. Imagination, Cognition and Personality, 9(3), 185-211. doi:10.2190/DUGG-P24E-52WK-6CDG

Schaetti, B. F., Ramsey, S. J., & Watanabe, G. C. (2008). Personal leadership. Seattle, WA: FlyingKite Publications.

Sheninger, E. (2014). Pillars of digital leadership. International Centre for Leadership in Education.