Leadership in the Pressure Cooker

Photo by Robert Anasch on Unsplash

February ninth, I authored Digital leaders wanted: Applications accepted online only in which I reflected upon preferred leadership traits identified by Kouzes and Posner (2012) and postulated that the qualities leaders required for modernized learning environments were evolving.  Sheninger (2019) posited that digital learning environments required digital leaders that would champion the use of digital technologies, which is no surprise to someone in the field, and who walks the tightrope, balancing at the intersection of pedagogy and technology.  Seven weeks have passed since authoring that piece. Upon reflection, I cannot help noting the quirk of fate unfolding, with the presently occurring world events not only permeating through the membrane of ordinary life but also within my work and studies.  Educational technologies have become the popular kids, with institutions and faculty scrambling to shift teaching and learning to remote delivery in the wake of social distancing and campus closures.  These events have impacted and changed my perspective of needed leadership qualities, as the moving parts become increasingly complex, occurring in a time, space, distance, and dollars pressure cooker.  Leaders will continue to require the seminal traits identified by Kouzes and Posner (2012), and digital leadership (Sheninger, 2019) becomes more relevant, as the whole world seemingly realizes the potential of educational technologies.  Also evident to us in the trenches are the enormous gaps that exist, barriers that require project leaders to approach these changes empathetically.

Leaders in this pressure cooker have not had the luxury of time to plan for these changes and implementations strategically.  Plans drafted mere weeks ago, envisioned and detailed on organized Gantt charts (Gantt.com, 2016, para. 1), are suddenly injected with unprecedented urgency as project leaders quickly embrace the transformation of traditional learning environments and re-envision teaching and learning.  The sudden influx of requests from faculty for support in using technologies to support students in meeting course learning outcomes has been a little overwhelming, but we are all muddling through.  I am fortunate that my leaders possess the seminal and digital leadership characteristics identified by Kouzes and Posner (2012), and Sheninger (2019) and who have embraced a collaborative approach, designating each member of the Teaching and Learning Commons as invaluable champions of change.  My role in supporting this change is targeted; nevertheless, it is fluid with the needs of every situation.  Hundreds of faculty and thousands of students; necessitate individualized supports.  Considerations of digital skills and literacies, access, data and security, connectivity, devices, equipment, and readiness (Weiner, 2019) are vital in each situation.  Moving diverse faculty into varying degrees of digital spaces; requires empathy, training, and resources.  I am discovering that being a leader of change in these times demands innovative approaches, collaboration, a positivist attitude, confidence, knowledge, and extreme flexibility.

In recent weeks, our daily interactions have changed, as have our social conventions, our considerations for safety and security, and how we work and learn.  Educational technologies have become the flavour of the day; the popular kids; and instructional designers, strategists, and project leaders are learning in motion how to support this sudden interest.  Perhaps the trick is in triaging want versus need, the emergent continuance of education versus a sudden shift to online learning; maybe the method is the acknowledgement that we are all in this time of change together and must all exhibit the desired characteristic of leaders.

Are you a leader of change in the pressure cooker? What leadership traits do you consider vital in this chaotic and transformational time?


Gantt.com (2016). What Is a Gantt Chart? Gantt Chart Information, History and Software. [online] Retrieved from http://www.gantt.com

Kouzes, J., & Posner, B. (2012). The leadership challenge: How to make extraordinary things happen in organizations (5th ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Sheninger, E. (2019, December). Pillars of Digital Leadership. International Centre for Leadership in Education. Retrieved from http://leadered.com/pillars-of-digital-leadership/

Weiner, B. J. (2009). A theory of organizational readiness for change. Implementation Science, 4(1), 67. https://doi.org/10.1186/1748-5908-4-67



4 thoughts on “Leadership in the Pressure Cooker

  1. Blog comment for Lisa Gedak:
    Hi Lisa, thank you for such a great, and timely post.

    I’m sure we all can relate to your analogy of the pressure cooker. Timelines have been condensed to a degree that was unimaginable only 3 months ago. This absence of available time makes it vital that decisions made are framed with the greater good in mind. I worry that this headlong rush into the digital delivery world may inadvertently neglect some of the human needs associated with successful digital learning. Things like finding new ways of assessing learning that do not involve face to face interactions, or the allowance for more creative displays of understanding concepts.

    Peter Senge speaks of the need to recognize the human contribution of the enterprise both individual and collective (Senge, 2015). We need to keep our intentions in line with the spirit of the enterprise which is ensuring that the students receive quality instruction of relevant materials. We need to be asking what relevancy specific material has and if it should still be included in the curriculum.

    I fear that some of my peers may be creating challenges for their students by trying to do “old things in the old way” only digitally, like videoing themselves writing on the dry erase board, suggesting that their material is “too complex for this type of delivery” or focusing on the technology without thought to how the material is going to be received by the user.

    Now more than ever we need to be vigilant to the needs of the students. Though we are all facing extreme challenges, the students are suddenly be told to be responsible for their own learning and with that could come a sense of being abandoned.

    For me, you have done a great job of summarizing what I too see and feel in my current situation. You recognize the gaps that are present between where we are and where we need to be and acknowledge the need to be empathetic towards our peers.

    Stay healthy,
    Owen Lloyd


    Sarder, R. (Producer). (2015). What makes a great leader? by Peter Senge, author of the Fifth Discipline. Retrieved from YouTube https://youtu.be/1aYaj2-GZqk

  2. Thank you for your comment Owen,

    I also “worry that this headlong rush into the digital delivery world may inadvertently neglect some of the human needs associated with successful digital learning” and am ever-reminding faculty of the assumptions we are making about our students, and attempting to humanize them, by suggesting we consider their learning needs, their digital access and device realities, and most importantly; that they are also going through an incredibly stressful time. It is easy to view things from our own perspective, but it takes work to approach these changes with empathy and understanding.

    I also see many faculty “trying to do “old things in the old way” only digitally” which is very concerning, both from a pedagogical perspective and the aforementioned humanistic lens.

    These are certainly interesting times my friend!

  3. Thank you, Lisa, for sharing your interesting thoughts on leadership.

    In my opinion, the analogy of the pressure cooker you used to describe the lack of time to plan for such digital changes strategically is definitely accurate. However, if we look at the positive side of these circumstances and just like food is better cooked using a pressure cooker, I believe leaders will have a positive outcome eventually.

    The first step in Leading Change Method by Kotter (1996) is establishing a sense of urgency. This has already been established in organizations that are seeking and implementing digital changes currently. Kotter (1996) postulated that the sense of urgency for implementing a change will enable leaders to build a capable team to support real potential crises. In such time, the COVID-19 crisis is putting a sense of urgency on all leaders worldwide. This pressure will help leaders become more realistic and adaptive when proposing solutions. Their vision and strategy to address changes are paving the way for future generations that will someday be responsible for implementing innovative technologies!

    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. Retrieved from https://doi-org.ezproxy.royalroads.ca/10.1108/JOCM-11-2013-0215

  4. Hi Tala,

    Thanks for your comments!

    I LOVE the positive spin:) Yes, I agree that great “food is better cooked” in a pressure cooker; and the current situation we are in will surely result in some awesome opportunities for advancement.

    Many institutions have had their eye on educational technologies for some time, but this crisis has emphasized the need to support teaching and learning with these modernizations. The added urgency offers institutions an opportunity to be innovative, collaborative, and to consider what these technological affordances can support in the (not-so-distant) future.

    Thanks again,

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