Over the last few days, I have started writing this blog post probably five different ways. Each time it felt wrong, and I started over again. Eventually, I decided to stop writing, step back, and assess why I was finding it so difficult. I realized that I struggled with this post for two reasons. First, I see leadership as how a person acts, not the position they hold. Second, I have yet to see fundamental attributes that set leadership in digital environments apart as something unique. As such, every time I began to write a post that would respond to the provided prompts, I found myself struggling with the prompt itself. Therefore, I have chosen to write a post that reflects on these two areas of struggle in order to better understand my own position regarding leadership in digital learning environments.

My perspective of leadership has been shaped over the years from experiences in my youth, leadership in organizations, and various readings. Using leadership distinctions presented by O’Toole (2008), my early years taught me that leadership should be a mix of paternalistic and servant leadership. On the other hand, most of my working life has had me working under leaders that used a mix of power, cognitive, and transformational styles, with claims of a shared leadership style that was never actualized. Whether for right or wrong, this caused me to interpret the term “leadership” as an authority figure I am required to follow, whether their style or attributes made me desire to follow or not. Those who I felt conveyed traits of a good leader rarely held a position of authority, rather they were those I went to for advice, who sought to improve their community, or cared more for those around them than their own comfort. To connect this with the attributes from the activity, they were caring, intelligent, supportive, honest, and cooperative. These attributes are more in line those of aboriginal (Julien et al., 2010) or values-based (O’Toole, 2008) leadership than my experience with corporate leaders. Leaders I respect are not focused on ambition or independence, they create a supportive environment with room for honesty, imagination, and broad-mindedness, without losing sight of the need to build up the people around them. They understood, just as can be seen in O’Toole (2008) and Julien at al. (2010), that a leader is not a position of authority, it is who you are whether you have authority or not.

Though my view of leaders is detached from their position, I understand that people who hold positions of authority act as leaders, and now most leaders do so within digital environments. But does the context of the environment impact the underlying needs of organizational leadership? I should clarify that I refer to leadership that participates within digital spaces (Sheninger, 2014) rather than a specific organizational role that is meant to direct how technology is used by the organization to reach goals (Wade & Obwegeser, 2019). Kane et al. (2019) wrote about what makes digital leadership unique, describing the increased pace, need for a clear vision, understanding of the digital world, and the ability to adapt to change, as being integral to digital leadership. Similarly, Sheninger (2014) defined seven pillars for digital leadership in education that include the need understand communication, public relations, branding, student engagement, professional development, learning spaces, and new opportunities through a digital lens. I offer that these ideas are not unique to digital environments and that organizational leaders have needed to adapt to these changes since business began. Whether from the introduction of the printing press, telegraph, fax machine, or email, leaders have always had to adapt to new technology and an increasing pace of work. Establishing an organization’s vision, finding novel ways to approach public relations, and the need for keeping staff educated has been necessary whether the world communicated through twitter or the postal service. The world has always been a place of change, and I understand that digital leadership principles offered by Sheninger (2014) and Kane et al. (2019) are important to help those who are unsure of how to adapt to this changing. Still, I feel that good leaders in a digital learning context are good leaders within a traditional learning context. They follow leadership principles like those presented by Castelli (2016), such as adapting to change, respecting their colleagues, communicating openly, and challenging what was done in the past. These attributes are not dependent on whether leading in traditional or digital environments, they empower teams in whatever environment they inhabit.


Castelli, P. A. (2016). Reflective leadership review: A framework for improving organisational performance. The Journal of Management Development, 35(2), 217–236. http://dx.doi.org.ezproxy.royalroads.ca/10.1108/JMD-08-2015-0112

Julien, M., Wright, B., & Zinni, D. M. (2010). Stories from the circle: Leadership lessons learned from aboriginal leaders. The Leadership Quarterly, 21(1), 114–126. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.leaqua.2009.10.009

Kane, G. C., Phillips, A. N., Copulsky, J., & Andrus, G. (2019). How Digital Leadership Is(n’t) Different. MIT Sloan Management Review, 60(3), 34–39. http://search.proquest.com/docview/2207927776/abstract/8A139DE1C55D4BB5PQ/1

O’Toole, J. (2008). Notes Toward a Definition of Values-Based Leadership. The Journal of Values-Based Leadership, 1(1), 10. https://scholar.valpo.edu/jvbl/vol1/iss1/10

Sheninger, E. (2014). Pillars of Digital Leadership. International Center for Leadership in Education, 4. http://leadershipmedia.net/pdf/LeadingintheDigitalAge_11.14.pdf

Wade, M., & Obwegeser, N. (2019). How to Choose the Right Digital Leader for Your Company. MIT Sloan Management Review, 60(4), 1–4. http://search.proquest.com/docview/2239539576/abstract/C7069D4598B94576PQ/1