Category Archives: LRNT 525

Looking Back on Leadership

Photo by Fran on Unsplash

Now that I’ve come to the end of a course on change leadership in digital learning environments, I’m inclined to look back on how my perspective has shifted throughout the process.  For the most part, throughout my career, I’ve been a very independent worker.  I’ve often held positions, including my current role, which require very little supervision, and my interactions with coworkers is largely transactional.  As a result, I’ve spent surprisingly little time thinking about leadership outside of the context of those in supervisory positions over me.  When I worked with Patrick Guichon, Mike MacKay, Jonathan Carpenter, and Cheryl-Haley Nix at the beginning of this course on a blog post on leadership attributes, it was from that personal supervisory perspective that I initially approached it (Carpenter et al., 2021).  I pictured what qualities I would value in someone in a managerial position to whom I would report.

Now, in hindsight, I recognize that leadership is so much more than managing people or supervising.  It’s not only about motivating people to see how their work benefits the success of the organization in addition to their own personal objectives, but how they can frequently be the same thing.  When individuals can be provided the insight that their own personal goals align with the goals of the organization, those individuals are motivated into action.  As a result, as someone who looks to move into more of a leadership position following my current studies, I need to better understand the motivations of my colleagues and how I can assist them in achieving success.  I need to think more about my place in the organization, as a part of the whole, rather than an individual working toward a unique goal.

Reference

Carpenter, J., Guichon, P., MacKay, M., Nix, C. H., & Rowe, C. (2021). Admired Leadership Attributes. Christopher’s Blog. https://malat-webspace.royalroads.ca/rru0162/

Toolkit for Change in Resistant Organizations

It was my pleasure to recently work with Cheryl-Haley Nix, Jonathan Carpenter, Michael MacKay, and Patrick Guichon on the development of a toolkit to be used to guide decision making in the implementation of educational technology in resistant organizations.  Feel free to watch the above video for an introduction, then take a look at the following PDF to get a more in depth look.

Toolkit for Change in Resistance Organizations (PDF)

I would love it if you could drop a comment with your thoughts!

Recent Project Reflection

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I was recently involved in a project to increase engagement in an upcoming learning space, currently under construction at my place of work.  The idea was to increase awareness of the space and the philosophy behind its existence and planned use.  I was temporarily teamed up with a small group of colleagues from various areas of the college to develop the engagement plan under the leadership of a manager more closely associated with the learning space.

While the engagement plan we developed showed promise, our recommendations to secure resources for its execution were never really considered and the resulting plan was never executed.  Looking back, having explored some of the literature on change implementation and project management, I now recognize that while we got some elements of the planning process right, there are some ways I would have approached this project differently.

To begin on a positive note, we did a good job of identifying the main stakeholders of the project and those who would benefit from being more engaged in the learning space.  We spent a lot of time considering who I now understand Murray-Webster and Simon (2006) would have called Saviours; those people who, once engaged, would act as the project’s cheerleaders.  We developed a profile of their interests, motivations, and connection to the college.  That profile was then used to build an interactive program to be delivered through Zoom which would build awareness of the space, deliver actionable instructional tools, and engage participants in a series of collaborative exercises.  Additionally, while we didn’t officially complete what Watt (2014) identified as a feasibility study, we did consider what resources those people who would execute the project would require to move forward, and made the appropriate recommendations.  Unfortunately, those recommendations were not seriously considered, and it was this that led to the project’s failure.

On the other hand, there was much we could have done better.  We did not have what Watt (2014) would have described as a critical path; a plan for the project including timelines identifying steps to be completed or risk holding up the entire project.  If we had taken the time to develop this path and followed it closely, almost certainly we would have recognized much earlier that nothing regarding the acquisition of the necessary resources was being done.  Another mistake we made was to not determine quantitative objectives that would have determined successful implementation of the project, as Watt recommended.  While the project didn’t get to the point where those quantitative objectives could have been measured, if it had, we would have eventually run into problems trying to measure the project’s success.  Having said all that, the largest downfall of our project, in my estimation, which led to its failure was our leader’s lack of understanding of the system in which we were working.  Conway et al. (2017) observed that a leader has to have a strong understanding of their system in order to arrive at the most appropriate solution for the problem.  Our leader’s lack of such an understanding is what led to our recommendations to acquire resources being ignored and when it was time for our small team to step back and hand off the project for implementation, there was no one in a position to hand it to.

I look forward to making use of the skills I’ve recently learned about change leadership and project management.  I will have countless projects ahead of me and I will increase the likelihood for their success if I take a little more time to take a systematic approach.

References

Conway, R., Masters, J., & Thorold, J. (2017). From design thinking to systems change: How to invest in innovation for social impact. In RSA Action and Research Centre. https://www.thersa.org/globalassets/pdfs/reports/rsa_from-design-thinking-to-system-change-report.pdf

Murray-Webster, R., & Simon, P. (2006). Making sense of stakeholder mapping. PM World Today, 8(11), 1–5. http://skat.ihmc.us/rid=1JGD4CJZ4-F9CF0Y-1KM6/SEMINAL stakeholder mapping in 3d.pdf

Watt, A. (2014). Project Management (2nd ed.). BCcampus. https://opentextbc.ca/projectmanagement/

Online Learning: Change Leadership

Throughout the last couple of weeks, I’ve been reading about change leadership.  In addition, I interviewed two of my co-workers, identified herein as Colleague 1 (C1) and Colleague 2 (C2), to discuss their experiences with change in a higher-learning institution.  I used the knowledge gathered from my readings, conversations, and own experiences to develop this model on how to initiate and implement change in an online learning environment.

1. Understand

In an institution of higher-learning, the power to implement instructional changes is held primarily by the faculty.  It was with that idea in mind that Fredericksen (2017) argued that “the online leader must demonstrate a more collaborative approach.”  A leader would need to work with faculty to make any significant changes to instructional methods.  This idea was reinforced when, in discussion regarding Fanshawe College’s successful transition to online learning amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, C1 stated that “the actual change has been because of the informal leaders in our team.”   In order to facilitate an effective collaboration, a leader should begin by developing a general understanding of the existing practices.  In that way, Kouzes and Posner (2011) argued that while leaders aren’t expected to know as much as the people doing the work, they should at least take the time to learn about the practices and people involved before initiating changes.  Personally, I’ve had experiences with supervisors who have tried to initiate change immediately following their hiring and this has always resulted in resentment and failure.

2. Identify

Once a leader has a strong understanding of the current practices, it’s time to look forward.  Where in the existing practice are there opportunities for innovation?  Kouzes and Posner (2011)  observed that “leaders must know where they are going.  They must have a destination in mind” (p. 6).  This idea was articulated well by C2 when they described the setting of a goal.

There’s got to be a conversation with… the end user, where you’re like, “Okay, how do you want this to look at the end of it”, to give you an idea of design… You have to have an end point in order to, you know, work backwards, so that you’ve got a roadmap.

It’s reckless to initiate a change without a defined end goal in mind.  How will you communicate your vision to your team if you can’t define it yourself?  You’ll also be much more likely to be successful if you’ve identified a clear objective to work towards.

3. Inspire

Following the identification of the objective, a leader should look to build a sense of value for that change in the minds of their constituents.  If constituents place value on the objective, they’ll be more inclined to put in the work necessary to bring it about.  Weiner (2009) identified a variety of reasons why constituents might value a change, including perceived benefits to the institution, their students, or themselves, alignment with their values, or a solution to an existing organizational problem.  For online learning in particular, this is an important step.  Glenn Jones and Davenport (2018) recognized that “many faculty have been wary of online education, in general, and reluctant to move their courses online, specifically” (p. 68).  They went on to observe that “it is important to note that the perceptions of faculty who have never taught online courses are in complete opposition to those faculty with the most experience with online courses” (p. 69).  This suggests that a possible cure to resistance of the adoption of online learning is exposure.  C2 recounted an experience with motivating a resistant faculty member to experiment with new technology.

I actually told one of my instructors, “You need to try.  You would not accept that answer from one of your students.  Oh, I can’t do this.  This is too hard.  You wouldn’t accept that…  You have to actually sit down, play with this, and see if you can make it work.”

Following the initial buy-in from faculty, it’s essential that the leader continuously remind their team of the objectives and necessity for the change.  C1 remarked that “the leader becomes the cheerleader, and from an ongoing perspective, reminds the team why the change is necessary.”

4. Act

When it comes time to implement the change, leaders should involve as many stakeholders as is reasonably possible.  Julien et al. (2010) asserted “that people will be committed to a leader’s vision when that leader has consulted and collaborated with them” (p. 125).  C1 reinforced this understanding by stating that “imposed change is what people hate.  If they’re involved in change… they’re going to be much more susceptible to it being a success.”

The likelihood of success is further increased when leaders plan for small, incremental wins throughout the implementation.  Small, frequent wins allow leaders the opportunity to recognize progress, reward engagement, and prove project validity to skeptics (Hamel, 2002; Kotter, 1995).   Some change initiatives can last months, or even years.  It’s been my experience with longterm change initiatives, that a lack of persistence and stamina in these situations can be  detrimental to successful implementation.

5. Integrate

Finally, upon successfully implementing change, a leader should widely communicate the success to the rest of the institution.  Hamel (2002) argued that in order for a change to be truly successful, it should be adopted throughout the entire organization.  Communicating success for widespread improvement of institutional practices is critical in online learning.  As previously mentioned, most skeptics of online learning lack experience with the format.  The greater the number of success stories, the greater the  likelihood of its acceptance.

References

Fredericksen, E. E. (2017). A national study of online learning leaders in US higher education. Online Learning, 21(2). https://doi.org/10.24059/olj.v21i2.1164

Glenn Jones, P. W., & Davenport, E. K. (2018). Resistance to change: HBCUs and online learning. Thought &Action, 34(1), 59–80. http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&AuthType=ip,uid&db=eric&AN=EJ1191460&site=ehost-live&scope=site

Hamel, G. (2002). Leading the revolution: How to thrive in turbulent times by making innovation a way of life (Revised). Harvard Business Review Press.

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

Kotter, J. P. (1995). Leading change: Why transformational efforts fail. Harvard Business Review1, MarchAp, 1–9. https://marketplace.animalsheltering.org/sites/default/files/webform/animal-care-expo-2019-handouts/Managing and Overcoming Resistance to Change_McFarland_Betsy_File 3.pdf

Kouzes, J. M., & Posner, B. Z. (2011). Credibility: How Leaders Gain and Lose It, Why People Demand It,. In Quality Management Journal (Vol. 19, Issue 3). https://doi.org/10.1080/10686967.2012.11918075

Weiner, B. J. (2009). A theory of organizational readiness for change. Implementation Science, 4(67), 1–9. https://doi.org/10.1186/1748-5908-4-67

Change: Readiness and Leadership

Photo by Suzanne D. Williams on Unsplash

This post is going to be a little disjointed, as I want to cover two relatively independent topics.  First, I would like to discuss the organizational readiness of Fanshawe College (my place of employment), leading into the first few months of the COVID-19 pandemic, and then I will shift to how I intend to incorporate some new (to me) concepts of change leadership into my own practice going forward.  I hope you enjoy the read.

Fanshawe’s Readiness for Change

While it’s still early to draw any definitive conclusions regarding the success of Fanshawe College’s shift to online and blended learning in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, I would like to illustrate how its organizational readiness for the change will likely have had an impact on the outcome.  Weiner (2009) argued that the level of an organization’s change readiness has an impact on the likelihood of the success of the implementation of that change.  He went on to indicate three main areas impacting organizational readiness, including Change Valence, Change Efficacy, and Contextual Factors.  The Change Valence, or the value an organization’s members put on the need for the change, at Fanshawe was high due to the necessity of that change.  Weiner observed that “the more organizational members value the change… the more resolve they will feel to engage in the courses of action involved in the change implementation” (p. 3).   In the case of the COVID-19 pandemic, Fanshawe College had no choice but to adjust to the change as a result of external forces demanding a response.  In that way, Fanshawe’s members really had no choice but to implement the changes, as they were compelled to act and were highly motivated to see that change be successful.  As far as Change Efficacy, Weiner defined this as “a function of organizational members’ cognitive appraisal of three determinants of implementation capability: task demands, resource availability, and situational factors” (p. 4).  At Fanshawe, with the exclusion of sufficient time, we had many resources at our disposal, including knowledge, technical supports, and human resources.  As far as task demands, for many this was an unknown, but Fanshawe was quick to respond and provide training for those who required it.  Finally, in terms of Contextual Factors, Fanshawe quickly put policies and procedures in place that helped facilitate the change.  One such example as reported by Theodore (2020) was the Fanshawe Experience Guarantee, which allowed students to defer their tuition to another year if they weren’t satisfied with their program delivery.  This policy reduced the risk for students concerned about their ability to be successful in an online learning environment which undoubtedly increased registrations.  Another element which provided a positive context in which change could be effectively implemented was a long history of success.  Fanshawe College placed first in the province in terms of graduate employment rate, and above average in student, graduate, and employer satisfaction (“Key Performance Indicators”, 2019).  This track record of success would have had an impact on the members’ confidence in their ability to realize a successful change implementation.  All of these factors combined indicate Fanshawe College’s relatively high readiness for change.  In time, it’s my opinion that we’ll likely see a correlation between Fanshawe’s high readiness for change and a successful implementation of the change from primarily face-to-face, to online and blended learning amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

Impacts of the Literature on Future Practice

Following my reading of the literature surrounding change management and leadership, I’ve recognized some similarities to my own approach, in addition to some lessons I can apply moving forward.  To begin with, I see some overlap between my approach to change leadership and to what Biech (2007) identified as Theory O.  Biech asserted that Theory O “attempts to build bridges between the organization and its employees, partially on the assumption that the involved employees will bond with the organization they have helped change” (p. 4).  I’ve long felt that involving as many people in a change in policy or procedure as is reasonably possible is a positive approach.  Not only do those participants feel more invested in the successful implementation when they were involved in its development, as Biech suggested, but the leader also benefits from a diverse list of perspectives and possible solutions.  Additionally, some new ideas presented to me which I look forward to incorporating into my practice are Appreciative Inquiry and Understanding Organizational Cultural.  Biech recounted that  Appreciative Inquiry “identifies the best of “what is,” envisions “what might be,” discusses “what should be,” and implements the “what will be,” all from a positive, “appreciating” point of view” (p. 5).  I love this positive and optimistic approach.  However, I think one would need to be careful to only employ it from a place of genuine appreciation.  Any attempt to fake this approach to simply appear to be optimistic would be easily identified as disingenuous and one would lose the engagement of their constituents.  I also need to be wary of making sweeping organizational changes in the future, which I have a history of doing.  Biech went on to indicate that “if the change is too different from the culture, it will create disconnects and be a continuing stumbling block for successful implementation” (p. 5).  For this reason, I need to be conscious that future changes align well with the existing culture of my organization in order to get buy-in from my constituents.

References

Biech, E. (2007). Models of change. In Thriving Through Change: A Leader’s Guide to Change Mastery (Issue c, pp. 1–8). https://royalroads.skillport.com/skillportfe/assetSummaryPage.action?assetid=RW$1544:_ss_book:22651#summary/BOOKS/RW$1544:_ss_book:22651

Key performance indicators. (2019). In Ontario Colleges. https://cdn.agilitycms.com/colleges-ontario/documents-library/document-files/2018-19 KPI results_20190920202722_0.pdf

Theodore, H. (2020). Fanshawe College unveils 4-part student guarantee for fall term. 106.9 The X. https://www.1069thex.com/2020/06/29/fanshawe-college-pledges-4-part-student-guarantee-for-fall-term/

Weiner, B. J. (2009). A theory of organizational readiness for change. Implementation Science, 4(67), 1–9. https://doi.org/10.1186/1748-5908-4-67

Exploring Leadership Practice

Photo by Gabriel Sollmann on Unsplash

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to explore some of the literature on the subject of leadership and what attributes people prioritize in leaders.  While I’ve held a leadership position for some time, my approach has been primarily influenced by experiences with leaders I’ve worked with in the past.  It’s been interesting to see which of my preconceived notions are supported by the literature, and what ways of thinking I should consider adopting.

Conceptual Confirmation

While much of what I’ve read in the literature has reinforced my previous notions of what makes an effective leader, there were a few points that I came across which I found compelling.  One such point was that regardless of circumstances or geography, most of us look for the same four qualities in a leader.  Kouzes and Posner (2011) observed that “the majority of people look for and admire leaders who are honest, forward-looking, inspiring, and competent” (p. 4).  This was reinforced in the group activity my team engaged in earlier when Carpenter et al. (2021) prioritized honesty, competence, and inspiration as some of the most important leadership qualities.  I’ve often thought that we as people aren’t all that unique when it comes to what drives us to excel.  Generally speaking, we care about the same things.  So, the evidence presented here in the research shouldn’t be all that surprising.

Another interesting point that came up was the idea of leadership as service.  I was particularly drawn to the Indigenous interpretation of this concept which presents a greater sense of responsibility than that of Western cultures on the impact of a leader’s actions.  Julien et al. (2010) argued that “Aboriginal leadership is about meeting the needs of the entire community and connecting community to the past” (p. 119).  In this way, a leader is not only responsible for how their actions impact their organization and their constituents, but also how those actions impact the community at large.  I think this sense of responsibility to the whole, rather than solely those directly associated with an organization, is woefully lacking in Western leadership.  A shift towards this Indigenous way of thinking would likely be beneficial for the health and sustainability of our communities.

Changes Moving Forward

In the future, I plan to make some adjustments to the way in which I lead, particularly in an online environment.  First, I need to be more intentional about the way in which I communicate the objectives I envision for my organization and be much more articulate about what success looks like.  Kouzes and Posner (2011) argued that “leaders can’t just have dreams of the future; they must be able to communicate those dreams in ways that encourage people to sign on for the duration and to work hard for the goal” (p. 6).  In addition, Castelli (2016) noted “that when followers view their work as relevant and purposeful to the organization, job satisfaction and motivation to perform increase” (p. 224).  I’ve found that in person, this kind of communication happens more naturally in casual conversations between meetings.  In an online environment, however, when interactions are more appointment driven, the conversation is less likely to move naturally to greater objectives.  Therefore, I need to make a specific point of speaking about the future and how each individual’s part contributes to the organization’s success.

My recent reading of the literature also brought to my attention some similarities between Indigenous and Feminist approaches to leadership, leading me to think about how I can incorporate those ideas into my practice.  Julien et al. (2010), from an Indigenous perspective, and Batliwala (2010), from a Feminist perspective, both describe the importance of a leader considering their constituents in a holistic fashion, rather than merely employees.  I have a tendency to focus too much on people’s contributions to their work, rather than how other influential factors impact their wellbeing.  As presented by Tussyadiah (2015), the ubiquity of mobile devices has supported a blending of work and personal life.  Therefore, we need to be more mindful of the whole nature of a person in order to develop a more meaningful connection.  I was also struck by the similarity between the Indigenous method to lead by consensus (Julien et al., 2010) and the Feminist preference for all members of an organization to have influence in certain decision-making (Batliwala, 2010).  This leads me to believe that I need to be more conscious of encouraging conversation amongst the entire group when considering ways forward and be willing to shift my perspective to be more inclusive.

References

Batliwala, S. (2010). Feminist leadership for social transformation: Clearing the conceptual cloud. 1–42. https://justassociates.org/sites/justassociates.org/files/feminist-leadership-clearing-conceptual-cloud-srilatha-batliwala.pdf

Carpenter, J., Guichon, P., MacKay, M., Nix, C. H., & Rowe, C. (2021). Admired Leadership Attributes. Christopher’s Blog. https://malat-webspace.royalroads.ca/rru0162/

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

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

Kouzes, J. M., & Posner, B. Z. (2011). Credibility: How Leaders Gain and Lose It, Why People Demand It,. In Quality Management Journal (Vol. 19, Issue 3, pp. 69–70). https://doi.org/10.1080/10686967.2012.11918075

Tussyadiah, I. P. (2015). Personal technology and tourism experiences. ISCONTOUR, 1–10. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/279178497_Personal_Technology_and_Tourism_Experiences

Admired Leadership Attributes

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This post was authored in collaboration with Jonathan Carpenter, Patrick Guichon, Mike MacKay, Cheryl Haley Nix, & Christopher Rowe

During our first group activity in LRNT 525, our team was presented with the task of organizing a list of twenty leadership attributes in order of most to least important.  The goal of this activity was to come to a consensus on what we collectively thought of as prioritized qualities in a leader.

We first approached the task by each independently organizing the provided list of attributes based on our own experience and understanding of leadership.  The results of our first attempt are represented in Figure 1.  What we immediately found when coming together to discuss the results was that there was a lack of consistency in our interpretations of the context of a leader.

Figure 1Note: Jonathan – Considered leadership in a general context; Patrick & Christopher – Envisioned their ideal supervisor; Mike – Considered leadership in an online/remote environment; Cheryl – Considered leadership in the context of the dental/medical field

Not surprisingly, considering the varied interpretation of context, there was some variation in our responses.  The largest deviation came from Cheryl’s prioritization of ambition as the most important attribute in a leader, while the rest of the group placed it near the bottom of the list.  Upon discussion, it was determined that there were two possible explanations for the deviation, including gender and profession.  As a contributor to ForbesWomen, Prossack (2018) noted that ambition is often interpreted by women as a negative quality, but that it should be something to be embraced and used for personal and communal gain.  With that in mind, it was Cheryl’s opinion that there’s been a shift to prioritizing ambition as a means for professional advancement.  Additionally, in a study that observed the attributes of medical students, Kiolbassa (2011) recognized that “‘Future perspective’ and ‘Personal ambition’ were rated as most important reasons for specialty choice by students” (p. 5).  As a result, it stands to reason that ambition would be considered a valuable attribute in the medical field at large.

After further discussion and a dive into the literature, we came to the conclusion that we would have a better consensus if we all approached the task with the same context in mind.  In addition, we included some attributes that we thought were omitted from the original list including credibility, communication, adaptability, and transparency.  We chose to tackle the activity again, thinking about leadership in the context of an online environment.  We surprised ourselves by how much our lists changed.  The results of our second attempt are represented in Figure 2.  After completing the task for a second time, honesty and qualities associated with communication moved to the top of our list.  Castelli (2016) observed that a violation of trust in the leader/follower relationship results in the follower’s withdrawal.  It was our opinion that all other attributes a leader possesses stem from a position of trust.  When the bond of trust is broken, the effectiveness of the remaining attributes is diminished.  Furthermore, Castelli went on to identify transparency and credible communication, amongst other attributes, as the qualities of effective reflective leadership.

Figure 2Note: Second attempt prioritizing leadership attributes considering the context of an online environment.

In conclusion, we came to the consensus that a strong leader in an online environment is one who possesses the ability to build trust through open communication and transparency.  An additional conclusion was that the priority of leadership qualities can shift depending on the people and the context involved.  It would be a mistake to determine leadership qualities that are a top priority in all circumstances. Rather, one should consider the needs of the people in the relationship and the environment in which they find themselves before adopting a path towards effective leadership.

References

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

Kiolbassa, K., Miksch, A., Hermann, K., Loh, A., Szecsenyi, J., Joos, S., & Goetz, K. (2011). Becoming a general practitioner – Which factors have most impact on career choice of medical students? BMC Family Practice, 12(25), 1–7. https://doi.org/10.1186/1471-2296-12-25

Prossack, A. (2018). This one leadership trait will help both men and women get ahead. ForbesWomen. https://www.forbes.com/sites/ashiraprossack1/2018/05/07/ambition-the-new-trend-driving-womens-leadership/?sh=1bbb04626718