Leadership in a Digital Age

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“Woman’s trouser suit (jacket, waistcoat and trousers), Tommy Nutter, United Kingdom, ca. 1969.” is licensed under CC BY 4.0

But I Don’t Own A Pantsuit

From my perspective, the most successful leadership experiences are dynamic, involve being able to read the situation and be the leader needed at that moment. While I have never attempted to reflect on my approach to leadership in the past, I recognize the importance of doing so as Castelli (2016) points out that “A framework for reflective leadership provides an invaluable method for changing old behaviours and outdated practices…” (p. 229).  In leading a team, knowing the members’ individual needs and styles is paramount, in my opinion. When deciding on objectives and goals, I often start with my end in mind, then imagine how that end will affect the members’ needs. In a digital environment, being reflective can be built-in, as asynchrony gives leaders the time to pause and determine the whole team’s needs.

A democracy is always great in decision making, but it often takes the most time, and sometimes decisions are top-down and organizational mandates need to be adopted. In these cases, I have found myself skating a fine line between commiserating with the team regarding broad-stroke changes and defending the organization by discovering the sliver-linings within top-down decisions. A good leader is adaptive and senses change (Khan, 2017). It is this change that some members find unsettling, and as seen by an innovation adoption model, nearly half of folks fall into the late adopters and laggards (Rogers, 2003). This means, in this age of a pandemic, as many leadership roles are handled virtually, some members could feel left behind.  Inevitably, I grapple with knowing that as a leader, you cannot always be everyone’s friend, and you cannot please everyone all of the time. Therein lies the crux of my insecurity.

So, what about leadership in today’s digital landscape? As Kouzes & Posner (2011) discuss “…bringing out the best in others” (p. 6), I find myself agreeing with that sentiment. I often wonder if we shouldn’t be choosing leaders based on their ability to foster and uplift other leaders? I also believe technology has made my leadership style (brevity and concision) more of a reality. I am not one for the long staff meeting or touchy-feely retreat sessions, so the email and asynchronous sessions find their way into my toolkit.  I do, however, enjoy humour and the quick communication outlets that digital technology offers me. Humour is underrated as a leadership trait, in my opinion. What technology seeks to find in meaningful connection, it finds in bringing people together over space. Space that right now, in a pandemic, is a necessity.

Leadership is often thrust upon teachers, mainly because the broader organization needs principals and vice-principals, so recruitment is necessary. I find that most teachers do not go into the field of teaching to become principals. I know I did not. Yet, I feel as though I am on this unstoppable conveyor belt that I cannot possibly step off of. It ends with me in a pantsuit, sitting in an office all day, reading budgets and talking to angry parents about how I have their child sitting in my office for spitting on the noon-hour supervisor. I do know, as Sheninger (2019) states, “…leadership is about action, not position” (p. 1). Maybe that means I will set out to lead, but from a position that does not require a pantsuit.


Castelli, P. A. (2016). Reflective leadership review: a framework for improving organisational performance. Journal of Management Development35(2), 217–236. https://doi.org/10.1108/JMD-08-2015-0112

Khan, N. (2017). Adaptive or transactional leadership in current higher education: A brief comparison. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 18(3), 178–183. https://doi.org/10.19173/irrodl.v18i3.3294

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

Rogers, E. M. (2003). Diffusion of innovations (5th ed.). Free Press. Retrieved from https://books.google.ca/books

Sheninger, E. (2019). Pillars of Digital Leadership. International Center for Leadership in Education. https://leadered.com/pillars-of-digital-leadership/







4 thoughts on “Leadership in a Digital Age”

  1. I am seeing a trend in some of the posts. I noticed that adaptability wasn’t one of the 20 attributes we had to rank, but it has come up in your post, David’s post, and probably other peoples as well (I haven’t been through them all yet). Adaptability was actually an attribute that was added to our groups list and was ranked high at 4 (out of 24). It seems as part of the switch to digital learning during the pandemic, being able to keep up with the technology changes is important!

    1. Patrick,
      Agreed. Gone are the days of the old boys club of antiquated, cigar-smoking leaders. Today leaders are harder to classify as they need to be so multifaceted. What I really would like to unpack is how terrible leaders get to lead?

  2. Thank you for this, Sandra. I love your openness about the challenges relating to that “fine line between commiserating with the team” and “defending the organization”. It can be so difficult to balance the needs of your team with the mandates of the executive. Teams need to know that you understand their needs and frustrations, yet there is still the needs of the executive that can be contrary to the needs of the team. It sounds as though you’ve struggled with this balancing act, and I wonder if which attributes you felt were the most helpful in handling it. You mentioned things like humour, being adaptive, reflection, and pantsuits. How do you find these attributes contribute to the balance between executive and your team?

    1. David,
      I definitely think if I owned a pantsuit, all my problems would be solved.

      But actually, I think one of the reasons I would not make a great leader (and I touch on this in the blog post) is that I often rely on having a ‘bad-guy’ or ‘faceless suit’ to blame when team members are not accepting of change or do not agree with a policy. My insecurities get the better of me, and I look to place the blame for their discomfort anywhere but on my own shoulders. Not exactly a good leadership trait, in my opinion. So maybe I am not cut-out to be at the top of any pyramid… but I would be ok with mid-level 🙂

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