Unit 4, Activity 3: Final Reflections

This course has been a walk down memory lane as I’ve reflected on my past experiences with leadership, change, and project management. Some memories have been insightful, some have been frustrating as I recognize what some of my past leaders, project managers, and change leaders have lacked.

My initial reflection on leadership put honesty at the forefront of a great leader’s attributes. While this hasn’t wavered, I now recognize the importance of other attributes, such as communication, dependability, trust, and empathy. The exercise with my teammates on leadership attributes proved that no one has the exact same consensus on what a great leader should bring. I think its safe to say its easier to agree on what a great leader shouldn’t bring. But whatever the golden list of attributes is, I believe that some people naturally have these attributes; I also believe some people can learn these attributes, but only if they’re willing.

I’ve never been in a formal management or leadership position, and I’m still not sure if I do since it’s such a dauting task and easy to botch. But I would be willing to step out of my comfort zone and to be more involved in change projects for my next employer, particularly if it involves a digital learning environment. Despite Al-Haddad and Kotnour’s (2015) assertion that only 30% of change initiatives succeed, being on the team that lead a successful change would be rewarding.

If I am ever in a formal position where I must lead change, I will strive to remember O’Toole’s (2008) words, “people will only follow leaders who manifest the ability and willingness to take them where they want to go (p. 3).

 

References

Al-Haddad, S., & Kotnour, T. (2015). Integrating the organizational change literature: a model for successful change. Journal of Organizational Change Management28(2), 234–262. https://doi.org/10.1108/JOCM-11-2013-0215

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

Unit 3, Activity 2: Leading Projects

Background

While I have been involved in many projects throughout my career, I have only been involved in one “formal” project, meaning there was a project manager, project charter, project team, etc. It was several years ago that I took part in a project to standardize departmental documentation for a municipal government. This project resulted from a previous one that focused on standardizing standard operating procedures (SOPs); during the SOP project, it was discovered that the department had many other document types, including business processes, codes of practices, work instructions, etc. The new project had the goal of formalizing a “repeatable process” for each document type. There was over 100 documents and I was the sole technical writer on the project. In addition to technical writing tasks, it was up to me to define the repeatable process.

At the time I was new to both the project management process, as well as the department; I had moved cities to take the job, so I had not involved in the previous SOP project. The project started before I arrived, so there had already been some project meetings and the creation of the project charter. The project team was made up of the project manager, project sponsor, technical writer, and representatives from each team within the department.

Barriers

The main barrier to this project was the project manager who lacked in project management expertise (Watt, 2014). Specifically, the project manager’s lack of leadership loomed over the project as they did not “motivate and inspire individuals to work toward expected results” (p. 21). Over time, this was apparent in the attendance drop-off for project meetings and lack of communication. The project manager had tasked project team members to inform their respective teams of project updates but did not follow up to ensure it was being done. There were a few times when I went to interview subject matter experts and discovered they were unaware of who I was and what I would be doing. This led to some uncomfortable moments as I believe they perceived that I was trying to tell them how to do their job, as opposed to asking questions to do my job. This was likely due to a lack of trust among the project team, me included, with the project manager. As Watt (2014) states, “without a minimum level of trust, communication breaks down…” (p. 123). A couple of times, project team members approached me for clarification on what they should doing, as opposed to going to the project manager.

Another barrier to the project was reliance on the SOP project. The project manager seemed to think that both projects were carbon copies of each other, and the steps taken in the SOP project would easily apply in this project. As stated by Conway et al., (2017), “different kinds of problems require different methods of system analysis’ (p. 14). While there was some overlap as they were both documentation projects, the project manager failed to consider the nuances that came with the different document types and their impact on the department. Had the project manager used systems thinking, the project manager could have understood the type of problem, problem situation, and power dynamics that this new project entailed (Conway et al., 2017).

Future Considerations

For future projects, I would focus on applying strong leadership skills, whether I was the project manager or a project team member. Project issues can usually be traced back to lack of leadership, including breakdown in communication, uncommitted project team members, and role confusion (Watt, 2014). With respect to learning technologies, I would also focus on using one of the University of Calgary’s strategies by facilitating connections and communications with all stakeholders. Specifically, I would strive to provide clear and regular communications to everyone in the organization about any technology changes and their impact (University of Calgary, 2014).

 

References

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

University of Calgary, Learning Technologies Task Force. (2014). Strategic framework for Learning Technologies. https://www.ucalgary.ca/provost/sites/default/files/teams/1/ final_lttf_report_gfc_june_2014.pdf

Watt, A. (2014). Project Management. Victoria, BC: BCcampus.

Unit 2, Activity 1: Managing Change for Learning in Digital Environments

I initially struggled with this blog post as I felt I did not have enough experience with change management. I only became familiar with the term seven years ago when a project manager I worked with indicated that she would handle the change management piece of our project. Change management was never mentioned again leading me to believe it was never addressed. However, upon further reflection though, I recognize I have been part of many changes, whether through writing a new policy or procedure or introducing a new software tool.

Change management is an arduous undertaking given that success rates are less than 30 percent (Al-Haddad & Kotnour, 2015). While the early years of change management piggybacked off other disciplines, including psychology and sociology, it evolved in the 1990s with the emergence of several change management methods, including John Kotter’s Leading Change method, which helped pave the way for change management to become its own discipline (Levine, 2016).

With the onset of COVID-19 in the past year, change has become commonplace within learning environments. As stated by Harris and Jones (2020), learning has been redefined “as a remote, screen-based activity limiting most learners to on-line teacher support” (p.243). Unfortunately, the pandemic caused me to lose my last job, so I have not directly witnessed the change the organization has undergone. However, through conversations with former coworkers, there has been a lot. Specifically, in the training department, classroom training is now being run virtually through Microsoft Teams, and they have adopted some creative solutions including recording short videos of demonstrations to enhance instruction.

When it comes to leading change in a digital learning environment, Kotter’s Leading Change method would be useful as it is made up of eight steps that can be iteratively modified. Recently Weiss and Li’s (2020) study described how this method was used to address trainee’s well-being in healthcare, and it found that it allowed program leaders to reflect upon their training programs and take the opportunity to improve them” (p.735).

Weiss and Li (2020) also stated that modifying education to effectively respond to learners requires leadership. Leadership is paramount during times of change. Al-Haddad and Kotnour (2015) state that “acts of leadership enable the organization to respond to the changing environment by creating a vision and making prompt decisions in terms of resources and technologies (p.240). By having leadership involved in the change, leaders can promote confidence in those experiencing the change while providing clarity and cultivating a sense of community (Merrell, 2012).

Harris and Jones (2020) suggest there is evidence supporting the importance of using context responsive leadership within education because of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is also suggested that it is imperative for leaders to put their own health and wellbeing first to better manage the emotional responses of others while leading the changes imposed by COVID-19 now and in the future. The impact of the pandemic has caused change management to become an essential skill of school leaders where they “will need to be engaged in constant crisis and change management which will require support and collaboration from all staff” (p.246).

 

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. https://doi.org/10.1108/JOCM-11-2013-0215

Harris, A., & Jones, M. (2020). Covid 19 – school leadership in disruptive times. School Leadership & Management, 40(4). https://doi-org.ezproxy.royalroads.ca/10.1080/13632434.2020.1811479

Levine, S. R. (2016, April 18). What can we learn from the history of change management? Retrieved from https://www.cuinsight.com/can-learn-history-change-management.html

Merrell, P. (2012). Effective change management: The simple truth. Management Services, 56(2), 20-23. https://ezproxy.royalroads.ca/login?url=https://www-proquest-com.ezproxy.royalroads.ca/trade-journals/effective-change-management-simple-truth/docview/1027234230/se-2?accountid=8056

Weiss, P. G., & Li, S.-T. T. (2020). Leading change to address the needs and well-being of trainees during the covid-19 pandemic. Academic Pediatrics20(6), 735–741. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.acap.2020.06.001

Unit 1, Activity 3: Leadership Reflections

Leadership Attributes

Like most, my earliest experience with leadership came from interactions with my teachers in primary/secondary school who practiced a transactional leadership style as it is most widely used in education settings (Khan et al., 2017), but it has been through my work history that has given me the most experience. It is these past working relationships that served as my basis to initially rank the attributes of leadership. Rightly or wrongly, as there is a tendency of the human brain is to focus on the negative, I found myself zeroing in on my previous managers weaknesses, and thus my top rankings reflected some of the attributes these managers lacked. I initially ranked “honest” as number one as I consider it a cornerstone for most other attributes – if a leader can’t be honest, whether it be about good or bad circumstances, how can they be expected to be dependable, straightforward, etc.

In retrospect, I now recognize that had I ranked the attributes according to a specific leadership style, my rankings would have been quite different, such as ranking “forward thinking” as number one for an adaptive leadership style. Overall, I enjoyed the exercise, although I felt that 20 attributes were almost too many to rank – after the first ten, the exercise became more of a guessing game.

Personal Leadership Perspective

Through the readings for Unit 1, I was introduced to various leadership styles, including values-based leadership which seems like the ideal leadership style. According to O’Toole (2008), values-based leaders do not focus on their personal needs, rather they act on behalf of others to help them achieve their needs. However, with the likes of Moses, George Washington, and Winston Churchill considered to be value-based leaders, values-based leadership seems almost impossible to emulate.

While I have never held an official leadership position, I admire leaders who use a mix of both adaptive leadership and reflective leadership. I like that the adaptive leader prepares for change as much as possible while the reflective leader focuses on “behaviours, situations and consequences with the goal of improving organizational performance” (Castelli, 2016, p.217). The combination of these two styles allows for leaders to focus on the current situation, while assessing any potential changes and the risks involved.

Digital Learning Environments

Within digital learning environments, technology both supports traditional teaching and gives students more influence over their learning experience (McLeod, 2015). Likewise, the workforce is now a combination of generations with the arrival of millennials and iGens who are more tech-savvy and prefer to communicate through digital media (Petrucci & Rivera, 2018). As digital devices and online environments can be both transformative and disruptive in any environment, challenges will occur, therefore it is important for digital leaders to be proactive. (McLeod, 2015)

According to McLeod (2015), digital leadership is not just about technology and “whether formal or informal, the focus of technology-related professional learning should be on student learning, not on the tools or devices” (para.22). Digital leaders must recognize the potential for resistance towards technology (Sheninger, 2019). Therefore, adaptive leadership, with its focus on “leading with a plan for dealing with change” (Khan, 2017, p.179) would be an ideal leadership style for digital learning environments.

 

References

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

Khan, N. (2017). Adaptive or transactional leadership in current higher education: a brief comparison. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning18(3), 178-183. https://doi.org/10.19173/irrodl.v18i3.3294

McLeod, S. (2015). The Challenges of Digital Leadership. Independent School74(2). https://www.nais.org/magazine/independent-school/winter-2015/the-challenges-of-digital-leadership/

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

Petrucci, T., & Rivera, M. (2018). Leading growth through the digital leader. Journal of Leadership Studies12(3), 53–53. https://doi.org/10.1002/jls.21595

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