On Leadership…

The readings in Unit 1 of MALAT’s LRNT525 have affirmed my belief that digital leaders are those who cautiously strive to understand, embrace, and enact change to the digital landscapes in which they work. Technology is now ever-present in my context, however mindsets around technology are slow to catch up to the various digital opportunities presented to the business. One example of this reluctant mindset is that scripted, instructor led sessions will always be superior and more efficient than leveraging our digital infrastructure to create a continuous Community of Inquiry (Garrison et al, 2010). This reluctance is driven by a “this is how it has been, so this is how it must be” leadership perspective in some of my organization’s business units. Situations such as the one described are why I value cautious approaches to digital leadership, because it involves not only paving the path forward in the direction of digital change, but also changing the perspectives of reluctant stakeholders.

In reflecting on corporate leadership in western society, where models have typically circled around the perceptions and values of white male privilege (Julien et al., 2010) I cannot help but wonder if the changing landscapes of workforces will encourage a shift in cross cultural leadership. Surely a workforce that has a higher percentage of female participants, different levels of education, and a generally accepted approach to multi-culturalism (Howard, 2021) will require a more adaptive approach to leadership. In thinking of the workforces that I have been involved in, where the employee population has been younger, multi-cultural, and often largely lacking in the formally recognized education that was more present in previous decades, the findings of Kouzes and Posner (2011) mimic leadership approaches that I have seen successful.

Kouzes and Posner’s (2011) findings also closely resembled the ‘human centric’ characteristics that my team ranked highly during our work together. Where their research speaks of developing capacity, appreciation, and creating meaning through motivation, our findings and consensus circled mostly around competence, fostering support, and trust. I was surprised to find these themes consistent throughout much of our readings, regardless of the perception or lens through which it was written. I had expected some of the literature to indicate that there is still a place for the white, privileged leadership approach (which I have been affectionately referring to ‘storm trooper leadership’), and the multiple voices touting effective leadership is adaptive and human centric was a pleasant surprise.

To wrap up my reflection, I must comment on one final theme I found concurrent throughout the readings: being that anyone, regardless of role or stature may posses personal attributes that make them a leader to others, and similarly, those in more formal leadership roles may be lacking in the skills required to elevate them to be an embodiment of true leadership. Workman and Innes (2012) succinctly stated, “the definition of a ‘leader’ may be a potential distraction more than a useful descriptor”, and I have seen this in practice in the very recent past.  I am left thinking of Huggins et al. (2012) observation that risk tolerance on the part of leaders is integral to developing employee capacity, as is the ability to maintain trust that employees can do what they were hired to do and do it well. “Otherwise, the role of the leader becomes superfluous since most followers know more about their work, goals, technologies, desired outcomes, and professional expertise than anyone who may be leading them” (Workman & Cleveland-Innes, 2012).

References

Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T., & Archer, W. (2010). The first decade of the community of inquiry framework: A retrospective. The internet and higher education13(1-2), 5-9.

Howard, J. (2021). MANAGING WORKPLACE DEMOGRAPHICS. Patty’s Industrial Hygiene, Hazard Recognition, 127.

Julien, M., Wright, B., & Zinni, D. M. (2010). Stories from the circle: Leadership lessons learned from aboriginal leaders. The Leadership Quarterly21(1), 114–126. https://doi.org/10.1016/J.LEAQUA.2009.10.009

Workman, T., & Cleveland-Innes, M. (2012). Leadership, personal transformation, and management. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 13(4), 313-323. https://doi.org/10.19173/irrodl.v13i4.1383

7 thoughts on “On Leadership…”

  1. Hi Paula,
    Your post had me thinking about a few things. You talked about how one of the biggest barriers to change and innovation is more about the mindest of “this is how we do things” – you reference technology specifically, but I think it could to refer to anything that will require a shift in perception or change in practice. As we move into looking at managing change specifically, it will be interesting to see what kinds of activities or planning can help with overcoming resistance in stakeholders. I was just listening to Chad Flynn’s perspectives on change this morning as I add his audio to the Voices section – and he talked about trying to nurture innovative practice in his department. Secondly I was thinking about your comments about how the research and readings have moved towards leadership approaches that are more inclusive – I agree, but it still got me thinking about the fact that women and other groups are still very underrepresented in actual leadership positions overall. It brought me back to a story I had read earlier this year (among many) that highlighted this gap. This one is focused on women in higher education – which resonated as Higher Education (HE) is my work context – but the statistics shared about the HE sector are likely similar to those in other settings. How/when do we start to see the alignment between leadership approaches, our diverse workplaces, and our leadership positions? https://www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/article-locked-out-of-the-ivory-tower-how-universities-keep-women-from-rising/

    1. Thank you for your comment, Michelle. It is an interesting habit i have, looking at a situation and trying to only see the positive (in this instance, being pleased about embracement of alternative perspectives) and intentionally shying away from negative implications (that those alternative perspectives are still not recognized in leadership capacities). I’m hoping through that this course will shine light on some of the “whys” that lend to this practice.

      The article was fascinating, and reminds me of a twitter thread I read recently, about female academics in HE environments requiring students refer to them as Dr., as opposed to by their first name. This on the surface seemed odd to me, but the thread then delved into the bias that they experience opposed to their male counterparts who can have students refer to them by their first name and still be able to maintain leadership presence, whereby it was easier for students to develop distrust or wariness of their female professors. Long, run on thought, but the thread closely mimicked what was written about in your globe and mail article!

      Paula.

      1. Great post Paula,

        I Appreciate what you wrote about an article that was fascinating to you and reminded you of a twitter thread you read recently, about female academics in HE environments requiring students refer to them as Dr., as opposed to by their first name. You reminded me of how real bias can be. In one place I worked there was one leader who was infamous for her biased treatment of employees. There was one young gay man of color who was a close friend of mine who had started at the same time who had been asked to wear a suit to work as she was worried that because he was “young” that the students would not respect him. I am about the same age, white, gay but sometimes seen as straight (felt guilt about this and unsure how to rectify it) and was never told what to wear. My question was always was this bias her own? Was she projecting students’ biases? Does it matter? Would a straight white man have seen this bias? Was it because he was of color, or more visibly gay? How complicated bias is.

        Listening to the “Voices” page in our course WordPress site I thought, what if our leader did not have these biases would many of the diverse talents still be working for our organization today? I was moved when Sandra Norum stated that being a true leader is bringing everyone up to an equal level. I think your post has helped me understand the final assignment better.

        Sam

        1. Hi Sam!

          I’m glad that my reflection spurred you in to reflection! In addition to the equitable distribution of risk, I think you make great points about bias. I think that leaders must be able to recognize bias that they have, and do their best to prevent it from making shadow-decisions for them. Part of me thinks this is an opportunity for those not in formal leadership roles to display leadership capacity. As an employee witnessing this, is there the opportunity for us to say “Hey, I’m just wondering if we can talk about X’s requirements at work vs mine.” However this again introduces a fair amount of risk. Risk for you/us in terms of speaking up, and risk for the leader in terms of coming to face with the fact that they may have acted with bias – knowingly or unknowingly.

          P.

  2. Ok first of all the article Michelle posted about is gold. I love that I open it and there is an awesome portrait of Maydianne Andrade who is an expert on (of all things) black widow spiders and I also love the label of ‘storm trooper leadership’ you coined Paula.
    The part of this post you wrote that got me thinking is the part about risk and how it is important for leadership to have meaning.
    It’s funny because I think that everything I do is loaded with more risk than my male colleagues and more heavily weighted earlier in my career. I will share that I have more than once had my work colleague who is a young, white male (also someone I completely adore don’t get me wrong here) share my ideas with groups so we can be guaranteed to get them forwarded quickly and get moving. Sometimes playing the game of being seen and getting credit is just not worth it and I trade this for getting moving on projects I want to see move forward.
    I think in some ways women’s risk load is higher in lower organizational levels and earlier in their careers than it is for men and even more so for BIPOC women so we just work outside of those structures to get it done, trading credit for forwarding the work. I love that Maydianne Andrade doe not back down for women to be seen and understood in academics but I feel sad she has to. I also get the value of it and I get why she is tired of it and wants to just focus on the spiders. As a white woman I have more work to do to forward equal opportunity in my workplace too so that Maydianne has more of a chance to spend time with the black widow spiders and less on justifying her existence in academics.

    1. Thanks for your comment Karen, although you speak of risk in a slightly different manner than I (leaders willing to allow failure to encourage learning, vs risk by marginalized perspectives) i wonder if that creates a third approach – equitable risk distribution? Certainly, to your point certain people (innovators, women, minorities) shoulder more risk in workplaces (HE, Corporate, same same). and i wonder if this is because their leaders are not willing to share in the risk load?

  3. Thanks for this Paula! Beautifully and clearly written, as always 🙂

    Given the events of the past couple of weeks here in Canada, my thoughts drifted to what you said about tradition and getting stuck in the way we’ve always done things. In Alberta at least, I’m seeing a fear of change. The “storm troopers” (great analogy, by the way!) are afraid and are losing their grip on their control over society. They’re also not seeing tradition as a thing to be learned from and built upon, like we do with research, but as something to cling to at all costs. Those costs are getting higher daily, both in money and in risk to health and safety. I think we’re not seeing research-informed leadership that we need.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *