Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Educational leaders required: Blending envisioning with humility

Picture retrieved from:

I have to admit that I have been very resistant to political issues and specially politicians’ behavior since I remember. It has been hard to understand how our supposedly servant leaders have tended to pave the way to their own benefit and profit rather than to introduce real education politics that can be at the basis of mending our fragmented society. Our last three Presidents, including the governing one, have been involved in bribery scandals and trial. I have the impression that Greenleaf (1977) himself will find them as perfect examples when the act of lead precedes any kind of act of service.

Consequently, I have been trying to approach to this issue working in the education sector. I have been consistently interested in how different actors interact and build social relationships, and how they handle power relationships. Schools were appealing institutions to observe that. Although the relationships between teachers and the directive team implied tension, I could observe that when the school’s principal assume his or her role in a collaborative approach, he or she was planting the seed of trust to introduce change (Packard, 1998; Nadler, 1990). But when principals assumed that schools were hard to manage due to the continuous conflicts among teachers, they deny their responsibility to intervene.

Pedagogical change was the result of an individual or small group effort in the class setting. But when looking for innovations in the school’s management, the school’s principal was a key piece to generate a shared sense of accomplishment and an optimal climate to work. But he or she will rarely affirm that it was his or her contribution what made things happened, instead the principal will refer the results to everybody’s contribution and commitment with the school and, especially, with enhancing students’ performance (Collins, 2005).

Afterward I worked at a university. It was like a tangled network that was far from the more sophisticated school organization I have ever met and looked very different from the memory I had about it when I was a student and, later on, a teacher assistant. I realized that there was not anything that can be called “the university” – as I used to call it in my former years of student -, there were a multiplicity of universities, determined by who was talking, that is, a teacher or a student, an undergraduate or a graduate student, a syndicated employee or a non-syndicated one, etc. However, this is the place were social capital is reinforced through the efforts of academia, as Brian Heuser (2000) states in his article Academic social cohesion within higher education.

I worked very close to many academics in order to assist them to develop their annual plans. The different departments I worked with were challenging and each one them reclaimed that the university was reluctant to recognize their specific needs about human and financial resources.

When new deans of schools and chairs of departments were elected each three years, the new academic authorities assumed those positions being aware of the implications, even the ones that assume this sort of academic-administrative function. Nonetheless they intended to continue and/or introduce different perspectives about how the academia can do their job better aligned with the institutional goals, I can observe that their qualified reputation as brilliant scholars and professors made this process tough the first two years and then they are almost ready to leave. Surely their perspective about the university has changed but sometimes their energy to face the challenges has also diminished due to a recharged administrative labor with scarce time to think big about their school, department or even the university (Sashkin, 1989).

So I wonder if this situation is probably related to the academic culture related to the cultivation of strong self-images, based on the knowledge acquired and expressed by academic degrees, publications in indexed journal, grants or funds received, and so on. Therefore I wonder if this kind of culture is not dangerous not only for the university’s process of authorities’ succession within universities but also I am worried about the implications in the relationship with the students. 

I do not intend to say that academic culture damages the ethics of younger students, when stimulated to be competitive, self-centered and base their achievements in the academic arena. But I have the feeling that this can be a sort of hidden curriculum with pervasive effects when this former students become active part of the civil society being enrolled in different job positions but due to their focus in their egos, reserve very little time to think big, to identify ways to commit with social change and with improving the education in our country. I am really concerned if this way or being focused on oneself and give little time to think about the organizations we are part of is also at the basis of our permissive behavior about the representatives that lead our country and systematically make it more fragile.

Rise of Followership: Product of an Empowering Leadership

I wrote this post back in October before James and I decided to name our Leadership model as Empowerment. I forgot about this post after composing it, but it did subconsciously spark many ideas for our model...

Since our class discussion on the topic of followership, I have been fascinating by the potential seen in the rise of "the masses," the increase in agency followers have garnered over the last half-century, and some leaders' respect for individuals working in their enterprises. The previous theories of leadership had not attended to the individuals whose roles were to solely execute orders that were delegated from upper levels of "management." The central focus of written texts remained on the main figurehead of the institution, who was commonly praised for his strong personal mastery, charisma, sharp functioning, and ability to reap a high profitability from lower-level workers.

The proposal of followership is freshly appealing because followers are observed and treated more as individuals along the principals of "Theory Y", by McGregor. No longer is the treatment of followers formulated from a pessimistic view that employees are lazy, passive, and disagreeable. The follower, once overshadowed by daunting CEOs became more prominent as some institutions became aware of the power of team work, and reaped powerful results when they allowed workers with practical experience to hold some authority and control over their positions. A removal of some of the leader's authority placed onto her followers vastly changes the leader's outlook of herself, the followers, and the enterprise; and the transformation from an authoritarian approach to a follwership approach requires the leader to limit her exercise on positional power and gravitate towards a respectful relationship with her team.

Followership is a twist in the traditional bureaucracy of how most institutions perceive leadership and casts previously unheard of attention to subordinates in organizational hierarchies, which now are termed "participants," or individuals who are active and engage with the leader to work towards a common cause. It departs from the traditional dominant-subordinate model which is still pervasive in global cultures, in families, gender differences, sexual orientation, and the workplace.

Kelley's "In Praise of Followers", presents the notion that what defines a group of competent followers is no longer a passive obedience, but a "self-reliant the pursuit of an organizational goal...serv[ing] as team players" (195). This type of follower relies on the skills she internally possesses, even her own leadership skills to further the organization, but even as she is confident and adept, she chooses to take up the position as a follower because it is valued and a vital role to the group. What may come as a surprise to leaders who establish authority in themselves is, that the follower who is placed in the ideal environment can accomplish what leaders cannot. He or she is not bound to conforming to the lowest rung of the hierarchical structure; that is, potential and capability does not wane in the presence of an executive or upper management. Followers who take on an active role in assisting the team towards its goal should be given credit where it is due. Those who have successfully implemented the idea of followership into their leadership models reap the benefits of a thriving, healthy organization.

This notion of followership alters the dynamics of conventional leadership, and Rost's article, "Leaders and Followers Are the People in This Relationship" states that followers and leaders work together in interchangeable roles when it is necessary. Furthermore, "this ability to change places without changing organizational positions gives followers considerable influence and mobility" (192), a quality the traditional leader may not have acquired in his genre of experience. Rost proposes a change in the meaning of "followers," that they are as versatile as being a leader in one situation, as to assuming a follower role in the next project. They are no less competent than the leader, but also demonstrate the ability to work effectively in teams, without the glory and title as leader.

Finally, the leader herself must come to reshape her position, authority, and how she perceives her group members. The relationship represents a symbiotic one, with both the leader and follower relying on each other for survival in competing organizations. She must be the one who draws out the qualities of an active mind, and should go as far as personal understanding of each person according to his or her interests, level of development, and ability contribute to the group. She seeks to encourage advisers among the team rather than yes-men, and halts the behavior fawning subordinates that are quick to obey and execute the plan laid out for them.

But there's more to followership than we first see. The concept itself does not necessarily advocate for the absence of a leadership position, but rather, is contingent upon the leader's initiative to develop this process for his institution. He is the one whom others look to for the atmosphere and tone of the group. It is his advantage to design an environment which facilitates learning and equal collaboration, and seeks to encourage individual involvement. He is a figurehead, but specifically one who can foster this type of followership characteristic on his team. Moreover, he attempts to prolong the life and strengthen members of the organization by allowing followers to gather practical experience in leading smaller groups. This is derived from a leader who acts as a mediator, facilitator, and empowerer, but someone who does not overpower. He must have something to impart initially, then must provide the geographical and intellectual space for followers to gain experience for learning. Thus the process of reciprocity is etched out, as followers gain knowledge to participate and work alongside the leader.