Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Leadership and Technology 1

I am quite new to the concept of leadership and the various styles of leadership, so my blog posts will be quite focused on the basics and me thinking through leadership and technology. I have been a leader in the past and still consider myself a leader to a certain extent, even though my position is not a formal leadership position. Currently, I try to lead the faculty that I work with as well as leading by example; for instance, I try to demonstrate the proper use of educational technology when presenting to large groups.

There are four primary leadership styles that are often combined in a number of ways as well as a fifth leadership style that also appeals to me:
1.     Autocratic: Autocratic leaders retain all power for themselves. This speeds decision-making but can lead to an organizational culture that is primarily concerned with issues of power and status.
2.     Managerial: The managerial leader is primarily concerned with running the organization smoothly and may not promote a clear and inspiring vision for the organization.
3.     Democratic: A democratic leader takes into account the opinions of his or her followers but feels that the final decision-making authority resides with them. Although consulted, the followers can lack buy-in to the leader’s decision.
4.     Collaborative: A collaborative leaders not only consults with his or her followers but also makes decisions through discussion and democratic decision-making, which hopefully arrives at a consensus. While this style of leadership increases the likelihood of buy-in, it can be inefficient.
5.     Servant: A “leader among equals.” The servant leader seeks to serve his or her “constituents” and views them as peers and not followers.

I believe I naturally gravitate toward being a servant leader. Perhaps it’s growing up in a hockey culture where one is expected to defer to team success and not take individual credit for successes that makes me attracted to that concept. There may be a team captain and some on the team may get paid more, but everyone has a role to play that is equally important to team success. If a fellow team member is a competent professional, there should be no reason to not see them as equals.

In addition to the above styles, James MacGregor Burns contrasted two different styles: transactional and transformational. Transactional leaders see leadership as a series of transactions and may be most closely related to the managerial leader above. Examples of transactions are rewards, punishments, reciprocity, and monetary. A transformational leader, on the other hand, creates a vision and encourages followers to pursue that vision by aligning that vision to the motivations of the followers. The transformational leader empowers the followers to pursue fulfillment of the vision. The transactional and the transformational cannot be completely separated. Without any vision, the transactional leader is a tedious bureaucrat. Without any management, the transformational leader is an ungrounded dreamer. I see myself more of a transactional leader. Any larger “vision” that I may have is too abstract to communicate clearly and not particularly interesting to me anyway because I am not a fan of abstraction; the “vision” that I communicate is through example: learn more and be able to do more, so that you can perform your job function better.

I see leadership overall as a Venn diagram:

While we associate the transformational leader with having a vision and the transactional leader with managing resources, I think it is important to separate out the concept of “charisma” from those two other functions. Charisma here means the ability to influence others to follow one’s direction. Since the leader and manager cannot be discretely separated, I think there is an overlap between the leader and manager. The ideal transformational leader, I think, is able to combine all three traits. The ideal leader can present a vision, manage resources, and persuade others to follow the leader’s direction. I think it is important to separate out charisma because with any one of the three traits, a person can perform or appear to perform a useful role in an organization. I have known managers who are able to get by while having no vision and being poor resource managers, especially in a field as new as ed tech; however, a charismatic person can succeed by the sheer force of their personality, persuading their bosses that they are doing well both as leaders and managers. This person in the diagram has been labelled the “charlatan,” a person who is both an ineffective manager and leader and only appears to be doing a successful job based on their ability to “talk a good game.” In a field such as ed tech, which has few, clear, well-known success metrics, a charlatan can easily dazzle his or her superiors by making the most banal achievement seem extraordinary and the time taken by employees to reach the banal achievement to be an efficient use of resources. Charisma is also important to managers or leaders who lack the other trait that an ideal leader has: a manager who lacks vision and a visionary who lacks management. By being able to influence others charismatically, a leader can get others to embrace his or her vision. Conversely, one may have an excellent vision for an organization but be unable to persuade anyone else to adopt that vision. A charismatic manager, on the other hand, can positively impact the morale of his or her employees while managing them as resources by persuading them that the constraints he or she is placing on the employee are more agreeable than they might otherwise be coming from a less persuasive manager. 

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