Ever-Changing Leadership

Ever-Changing Leadership

By Theodore Golota

Ever-changing Leadership

           Being a person who is full of confidence, I was sure that I had all the leadership traits one would need to be a successful leader. Coming from North Lawndale College Prep, where leadership is poor, I knew that I was better and therefore put myself into a category of leadership higher than where I should have really been. Every week of the class my concept of a leader was challenged and modified. From the very first reading assignment and survey, I knew that I had so much growing to do. This was where my journey began and created a lens that I focused through this course.
          My educational leadership voyage commenced on September 28th, 2015 when I took the leadership style survey. After taking the survey I was reaffirmed in my belief that confidence is the most important trait. In fact, the only style that I needed improvement on was the affiliative style. Daniel Goleman states that in order for a leader to be affiliative, they must possess a “people come first attitude” (Goleman 1). I had a reassuring laugh with my wife when I shared that I lacked the empathy piece of leadership. It hit me hard when I read What Makes a Leader and came about a troubling sentence for my identity, “ Empathy is particularly important today as a component of leadership for at least three reasons: the increasing use of teams; the rapid pace of globalization; and the growing need to retain talent” (Goleman 7). Trying to justify my own ideas of leadership I wrote in my journal on September 30th that, “maybe this is just one viewpoint and my professor will counter Goleman’s statement.” Throughout the classroom discussion that day I realized that this viewpoint was not going to be countered. On the contrary, the topic of empathy and being affiliative would come up in class discussions and consultancies with great frequency.

            This repetition of the concept of empathy as one of the most valuable leadership traits did not go away. I was curious to see what the next weeks reading would bring to me, hoping I would see points of connection to my no longer confident notion of leadership. While reading Bush’s piece of school leadership, I became more confused of my own identity as a leader because of all the different leadership styles discussed. I noticed a key trend in nearly all the styles that were defined. Leadership creates a vision for the school and “the vision is articulated by leaders who seek to gain the commitment of staff and stakeholders to the dream of a better future for the school, its students and stakeholders” (Bush 31). This shared vision cannot be created without having empathy for your co-workers. If people believe that you do not genuinely care about them, they are less likely to follow you and work towards a common goal. I slowly began to see that there are advantages and disadvantages to the different styles of leadership. I realized that my current style at the time would get things done efficiently, but at what cost? I could marginalize people by not asking for their input or I could hurt the whole long-term goal by establishing a circle of distrust and disengagement all because I wanted to get the job done.

        I slowly started to realize that a leader needs to have a balance between leadership as defined by Bush and being managerial as defined by Cuban in the School Leadership: Concept and Evidence article. Reading further into the summaries by Marzano, Waters, and McNulty, I noticed that my evolving idea of leadership resonated with Richard Elmore’s concept of instructional leadership. Elmore cautions “that the knowledge base one must have to provide guidance on curriculum, instruction, and assessment is vast” (22). He also argues that leadership should not be a one person role because of the colossal scope of the job. Rather, responsibilities should be distributed in an organized manner. Reading this in agreement, I realized that something had changed inside of me. For the first time in my life I diverged from my lone wolf mentality and thought that a collective effort could be a more efficient way of handling responsibilities. My thoughts on the importance of being affiliative and distributing the work load were brought into focus by Dr. Sayeed’s Venn diagram juxtaposing leading vs managing. I found this diagram helpful because it further helped me realize that my main goal as a growing leader is to focus on establishing relationships; making people feel a part of the process of change; and inspiring change.

        Change, that word just invokes fear and irritation when it comes to education. But, every few years a new policy or idea sweeps through education and we attempt to transform our schools, teachers, and students. Typically, these efforts fail for a multitude of reasons and a new policy sweeps in. As teachers, we are left either scrambling to change or standing firm in the face of our new foe. As a teacher, I have been asked to change many things about my practice as educational reform sweeps through. Every time this happens, within a year or less administration moves onto another hot topic and the previous goal fails. I was never sure why this occurs and thought that as a leader I could help goals become attainable through positive encouragement of the staff. Not until reading John Kotter did I realize that there are many factors that go into leading and sustaining a change. One piece that I completely agree with is that administration usually does not create a powerful group that supports this change or exploit that group to create a larger movement of people behind the new idea. This again goes along with Elmore’s idea of spreading the workload to more people. However, I think that the biggest reason for the failure of change is that there is no set vision and victories are proclaimed prematurely.

        “Without a sensible vision, a transformation effort can easily dissolve into a list of confusing and incompatible projects that can take the organization in the wrong direction or nowhere at all” (Kotter 63). I realized that as a leader I need to get people on my side and come up with a clear vision with them. This is not an individual task because the greater the amount of people believe they are a part of the creation of a vision, the more they are willing to carry out this vision and share it with the rest of the workforce. The next mistake that needs to be avoided is declaring a victory before the war is won. “Until changes sink deeply into a company’s culture, a process that can take five to ten years, new approaches are fragile and subject to regression” (Kotter 66). That statement was so powerful to me and had a crucial impact on my growth as a leader. A leadership flaw that I possessed is that I would quickly jump to conclusions and be assured of my own infallibility. These old inner thoughts changed due to this article. In fact, I wrote in my journal on October 19th that “I gather [sic] that if I want to be an effective leader I need to seriously begin working on my patience.” I knew that proclaiming a victory too soon could be fatal to future progress. 

        This idea of creating progress in a school that was long-lasting and had buy-in was still very new and complex to me. I was puzzled how a school of 3,000 students and faculty could become one organic unit moving toward a common vision. I began thinking how my current school is failing and realized that it was because every classroom teacher does things as they see fit. This phenomenon can also be defined as “loose-coupling” (Elmore 5). Interestingly enough, Elmore argues that standards-based reform is the logical cure for loose-coupling. As I read I drew parallels to Elmore’s solution and my schools current shift to a standards-based curriculum. My school has had little success thus far with standards based grading. As a future leader I began to analyze why the success was not there. Then, I had my first epiphany in the class.

        Everything we have been reading had lead up to this point. The reason standards-based reform has not worked so far in our school is because administration had not set up short-term goals; they did not have a strong organizational committee; there was no shared buy-in that this would be better for the school and the students; the vision was lacking; and administration did not give us any autonomy in the phases required to shift from College Readiness Standards to Common       Core State Standards with a standards-based reporting system. In my journal I made a remark on October 28th, saying that “Just two weeks ago I was talking about patience and here I am proclaiming defeat with only a 5 month implementation period”. Clearly, I was still working on my patience. This development of patience needs to be coupled with being able to create a collaborative effort on a large scale at school. One person does not possess enough patience to have everybody come to terms with change and find the way to the new goal on their own. This is why a leader must spread the leadership amongst his peers in order to tackle the issues from multiple vantage points. In addition, the leader must make sure that his crew does not jump ship because of these changes and the pressure to implement them.

       I know that I am a victim of these thoughts of wanting to leave because the thought of changing everything frankly shocked and scared me. I began to think from the leaders’ perspective of how these thoughts can be curbed or eliminated in other staff members. The most resourceful piece I found about keeping teachers from leaving was a chart from the article, Conditions that Support Early Career Teacher Resilience. Even though this article talks about early teacher careers, I believe it can apply to teachers of varying experience in the field. The bullet points clearly show an empathetic approach to retaining teachers. There needs to be a sense of belonging and connectedness. In addition, it is vital that a leader “acknowledge the complex, intense and unpredictable nature of teachers’ work” (Johnson, Down, Le Cornu, Sullivan, Pearce, & Hunter, 2010).  I believe that a leader needs to establish relationships with people and make them feel welcome in the professional environment. A strong leader must foster a discussion about the challenges teachers face and what we will face when dealing with a new situation.

        One way of making people feel connected and secure about themselves is to have open discussions. People enjoy providing input and sharing their feelings about issues they face. When a leader establishes a safe environment like our consultancy, people open up and are more invested into the course. Had it not been for everybody honest in their thoughts during the consultancy, many people would not have found resolutions or attained inner peace. This peace I speak of is what makes us feel good inside. We feel as if we are working toward a common goal and resolution to a problem. Not one person in our consultancy ever felt marginalized or treated with disrespect when they shared their consultancy or provided feedback. I personally can attest that I felt great joy when Jennifer Nabers said she would use my advice regarding the English teacher at her school. On the other hand, what happens when people don’t feel comfortable and valued? Are people less likely to open up and change because of some external factors? These questions of mine were addressed by Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey.

        Kegan and Lahey wrote an article titled, The Real Reason People Won’t Change. This piece really brings home issues why certain leaders cannot inspire change and why people tend to be averse to changing. One striking issue for leaders is when there are competing commitments that hinder a building of community or personal growth. In my four years of teaching I have learned that people who are not fully invested in their job, tend to have a motive for being unengaged. Most people, including my current leader, view this as laziness or incompetency. But, a true leader will analyze what the problem is and be sensitive to the persons need so that the competing interest will turn into one uniform goal. As a future leader I fully understand that this analysis of the problem is a process. This is why I plan on using the three-stage process of asking “questions to uncover competing commitments…examine these commitments to determine the underlying assumptions at their core. And finally,… start the process of changing their behavior”(Kegan, Lahey 5). I have grown to realize that being a leader takes a lot of careful planning and deep analysis. Creating this plan can be a daunting task even for the most seasoned veteran leader.

        Marzano and his outline for leadership makes the task a little less overwhelming. When discussing the 21 essential criteria for effective school leadership, an essential question is asked. “How does one reconcile the fact that effective school leadership requires 21 responsibilities but that the mastery of all 21 is beyond the capacity of most people ?”(Marzano, Waters, & McNulty 99). The old leadership ideas I had would have told me to try to master all 21 by myself. But my evolved idea of leadership would tell me to create a leadership team and spread out the responsibilities amongst people based on their strengths. These strengths that people possess would be known through discussions and positive interaction.

        Genuine discourse and engagement with people is my strength. However, being personable and not intimidating are my weaknesses. While filling out my chart on my immunity to change, I had a very heartfelt discussion with a peer of mine. I spoke to her about how I wanted to become more personable and for peers to come to my room for general discussions about their problems or achievements. We talked about how I do not always take into consideration how some of my words may affect people. I also spoke with my peer about how I need to work on my face and engage in more relationship building conversations with my co-workers. My catharsis was reached when I discussed my competing goal. I spoke about how I am an immigrant, I lack a specific identity, I am afraid of losing control, how I do not stand for skullduggery, and how I was always an advocate for the weak and the bullied throughout my years in school. I would fight those who were trying to commit an injustice and always stood up for what was right in my mind. From all of this, my peer helped me realize that my big assumption is that people cannot be trusted! Instantly I thanked her because she helped me realize that what my mind was doing was restricting me from being connected with people and having empathy towards my peers. This helped me evolve even further as leader and develop my working definition of leadership.

        Our leadership style constantly evolves to face the challenges we are presented with. In one of our discussion posts titled Personal Leadership Development Plan & Class Discussion, Courtney Lowell mentioned a powerful statement, “We can’t be afraid of the leadership or life decisions we have made in the past – they can’t be all that define us. We need to embrace the good, the bad, and the ugly [sic] and make that apart [sic] of what we are trying to become”. This quote had me made realize that I cannot erase my past in creating my future. I realized that I need to  come to terms with who I was and understand that my past decisions are what made me grow to the person I am today. I have learned that there are many forms of leadership and leadership styles. Each one has its strengths and weaknesses. One vital factor with all successful leadership styles is having empathy towards your fellow man and establishing a strong leadership community.  Through self-analysis, classroom discussions, posts, and readings, I have come to a working definition of leadership that entails my journey. Leadership is having the courage to understand that there is always room for improvement, that no matter who we are, we need to connect with the people around us to create an environment of love, respect, efficiency, and trust.

Bibliography

Bush, Tony, and Derek Glover. School Leadership: Concepts and Evidence. Rep. N.p: National College for School Leadership, 2002. Print.

Elmore, Richard F. "Building a New Structure For School Leadership." Albert Shanker Institute (2000): 1-40. Print.

Goleman, Daniel. "Leadership That Gets Results." Harvard Business Review (2000): 1. Print.

Goleman, Daniel. "What Makes a Leader?" Harvard Business Review (1998): 1-10. Print.

Johnson, Bruce, Barry Down, Rosie Le Cornu, Judy Peters, Anna Sullivan, Jane Pearce, and Janet Hunter. Conditions That Support Early Career Teacher Resilience. Rep. N.p.: Australian Research Council, 2009. Print.

Kegan, Robert, and Lisa Lahey. "The Real Reason People Won't Change." Harvard Business Review (2001): n. Print.

Kotter, John P. "Leading Change: Why Transformation Efforts Fail." Harvard Business Review (1995): 59-67. Print.

Marzano, Robert J., Timothy Waters, and Brian A. McNulty. "A Plan for Effective School Leadership." School Leadership That Works: From Research to Results. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 2005. 98-123. Print.

Marzano, Robert J., Timothy Waters, and Brian A. McNulty. "Some Theories and Theorists on Leadership." School Leadership That Works: From Research to Results. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 2005. 13-27. Print.

Sayeed, Dilara A. "School Leadership." Leading vs Managing. Northwestern University, Evanston. 30 Sept. 2015. Lecture.

Contact Us

Master of Science in Education School of Education & Social Policy

618 Garrett Place
Evanston, IL 60208
Northwestern University

Phone: 847/467-1458

Email: msedprogram@northwestern.edu