Sunday, November 21, 2004

Leadership as Impact: A review of two presentations from the Educational Impact Learning Library

A paper written for “Introduction to Conflict Resolution and Alternate Dispute Resolution” (Leadership 9610).

The Educational Impact Learning Library provides a host of information on a variety of topics of interest to individuals studying and focusing on education. The content – in the form of streaming video of presentations, slides and outlines, transcripts of content sessions, and papers – provides overviews and in-depth commentary on issues of contemporary interest to professional educators. In reviewing this material, I have sought out presentations which provide relevance to leaders outside educational settings. I have looked for content which provides universal themes.

In the “Web of Support: The national perspective on leadership,” Alan November provides a presentation about “The Power of Leadership.” November’s focus is on technology and leadership, a focus of value to all leaders. While November’s talk is directed at educational institutions, particularly K through 12 schools. November suggests, “All books, all video, all radio, all television, essentially every media we now know in a separate box is going to merge onto the internet…. It’s going to be as big a revolution as the printing press.” (p. 1) He suggests that the major question coming out of this is “What’s the role of a school leader trying to make sense out of all this?” (p. 1) I believe the question is even larger than this. The question is “What is the role of an organizational leader who is trying to determine how to harness technology within the organization, whatever the organization?”

November suggests there are two basic ways for leaders to think about technology. The first way is what November terms “automating.” With automating, we merely take what we are currently doing and “bolt technology on top of it.” (p. 1) A school example of this is using computers for writing; when students are sent to a computer lab to write an essay using a word processor, they are doing the same thing they’d be doing using pen and paper, only they are using technology. (p. 2) A non-school example might be voice-over-internet, which is merely using the computer and the internet as a telephone. We’re merely using technology to do the same thing, in basically the same way, as we were doing it before. The second way to think about technology is what November calls “informating.” (p. 2) Three questions frame informating: “Are you giving people access to information they’ve never had before?” (p. 2) “Are you giving people access to people? (p. 2) “Are we empowering people to take more responsibility for managing their own work?” (p. 3)

November spends the remainder of his presentation building a case for embracing technology in an appropriate, informating manner so that students, teachers, and parents can best function in, and contribute to, our rapidly changing world. We are moving to a knowledge economy where being “self-directed, self-motivated, and a team player” (p 4) are of vital importance. He builds a case for “information literacy” and “communication literacy,” two literacies which impact not only schools but all organizations.

Phil Schlechty, president of the Center for Leadership in School Reform, provides an “Expert Analysis” for a chapter from “Breaking Ranks: Revisited.” The chapter is “Leadership: Attributes that need nourishing,” and Schlechty provides a sometimes rambling review and commentary on the seven recommendations “Breaking Ranks” makes for creating leaders in high schools. The recommendations are specific to educational settings; the first recommendation is “The principal will provide leadership in the high school community by building and maintaining a vision, direction, and focus for student learning.” We could re-rack this recommendation to be more universal in applicability: “The senior leader will provide leadership in the organization by building and maintaining a vision, direction, and focus for creating customer and stakeholder-desired outcomes.”

As I see it, Schlechty’s major contribution to expanding on the seven recommendations comes near the conclusion of his talk. He states two steps which are mandatory for good leadership. The first is to “get your own head right.” (p. 24) He suggests, “Unless you have a clear conception of – and a clear vision yourself – where you think things ought to go, there’s no way to get a group to develop a vision…. Groups respond to visions that are developed, and they modify them.” (p. 24) He goes on to say “the first step in leading real change is for the leader to sit down alone and figure out what they believe about a number of important things.” (p. 24) What is the organizations purpose? How can we create the desired outcomes? What are our critical success factors? The second mandatory step for good leaders is “to gather around you a group of people who … function as a guiding coalition.” (p. 25) The people of this guiding coalition must have the “ability to get other people to do things without authority” (p. 25) and they must have the understanding and skills to do the work required of them, and they must have “some degree of credibility with those other people who are going to have to support the change.” Schlechty suggests, “And then once I got those folks around me, we would take my beliefs and their beliefs; and we’d have dialog until we came to a consensus about what we believe. And then we’d begin to take that same dialog to wider and wider circles.” Schlechty’s counsel is appropriate for all organizational leaders, not just school leaders.

Both November and Schlechty provide insight into organizational leadership. Schlechty’s counsel focuses on what I might term the “soft side” of leadership. He is about building relationships and consensus; he is about leaders exercising our four human endowments – self awareness, imagination, conscience, and independent well (Covey, 1989, p. 71) – in creating an environment for change. November’s work focuses on the impact technology will continue to have on organizations. He is about using technology to not just automate processes, but to “informate” – to create a community based on information and communication and relationships. Leaders, of schools and of other organizations, need the joint focus of Schlechty’s and November’s counsel.

References

Covey, S. R. (1989). The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful lessons in personal change. New York: The Free Press/Simon & Schuster.

November, A. (n.d.). “The Power of Leadership.” Retrieved November 20, 2004, from Nova Southeastern University, Educational Impact, Web of Support/The National Perspective on Leadership Web site.

Schlechty, P. (n.d.). “Breaking Ranks – Revisited: Chapter 12 Expert Analysis.” Retrieved November 20, 2004, from Nova Southeastern University, Educational Impact, Breaking Ranks Revisited Web site.

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