We are All Leaders (or can be) #9x9x25 Post 4

image of a coffee cup with the word "begin" on itPhoto by Danielle MacInnes on Unsplash

As I near the culmination of a three-year Doctor of Education program, and a 37 year journey of education since my high school graduation in 1981 (sure, go ahead, do the math, but here I will allow that I was 16 when I graduated), I am most certainly contemplating what’s next. Not because I don’t love my current work–I do, but because over 37 years of maturing and learning, I know that there are new ways ahead for me to work and lead. Ways that might support the success of more humans which is my core value as a practitioner. It’s possible that the success of more humans does not rest with tuition-based post-secondary education, my area of expertise, but this remains to be seen.

Those of you that know me personally, know I’m opinionated, emotional, sometimes cranky, dedicated, hard working, and fully invested in the potential of open education and use of open educational resources. I’m interested mostly in the ways that these things might benefit human learning at local, national, and global levels. What I describe is a big plate of messy work and thinking. Similar to many humans, I struggle with challenging personal and emotional demons of the past (and present) that drive behaviours and knee-jerk reactions I don’t like. These things generally get in my way (leading to the aforementioned crankiness). What I love about the open education community (the large local global network of practitioner-researchers that I’m in) is that I am not alone in these things. My favourite people, whose work I follow and admire, are messy, hard working, and continuously reflecting about their practice and values, as well as sharing personal demons and challenges along the way.

I’ve seen a few things this past 18 months in my graduate study, research, practice, and interactions that lead me to today’s topic of leadership. I’m talking about leadership in teaching, designing, researching, whatever role you play in the education realm. I want to share my leadership philosophy (similar to the teaching philosophy I shared at the beginning of the 9x9x25 challenge a few weeks ago). I want to share it, not least because I spent a couple of years honing it as part of my studies. There is a focus on post-secondary education, but that’s my context. Here goes…

Excellent post-secondary leaders balance service to their institutions with service to their teams, colleagues, learners, and communities – keeping a clear focus on organizational mission and vision. This type of service leadership requires a willingness to be available and support daily departmental activities. Service leadership also means supporting and empowering colleagues that are implementing strategic initiatives. Support and empowerment mean hiring, onboarding, and providing professional development opportunities for team members, leveraging their strengths, and removing obstacles to their success. Excellent post-secondary leaders are lifelong learners, they continue to read, research, and actively participate in review of emerging teaching practice and learner support strategies. They learn about useful technology for their practice. Excellent leaders measure, document, analyze, and evaluate successful initiatives, listen carefully for diverse and dissenting perspectives, and quickly learn from mistakes and failures.

The point is, excellent leaders (assuming leadership from any organizational role) hone their skills to work in the contexts that align with their values, and then they empower others. That’s it, completely simple (she said with a hollow laugh, knowing it’s not at all simple). From any level it is possible to attempt these things. Here’s one thing I’ve learned recently as well, I am never as good a leader or colleague as I think I am. I’m focusing on these next two things to try and improve that.

Two key methods that empower others:

  1. Sit in your chair and do your work. Improve your own practice through learning and practicing, do the work you’re paid to do first (especially the work that is not fun, but you know is completely necessary), and tone down the siren call of travel, presenting, keynoting, aggressive ladder climbing (most often at the expense of others), complaining, and seeking love and approval. We all want to be adored, many of us (myself included) need to focus on what that looks like with our immediate colleagues and family members. You will be surprised and delighted how much people will like you if you follow item number 2.
  2. Foster and celebrate the excellent work of others. Ensure that you support colleagues, and as many people as you come into contact with, to do their best work. Ask what matters to them, ask what they want to do, ask about their strengths, listen carefully to their answers. Name the people around you (in close and distant proximity) that make your work better, that are doing great things that align with your values. If you are actually in a leadership position (supervising others, leading teams), always acknowledge the hard work of your team to make initiatives a success. Acknowledge them by name, in public, every individual. Never, ever imply that you have skills that you don’t, that your organization somehow mysteriously generates success, or that the success of any project was yours alone. There’s some magic in applying this to your personal life as well perhaps.

A question and a statement that help me to be a better practitioner and leader (and expand the open education movement generally):

1. How can I support (mentor, share something that will help) you to achieve the work you want to do?

2. Thank you for your offer to (speak, present, publish, collaborate, move up the ladder), I’m very busy in my role right now, but I have a colleague (peer, student, friend in an economically expanding region) that is interested in trying that.

Item number two is a polite way of saying no to taking on more than you can possibly do, keeping you in your chair so you can do the work you’re being paid to do (or that you volunteer to do because it’s important to you and you actually have the time), and a great way of including others.

With thanks to @ajleon and the Misfits of Fargo for the “sit in your chair” concept. Also many thanks to my eCampusOntario colleagues, Julia, Erin, Kevin, Stan, Caleb, Chris, Emma, Lillian, Elan, Jamee, Lena, and David, and especially Peggy French, Terry Greene, and Joanne Kehoe who keep me grounded every day.

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