Emergent Leadership for Learning Organizations

The conversation over at EdTechWomen on leadership sparked a reflection as to what characteristics are needed to be a leader, not a manager.

During my career as an educator, I have led professional development with a keen eye on servant leadership. Teacher voice and input is critical and often overlooked in traditional hierarchical organizations, which must give way for DIY learning and the push of market demand in an ever-increasing learning landscape of choice. In interviews with Tom Friedman and Adam Bryant, Laszlo Bock, the senior vice president of people operations for Google, noted several characteristics that are very important in emergent leadership, which is critical in the hyper-connected, morphing world of learning:

Stepping In & Out of Leadership
Bock observes, “’What we [Google] care about is, when faced with a problem and you’re a member of a team, do you, at the appropriate time, step in and lead. And just as critically, do you step back and stop leading, do you let someone else?’” The ability to step in and lead but also step back, letting others lead is key for we tap into the energies and thinking of others to tackle a problem, design new programs, or re-imagine what is possible.

Humility: Relinquishing Power
Bock believes humility is essential for learning by relinquishing power “’to step back and embrace the better ideas of others.’”

Consistency, Fairness, Predictability
Another key characteristic Bock cites is consistency: “’We found that, for leaders, it’s important that people know you are consistent and fair in how you think about making decisions and that there’s an element of predictability. If a leader is consistent, people on their teams experience tremendous freedom, because then they know that within certain parameters, they can do whatever they want. If your manager is all over the place, you’re never going to know what you can do, and you’re going to experience it as very restrictive.’” Being a leader is quite different than being a manager, and consistency, fairness, and predictability in leadership is an imperative to avoid the restrictive environment Bock mentions and critical for shepherding creativity and freedom to develop effective “moving forward” strategies for any organization, including schools. If team members are not sure of a leader’s (or manager’s) behavior on any given day, “moving forward” strategies are either stifled or never realized out of fear of backlash.

What do you think of these emergent leadership characteristics? Are learning organizations ready for them? Does your organization embrace emergent leadership?

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EdTechWomen: What is Leadership?

EdTechWomen (ETW) has announced their speakers for the #ISTE2014 dinner event, an exciting lineup: Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach, CEO of Powerful Learning Practice, and Matt Wallaert, behavioral scientist at Microsoft. In preparation for the event, ETW has asked attendees to share their thoughts on leadership.

Their statements are powerful and provide reflection on our beliefs about leadership.

Making Decisions, Providing Guidance

Theresa Quilici, Library Media Specialist at Rome Middle School – “Good leaders are passionate, energetic, and knowledgeable of current trends. They listen to stakeholders, view issues from multiple sides, and then make decisions that guide their teams toward success.”

Providing and Accepting Timely Feedback

Martha Fairley, Director of Instructional Technology and Connect Online Learning at Eagle’s Landing Christian Academy – “Good leaders give timely feedback and create an atmosphere that welcomes feedback. Flexibility accompanied by the ability to regroup and move forward is a must of every good leader.”

No Dictating, Taking People Down, or Fear Tactics

Wendy Drexler, Chief Innovation Officer of ISTE – “A good leader listens carefully, respects the ideas of others, and uses her experience to build others up rather than dictate or take people down. I judge my success by the success of those I touch. Of course, integrity, courage, calculated risk taking, and dedication also go a long way.”

Elana Leoni, Director of Social Media Strategy and Marketing at Edutopia – “The best leaders are those that inspire and motivate without fear tactics.”

On Motivation and Inspiration

Andrea Anderson, Manager of Integration and Customer Support at Atomic Learning – “A good leader does not simply take a group forward but helps to blaze the path by inspiration and motivation to help others achieve greatness.”

Anyone Can Be a Leader (title ≠ leadership)

Jill Thompson, Personalized Learning Program Manager in Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools – “My motto is ‘You don’t have to be in a leadership position, to be a leader.’ Leadership to me is influencing others to take on challenges and help them produce solutions.”

Elana Leoni, Director of Social Media Strategy and Marketing at Edutopia – “Leadership is a choice — not a rank. The best leaders are those that inspire and motivate without fear tactics.”

Beyond “The Normal” – Beyond the Comfortable

Michelle Cordy, Teacher and Applied Research at the Thames Valley District School Board – “Leadership is having the courage to say, think and do things that are outside the realm of what is happening and what is normal. It’s about acting a little differently to try and dent the world a little. A good leader makes their actions and rationale visible to others and invites others on the journey.

I look forward to learning more from others at the #ISTE2014 EdTechWomen event. What is leadership to you? How do you define leadership?