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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