Disruptive Leadership

The second part of Unit 2: Leadership…? is having us disrupt our thinking about leadership and challenge what we believe about leadership.

Assignment #2: Find a quote from each article that resonates with you, along with a brief explanation of its impact on your leadership philosophy including ways that these readings disrupted any impressions formed by the leadership review excerpt from the previous assignment.

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“The dominant writing on leadership and the hype around leadership development in contemporary organizations has an influence on how leadership identities are constructed, this being largely masculine, aggressive, and controlling self-reliant ‘perfect beings’. Managers are therefore encouraged to ‘become’ leaders and adopt an identity prescribed by the literature and by leadership development programmes.” (Edwards, Elliott, Iszatt-White, & Schedlitzki, 2013, p. 6)

This quote resonates with me as it deals with the stereotyped image of what a leader SHOULD be. This image is, as stated above, inundated with many of the “isms” that are listed in the Critical Theory glossary for our course: conformism, and sexism but also other terms such as ethnocentrism, western ideals, and colonialism. This results in employees conforming to the norms of this image and becoming compliant with the world around them. In reading the Critical Theory forum for our course, I noticed a theme that many of those in the group had found that they had fallen into conformity and it is images such as the one depicted in this quote that promote that conformity and fear of “rocking the boat”. I know that this is not the image of a leader that I subscribe to but this quote has me questioning what that image is and if there is even the need for such an image? What if we could develop a more universal decentralized leadership model as described in Bryant’s article below? Could that help us to destroy the systematic inequalities that exist in our society?

Edwards, G., Elliott, C., Iszatt-White, M., & Schedlitzki, D. (2013). Critical and alternative approaches to leadership learning and development. Management Learning44(1), 3-10.

“The clear implication is that followers should be able to challenge, and perhaps even disobey, the commandments of their leaders.” (Tourish, 2014, p. 23)

What a novel idea! I know that many others in the course probably shuddered a little bit when they read this…to blatantly go against their leader? But why not?

I have seen followers lose their positions or not receive appropriate promotions and advancements by challenging their leader both in and outside of education. I think that, when looking at a situation where leadership needs to be challenged, you must look at leaders who lead through autocratic styles and determine whose interests are being served before judging the deviation of the follower. If the people of France had not risen up above their monarch (Louis XVI), the French Revolution would not have happened and our Canadian society would look very different. In my opinion, leaders should not only be able to mediate and make decisions but should also demonstrate humility and honesty about their skills and knowledge. Leaders are not always right and they need those in their teams that are willing to keep them and their power in check.

Tourish, D. (2014). Leadership, more or less? A processual, communication perspective on the role of agency in leadership theory. Leadership10(1), 79-98.

“[…] for every change initiative added, another one slows down or disappears […] people begin faking it, acting as if they are cooperating with a new initiative while secretly carrying on business as usual, a subtle form of sabotage.” (Abrahamson, 2004, para. 12)

I see this often in education, in the past three years, the title of our student support teacher has changed three times. The assessments that are forced on our students keep growing. All with the intent to “improve education for students”. It is hard to keep track of each new initiative that comes down the pipe in education, a world where best practice and the technologies that support it are constantly changing and evolving at breakneck speeds. There are teachers and schools that do their absolute best to implement every new idea that passes by, whether it be mandated or not, and are often left overwhelmed and fragmented in their goals of implementation. Some take the stance between the early and late majority and choose a few things to be good at before adding a new tool to their toolbox. Some, are straight-out resistors, so overwhelmed with the addition of new that they are determined to maintain the status quo and let everything roll off their back and flow around their stationary island. How do we as leaders help these teachers in adapting to best practices in a manageable manner and advocate for new initiatives to slow down when our team members are drowning in the constant flow? I am not a person who is afraid of change, but not all can handle the disruption as well as others. Leaders need to recognize and evaluate the rate and intensity of the initiatives that they bring to their team to ensure that their intentions maintain their integrity.

Abrahamson, E. 2004. Avoiding Repetitive Change Syndrome. MITSloan Management Review. Winter 2004. 

“Self-stupidifying starts to happen when we censor our own internal conversation.” (Alvesson & Spicer, 2016, part 5, para 2)

Our internal conversation, the conversation that tells us “that teacher” or “that student” can do it, they just need a little more support and guidance. The conversation that knows the assessments are not as beneficial as advertised and that the data is sometimes being used for the wrong reasons. We all have it. This internal conversation is evident in reading the Critical Theory forum in the stories we share. Keeping this conversation alive is what is keeping criticality in the classroom and helping us to develop our thinking around the social issues and injustices that occur in our schools every day. This quote really resonated with me as I found it a reminder to never stop questioning the reasons and consequences behind what goes on in the classroom and the school. When we stop questioning these things, we start to self-stupidify, and acquiesce to “the man” and the oppression around us.

Excerpts from: Alvesson, M., & Spicer, A. (2016). The stupidity paradox: The power and pitfalls of functional stupidity at work. Profile Books.

For this article, I could not just choose one quote, so I narrowed it down to two.

“In the language of this tribe the closest word for leader meant only ‘one who goes first’. This resembles the transient position of the leader in some contemporary images of decentralized systems.” (Bryant, 1998, p. 12)

The idea that there is no one leader and that all work together to lead their society in their own way is inspirational for me. It recognizes the strengths and weaknesses of all of the members of the community and asks each to make their contribution where they can, sharing their wisdom and supporting others as needed. I feel this decentralized leadership model is beneficial and evident in schools as we have a variety of staff members in our buildings that are the “resident expert” and to whom others go for support when they are dabbling in that area. This model demonstrates humility in that one person does not hold the ultimate power but all openly contribute and acknowledge the strengths and weaknesses of each member. What would it look like if we could accomplish moving more of our organizations to a decentralized model? Are there situations or sizes of organizations where this is not viable?

“It was the wisdom of the leader, accumulated through some period of learning, that impressed others. Through that student’s own learning, others learned. That learning was voluntary. It was a never-ending process.” (Bryant, 1998, p. 16)

The role of the teacher is described in this quote and I think that it is beautiful … minus that second last sentence. Voluntary learning. I battle with this as, in our province, education is mandated until the age of 16. And the curriculum is also mandated by the government in order to attain that magical Grade 12 Diploma. The learning in our buildings is, unfortunately, not voluntary for all of our students. We have some that will eagerly eat up and explore any topic we present to them, a convenience when trying to cover curriculum but what about the other, more prevalent group, that would like to learn, but based on their interests? What about the teachers that have experienced and learned so much they would love to share with their students but are unable to share their passion for learning because it doesn’t fit in the box that is the curriculum? Or what about the schools who, under great leadership, are striving to help develop programs and support our students in their learning so they can take over and make changes to the oppression around them in their everyday lives? These are big, exciting questions to think about (I could already start the plans for a “dream school”) but this unfortunately will not happen in the near future due to our current economic situation and the oppression all around us. In what ways can our “guerrilla teaching” help us to develop spaces where teaching and learning can fit this image of learning and leadership?

Bryant, M. 1998. Cross-Cultural Understandings of Leadership. Educational Management and Administration, 26(1) 7-20.

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