Reflection is the start of developing any effective leadership skills and qualities. Reflection, according to Weick, (1979) is all about “compartmentalizing experiences into meaningful parts, labelling them and constructing connections between them” (p. 98). Effective leaders need to constantly reflect on their own leadership behaviour in order to understand how it affects the behaviour of others. Ollila (2000) alerted us that leadership without reflection can reinforce unsuccessful leader behaviour and, in the long run, this behaviour can be institutionalized as organizational incompetence (p. 200). In our leadership class, Dr. Marti advocates reflection in action as a life-long personal and professional practice. By embedding a reflection assignment in our course, it enables us to find meaning in leadership both in the course and beyond, and integrate and generalize leadership theories and practices studied throughout the DDE program to effectively address current and future issues. I will be a better leader if I practise reflective leadership frequently.
Gallagher (2010) stated that “true leadership skills cannot be carbon copied from a formula or recipe. They must be honed through a mixture of experience and careful reflection” (para. 4). My work as Head, Digital Initiatives and Electronic Resources with Athabasca University (AU) Library and frequent interactions with AU executives, unit directors, mangers, and leading researchers/scholars, provides invaluable insights into the traits of a strong leader. I have experienced the unique styles and skills that make effective leaders. My doctoral study has afforded me the opportunity to reflect upon qualities of effective leadership and leaders that have impacted me in the way they reveal these qualities. The first people that I would consider successful leaders that popped into my minds are currently at our class – Our leadership course instructor, Dr. Marti Cleveland-Innes. If I have the privilege to sum up her leadership qualities, I would have to begin with her being a compassionate and passionate education leader. She teaches from the heart, advocates for all students, and creates a positive learning environment where students can thrive. She always avails herself to students whenever they come across issues and require assistance. She has demonstrated a remarkable sensitivity to students’ individual needs and capabilities as well as their limitations so that each is left with a sense of worth as well as a feeling of pride and accomplishment. She gives of her time unstintingly and her love of distance education is boundless. I think what makes her an exceptional leader is that she lives and breathes what she believes in. She practises what she preaches basically. This is the kind of education leader that I would like to be. Leaders are all unique. Duplication of Dr. M’s leadership qualities is not my leadership goal. Rather, my objective is to learn how to integrate these qualities within my own personal architecture to create my own leadership styles.
Serving as Head, Digital Initiatives and Electronic Resources, I provide leadership and guidance to AU Library`s digital initiatives and manage a high-performance digitization unit. This paper allows me to review my present role and reflect on what my greatest assets in leadership are. Some of my greatest asses are effective communication skills, leadership by delegation, and ability to create an environment of trust among the people I am working with. A successful leader must be an inspirational communicator. If a leader cannot communicate well, followers will not understand the vision and follow the path of their leader. Being the lead of a high-performance unit, I possess highly effective interpersonal and communication skills. I have the ability to lead, persuade, counsel, motivate, and influence others for the purpose of initiating and developing IT projects, identifying external funding sources, preparing presentations and persuasive proposals. I am very appreciative of the coursework in our leadership class. It has helped developed my communication abilities as leaders in many different ways, especially on how to be an effective leader as well as a good listener. Covey (1989) once said that habits of highly effective people include “seek first to understand, then to be understood” (p. 68). His statement made me realize that I am often focusing on the latter rather than the former, and when I am supposed to be listening, I am often thinking of how I will respond. As a leader, I need to be a better listener.
Working in a team environment, I advocate leadership delegation and staff empowerment. US President Eisenhower (2011) once said “Great leadership is getting someone to do something you want them to do because they want to do it” (para. 9). As a unit manager, I spend time getting to know my staff, discover their hidden talents, common interests, and strengths. I feel that I can be a better leader by capitalizing on their strength, trusting in their abilities, delegating the tasks, and empowering them. The real strength of a leader is the ability to elicit the strength of the group. Maybe there are no leaders, only leadership.
Successful leaders always work toward developing a trusting environment for everyone in their community to excel. Many leadership studies revealed that people tend to be more innovative and productive when they are trusted to do a job and when they trust those they are working and for. As a manager, I always try to establish a climate of trust in my unit. I am not afraid to speak my mind on important topics, never claim to have all the solutions and always open to dialogue on difficult issues. The staffs seem to appreciate my soft, trusting leadership style. Nonetheless, I still found it hard in my leadership role to strike the balance between trusting others to do the job and doing it myself. This is still a challenge for me. I need to learn how to trust my colleagues to do the job instead of doing micro-management.
My other challenges are being a visionary leader and self-confidence. A visionary leader must be able to assess a situation, determine the best action, and take the appropriate steps to achieve the desirable outcomes. The visionary leader must be able to think long term and envision possibilities and future. The vision needs to be a clear, vivid picture of where it is going and how to get there. I think having this clear vision is central to being in a leadership position. I need to learn how to use my wisdom and power in shaping a vision and getting others to buy in. Self-confidence is an important characteristic of successful leaders. According to Zaccaro and Klimoski (2001), self-confidence can contribute to the envisioning process in many ways. High self-confidence can help leaders develop an innovative vision that breaks with the status quos. It can help them handle difficult challenges associated with implementing such a vision. Finally, when leaders display a strong sense of confidence, they convey a positive message to their followers about the feasibility… of their vision; accordingly, they facilitate the trust necessary for successful vision implementation. I believe people in leadership positions need to have a confidence about them if they are truly going to lead others. They stay clam under pressure. This is an area that I always struggle with. Staying calm and under control in difficult situations show true leadership and charisma. This is something I have been working on all year. I feel through leadership training course, motivation, and focus on contribution, self-confidence can be raised.
In summary, taking the EDDE804 leadership course was a challenging and exciting learning experience. Working with distance education leaders like Dr. M, I gained new leadership knowledge, skills, and experience. Importantly, I found new confidence that I was able to weave leadership theory into my own professional and personal practice and perform the role of a transformational leader and effective manager. My DDE program had also afforded me the opportunity to reflect on the qualities of effective leadership. The most important attribute is probably having the flexibility to change and adapt with these experiences.
Becoming an inspirational leader is a lifetime pursuit; leadership is not acquired overnight or in a year. Leadership is an evolutionary process. The most effective leaders develop through a never-ending process of critical reflection, learning, training, and experience. Becoming a great leader means to foster the leadership qualities and follow through with the vision. Being a leader also means willingness to listen and learn from others, having the flexibility to change and adapt with these experiences. I believe that these qualities and characteristics can be learned and developed by me to shape my staff, families, and students into great leaders of their own.
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