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Friday, December 9, 2011

The wrong leadership style gets desired short term results at the expense of long term.

We are used to thinking of short-term results as a promise (or at least indicator) of long term results. If a student does well on a spelling quiz, he or she should be on the way to becoming proficient with vocabulary and language as a whole.

But that is not always the case. I wrote in Unschooling Rules:

Rule 24: Teaching is leadership. Most teaching is bad leadership. (#unrules24)

Specifically, using the wrong form of leadership means sacrificing long term behavior changes in order to get target short-term behavior. If you order a child to write a paper on Roman history, you often enough are creating a long term resentment of both writing and history.

A great source for research on leadership comes from: Yukl, Gary (2002). Power & Influence in Leadership in Organizations 5th edition, Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River, New Jersey

I like to look at Yukl's specifics in three areas:
  • First, what are the outcomes of the application of leadership (both good and bad)?
  • Second, what are the range of inputs available to a leader? How is leadership applied?
  • Finally, what is the system that connects inputs to outcomes? What inputs (or actions) lead to which outcomes and in which conditions?
The Outcomes of Leadership
In Yukl’s summary: “For a proactive influence attempt that involves a specific request by a single agent to a single target person, it is useful to differentiate among three distinct outcomes. Commitment…Compliance… and Resistance.” (page 147)
This Center for Army Leadership report Advanced Learning Theories Applied to Leadership Development expanded it well (italics and bullets added):
“Interpersonal influence (i.e., influencing others) can produce one of three outcomes (Yukl et al., in press).
  • The first outcome is resistance, where a subordinate is opposed to the leader’s request and will try to avoid doing it.
  • The second is compliance, where the leader provides a direct order to the subordinate and the subordinate carries out the order. This type of influence is often appropriate as the leader faces direct, immediate, high-stakes situations where accomplishing the mission at all costs is what matters. However, Yukl et al., (in press) have found that while compliance may be effective, it may also result in the subordinate becoming more apathetic and exerting less effort to future requests.
  • The third outcome is commitment, where the subordinate has a favorable attitude towards the leader’s request and puts forth the necessary effort to carry out the request.”
Given this framework, we can see how compliance to a leader may generate short term target behavior, but very little (if any) long term behavior changes. In contrast, commitment to a leader is infinitely more valuable and long lasting. So a fifth grade teacher, for example, may get compliance to take a test or write a paper, but in a way that actually creates more problems for the subsequent eight grade teacher.

The Application of Leadership
Yukl also identified different techniques of leadership. These are what leaders do, and they fall into these categories:
  • Pressure - Using explicit demands
  • Legitimate request - Source of authority is basis for request
  • Exchange - A trade of desired actions or items
  • Personal appeal - Friendship or loyalty is basis for request
  • Collaboration - Assistance or resources are offered
  • Rational persuasion - Experienced expert provides evidence or logical arguments
  • Apprising - Explaining benefits of specific requested action (benefit not under Advisor control)
  • Inspiration- Using strong emotion to build conviction
  • Participation - Involving others to establish “buy in”
  • Relationship building - Rapport and mutual trust are basis for request

Connecting Approach to Results

The pragmatic issue, of course, is "how do you use the right approach to get the desired results?" This involved understanding the connections between actions and results.

Yukl found that certain influencing techniques were more likely to drive the result of commitment, while others were more likely to drive compliance. As clear examples, pressure (“do this now”) often drives compliance while collaboration often drives commitment.

Finally (and this is a bit nuanced), the best leaders further match the right style of leadership to the target of influence's specific resistance:

  • Logical (“head”), if the target did not feel intellectually connected to the goal;
  • Emotional (“heart”) if the target did not feel emotionally connected to the goal;
  • Cooperative (“hands”) if the target needed help;
  • Direct if the target just needed to know what to do quickly and simply.
The actions of the influencing techniques get the most positive results if they match up with the type of resistance from the target. For example, if a target was displaying emotional resistance, the right influencing techniques were inspirational and personal appeal.

Here's a chart:

Type of ResistanceSuccessful Influencing Techniques
Cognitive / "Head"Rational Persuasion, Exchange, Apprising
Emotional / "Heart"Inspiring, Personal Appeals
Cooperation / “Hands”Collaboration, Participation
DirectPressure, Legitimate Request

Schools are set up to use a directive leadership style that delivers, at best, short term compliance in students. And while some teachers hack the system to use different and more long term approaches to build commitment, they do it a personal and professional cost.

Any system that mistakes (and rewards) compliance over commitment will create a social time-bomb and a highly specific set of school "winners". But the educational industrial complex may not have any choice.

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