Essay: Leadership Skills &amp Learning Communities Being

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Leadership Skills & Learning Communities

Being a leader in an educational setting doesn't simply mean being in charge, being the one that organizes activities, or having an advanced degree. Being a leader in a learning community requires important skills that can be shared and transferred to others. It also means being willing to innovate and to avoid the trap of the out-of-date "top-down" hierarchal mentality. This paper discusses what skills it takes to truly be a leader in a learning community.

The Literature on Leadership in Learning Environments

"The old assumptions made about leadership cannot be held sacrosanct in a technological, fast-paced environment, with a growing ethnically diverse population…"

(Fulton-Calkins, et al., 2005, p. 233).

An article in the British Journal of Educational Technology posits that effective leadership within the context of a learning community should not be a stand-alone activity. Shared knowledge between leaders in a collaborative setting is what the authors of this article present, and their position on page 950 is clearly an intelligent, innovative and pragmatic position to take. The idea of learning leadership skills through collaboration and innovation -- rather than just attending classes, taking tests, obtaining a degree and being assigned a leadership position -- has great appeal to today's progressive leader.

To wit, the authors assert that collaborative involvement in the sense of improving "…e-learning practice" proceeds successfully when there is a "serious departure from conservative 'top-down' styles of authoritative institutional leadership" (Jameson, et al., 2006, p. 950).

In other words, the old style of leadership in education settings too often featured a person whose leadership position was obtained based on seniority, or longevity. And too frequently that person (or persons) was not up to speed on reforms in leadership training, on new and progressive strategies, and on the most effective way to lead in educational settings. Jameson explains that bright, smart leadership skills include understanding that cultural relationships are very important to take into consideration within the context of learning.

Various different stakeholders have of course diverse cultural backgrounds, and when those cultural differences are not recognized or taken into account in a serious way by leadership, there can be what Jameson refers to as "cultural rifts" which can lead to "ultimate failure" (950). Also, rivalry, competition and tension -- too often found in institutional settings -- can reduce the chances of effective leadership training, Jameson continues. The authors assert that many educational institutions "are slow to change leadership styles" that can accommodate the "flexible and democratic partnership requirements of e-learning projects" (950-51). For example, in the e-learning (online learning) field, there is frequently a need for trying out new software and other learning innovations.

Using a team approach to training leaders is the most effective approach when new, important technological skills are needed, introduced, the authors insist. The team approach to training leaders is vital in the technological context because the team approach is often far more flexible. In that sense, "…radical innovations" can be "encompassed more readily than in fixed internal organizations structures" (Jameson, 951).

Demonstrating the alert and intelligent approach to embracing new skills in the field of e-learning, the authors first pose the question, "What are the most important qualities needed, now, to develop good leadership?" (952). The answer they provide is instructive and pertinent: "Vision and a willingness to be innovative even if this leads to short-term 'pain'" (952). There is a further step in answer to the question, and that suggests that the leadership skill includes having the ability to convince others of the value and validity of this vision. The entails "…allowing -- and listening to -- open debate and constructive challenge…from those expected to implement change" (Jameson, 952).

An article in the peer-reviewed College Student Journal points out that due to the "rapid flow of knowledge" and the cultural and social changes taking place in the world, there is a need for "the discovery of new techniques and innovations" in the continuous learning genre for leaders (Alansari, et al., 2009, 1). The authors discuss a model in leadership that is presently presented at Kuwait University, but it has applications for leadership in adult learning communities -- and continuing education endeavors -- in any location.

When it comes to leadership in adult education in Kuwait, Alansari explains that leadership training is ongoing and vital because of several developments: a) there have been dramatic changes in the economic structure of the Kuwait society (oil revenues raise the standard of living); b) the economic changes increase demands for instructors to acquire the skills in order to train workers in new professions; and c) regular educational settings "…suffer from rigidity, traditional ideas, and lack of planning in building up curricula or in applying necessary modifications and realizing integration with real life" (4).

The authors conclude with the thought that a "scientific research center for continuing education" should be established at the university to fulfill Kuwaiti citizens' needs, especially in training leaders in the skills necessary to education adults in continuing education (6). Many adults who lived in Kuwait prior to the infusion of revenue from oil discoveries and development missed out on educational opportunities; so now, new leaders in the education field must be trained to specifically respond to those adults who wish to gain new knowledge and new skills.

The kinds of skills that learning leaders need in Kuwait are also the skills and experiences that instructors of future teachers need to acquire in the United States. This aspect of learning should be a goal for teachers and those in college who plan to teach, because technology is continually being advanced and innovated -- often at the speed of light, it seems -- and the future for an adult that is not up to speed on computer and digital knowledge, for example, will fall farther and farther behind those who are trained in new technologies. It's up to leadership in the learning community to continue developing new skills in order to be able to pass that knowledge along to students in all genres of education.

An article in the Journal of Leadership Studies (Zula, et al., 2010) zeros in on how students perceive leadership skills. In short, a survey of 214 business majors in a small liberal arts college reflects that students believe that leaders "…act from internal motivations" and that leadership is "positional" and is "an individual possession" (Zula, 50). The researchers in this survey discovered both "constraining" and "empowering" beliefs that either "hindered or encouraged students to take on leadership roles" (Zula, 50).

It is interesting that the empowering beliefs (that encouraged students to seek leadership skills) boiled down to three categories: a) support from peers and others; b) available opportunities; and c) their backgrounds and environment (Zula, 50).

As to the "constraining beliefs," they too come down to three components: a) "lack of capabilities"; b) lack of confidence to achieve leadership status; and c) lack of opportunities (Zula, 50-51).

Meanwhile, the article points to the importance of educators being in a position to teach an area of leadership they call "emotional intelligence," which is, according to Nelson and Low (2003), "…the single most important influencing variable in personal achievement, career success, leadership, and life satisfaction" (Zula, 49). Another scholar, Goleman (1995, 1998) views emotional intelligence involves "self-awareness, confidence, self-regulation, conscientiousness, and motivation" (Zula, 49). The bottom line in terms of emotional intelligence as applied to the concept of needed skills for leadership, it helps to determine "how leaders make difficult decisions in times of crisis," Zula continues on page 49. Leaders with a high level of emotional intelligence will most of the time make "rational decisions with a cool and level-headedness" but leaders with a lower emotional intelligence often make "poor and irrational decisions" (Zula, 49).

That brings up the question, is emotional intelligence really a skill that can be taught and learned? Perhaps it cannot be taught in all instances, but it can be developed by motivated, bright people who wish to be leaders, and by those leaders who never stop learning. As to my future goals, I have been working on developing technical skills -- because I am not always technology-friendly -- and also I have endeavored to understand the changing cultures of young people and the diversity of the American learning milieu over the past several years. I have the skills to lead, and to research interesting ways to teach leadership. But I am sure that as far as emotional intelligence, as I move along in years with more experience and a wider skill set in the field, I will be able to fine-tune my emotional approach to solving problems.

In conclusion, of all the skills mentioned in this paper, most of which are valid and very important for leaders, there is one that has not been mentioned and should be. It is problem solving. When business professionals and executives are asked what skills they look for in recent graduates, "they most often mention problem-solving skills and the ability to work… [END OF PREVIEW]

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