Tag Archives: #JiscDigLead

Beyond Metaphor: New Iterations of #JiscDigLead

co-authored by Lawrie Phipps, James Clay, and Chris Thomson

It’s been three years since we ran the the first Jisc Digital Leaders Program. During the program we have have emphasized the need for leaders in education to model the behavioral change that they wish to see in digital. “Be more digital”, “Write a digital strategy”, “Go do Twitter” are things we have heard many times, and these are sometimes the reasons that delegates attend the course.  We hoped to give leaders contexts beyond tasks within digital, to provide a way to discuss the implications of digital tools and places that were not just to-do or top-ten lists.

We built the individual digital practice elements of that first course around what delegates gained from doing the Visitor and Resident mapping process.  At the time, we were intent on getting people away from assumptions that digital capability was defined by their identities (especially not their “generational identity”), and thought that the V&R model gave them a new place from which to orient the conversations we wanted people to have about their practices.

For the most part, we were correct. We did have and facilitate conversations that went beyond both top-ten tech lists and “I am X identity,” and brought people together for conversations about what they want and need to do, and what their motivations are.  In the setting up of the V&R model we were careful to discuss them as modes of behavior, not identity types. However, we have continued to see, through three years of iterations of the course, an impulse to pigeonhole, to identify themselves and others as “visitors” or “residents”; creating a barrier to freeing ourselves up to having new conversations around digital.

As much as the metaphor freed us from the tyranny of generational stereotypes, it opened up a debate around the nature of what it means to be “resident” or “visitor”, with participants asking what is “right”, what is best, and how to become more of one or the other.  This was never our intention. Substituting the stereotype with a metaphor still, to some extent, obfuscated the real aim – to discuss practice in context. It is difficult to move people away from value judgments around practice, and harder still when they are couched in language that seem to involve personal identity.

On the course we want our leaders and future leaders to have a more nuanced understanding of what it means to practice in a time of ubiquitous digital.

We have arrived at the point where we need to go beyond metaphor. Rather than annotating a metaphorical model with allusions to practice and motivation, we will start with the practices, the behaviors, and motivations we want people to reflect upon.

The use of tension pairs to surface behaviors and practices has proven effective as a baseline for change; a visual tool for identifying where both individuals and organisations are in their digital practice and their motivations, and importantly for the digital leaders program, where they want to move their practice to. The new iteration of this element of  the workshop will be more tailored to support delegates in identifying what the most appropriate tension pairs are for their context.

Rather than using the visitor-resident continuum as one axis we intend to provide a range of continua composed of actions and behaviors, instead of identities. For example, we might suggest that leaders map themselves against a broadcast – engagement axis.  We might even solicit tension pairs from the room. We think this small modification to the leadership course format will make it easier to dig into the important content that has always been a core part of the program:  an engagement with practice, with current behaviors, such that people are more capable of strategic thinking about the ways they want or need to change what they are doing, and what if any role digital tools and places can play in those changes.  We think it’s time in our work to give people opportunities to visualize and develop their approaches to and within digital, to center what people want to do, first.  Identity is always an important part of why and how people do what they do, but it doesn’t have to over-determine their practices.  Our intention is to open doors, not close them by making people think that certain paths are closed because of who they are.

 

Being a Leader isn’t about You

Look, I am aware of the ego it takes to get up in front of people and hold forth about things, I’ve been doing that for just a little while now and I’m a Leo so it works for me (and, I hope, for the people who invite me).  And I likewise think it probably takes a fair amount of ego these days to think to oneself, “You know, I really would like to lead X”  where X might be a department, a trade union, a library, a university, a town, a country, or your very own piece of the interwebs.

The thing is, for it to be a good move for more than just you, the desire to lead cannot end with “I’d like to be in charge.”  It really shouldn’t start there, either.  I am living in a country where ‘I’d Like to be in Charge” is currently in the White House, my State Legislature, and also occupying the majority of both national Houses of Congress.  ‘‘I’d Like to be in Charge” with an added dollop of “Don’t Tell Me What to Do” is currently riding roughshod over the social contract in the UK as well as in the US, deciding that coalitions are for losers and that caring for the welfare of other people is a sucker’s game.

There are likely several ways to be a toxic leader but this highly- visible -at- this- particular- moment model of “Leadership for the Sake of Me and Screw You Guys” (even as the rhetoric of these leaders is about countries, groups, people, institutions) is to my mind one of the most toxic.  Leadership for personal gain serves no one but the person in the leadership position.

That’s not the kind of leadership we need, if we are concerned about our society.   Or any other collection of people.

So when I and my ego get up in front of people in leadership positions in education next week, I want very much to swiftly reach a point where we are NOT talking about them as individuals.

Even as I recognize they are people.

Even as I emphasize that their humanity is a crucial part of their leadership potential.

In the Jisc Digital Leaders course I will be resisting any requests for to-do lists, or top-tips around practice.  I will be attempting, even as I get people to talk and think about themselves, to center other people in the minds of the participants.  Many of them will show up already with this orientation.  We start people off with examining their individual practices because that’s an important way in to thinking about the logics of those practices, and the logics of other people.  We move from mapping their individual digital and physical practices to a broader consideration of their organizational practices and priorities because that should be the point when you are in a leadership position:  everything except yourself.

Who you are as a leader is to some extent about you as a person, but effective constructive leadership is also about what you would like to do, and for whom you would like to do these things.  Leaders should value the voices of others, and de-center themselves as much as possible because collective action is effective action, and requires many, not few, or one person’s priorities.  Leaders should give more credit than they take, because they are confident enough in themselves and the strengths of their team to allow others to shine and pull their weight, and be seen and heard.

When I think about effective leadership, I recognize the importance of leaders bringing their own particular set of expertise to their work.  I also want leaders who don’t know everything, but are willing to learn.  I want leaders who don’t have to do everything, and who trust enough to delegate.  I want leaders who know enough to let go of control, because none of us really have it anyway.  We need, collectively, leaders who can see the places where they can and should work towards change in their organizations, in their communities, and recognize the need to do so collectively, and decidedly not from a place of “Good Thing I’m in Charge.”

I am looking forward to the work and conversations we engage in next week.  And hope the work continues beyond the confines of the course itself.  The course is ostensibly about “Digital Leadership” but our need to create and sustain effective, constructive leadership models is about more than digital places and practices.  We need them as a counter to the toxic leaders we have facilitated in the past, and which threaten us now.

Both motivational images courtesy of Lawrie Phipps.