Leadership Disruption?

This week’s second blog post is going to look at different quotes from 5 different readings regarding disruptive leadership.  For the first reading, I’ve cheated and have chosen three quotes that work together to disrupt my view of consensus.

Reading #1 – Leadership, more or less.

“For example, ingratiating behaviour by followers, in which they exaggerate how much they agree with the opinions of leaders, contributes to exaggerated self-belief, narcissism and the adoption of ultimately destructive forms of leader action” (p.13).

“this casts leaders as the subjects of influence attempts by others, as well as agents who make things happen to other people” (p.13).

“Overt consensus is likely to mark covert dissent, since it is unlikely that followers will ever feel completely free to express the full range of their disagreements with leaders. The illusion of such consensus can therefore be held to denote leadership practices that are insufficiently sensitive to follower feedback, rather than a rational endpoint of healthy information exchange processes (p. 20).”

I alluded to the benefits of consensus in my previous blog post.  While I still believe that democratic and consensus leadership can work depending on the situation, I didn’t spend much time thinking about the consequences.  I mean, come on! A leader that takes everyone’s opinion into consideration and wants everyone to be happy? What’s not to like?!

A lot, actually.  What consensus can do is breed a series of “yes-men/women” that are too afraid to truly speak their minds because they have leadership aspirations of their own and don’t want to upset the proverbial apple cart.  In turn, the leader, seeing that he/she has the unrelenting love and respect of his/her followers continues to operate unchecked. Yeah, it’s easy to see why that’s a problem.

Armies of yes-men can be an unintended consequence of consensus.

Reading #2 – Critical and alternative approaches to leadership learning and development

“Jackie Ford and colleagues highlight the performative nature of leadership literature and indeed the leadership learning and development discourse. The dominant writing on leadership and the hype around leadership development in contemporary organisations 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. This emerging critical strand of the leadership literature therefore suggests that leadership development and learning should avoid presenting leadership as a fixed identity or role, instead encouraging an awareness of multiple roles (leader, follower and both)” (p.6).

I chose the above quote for a couple of reasons.  The first because the dominant view of leadership has historically been that leaders are “masculine, aggressive/controlling self-reliant perfect beings”.  This is interesting to me because, like Stephen, one of my guilty pleasures is watching sports (note: you can probably take the “guilty” out of it, I spend an inordinate amount of time consuming sports media).  The position of quarterback in football matches this description to a tee. In order to be a successful quarterback, the belief is that, in addition to talent, you need to have the necessary leadership skills required to not only command the respect of a huddle but also the entire locker room.  Without those leadership skills, you’re doomed to fail. Look up any successful quarterback. In addition to their talent, it’s almost guaranteed that their skills as “leaders of men” will be touted.


The second part of the quote is also interesting because it points out that we should avoid presenting leadership as a fixed identity.   As we discovered in the review of leadership theories, there are many different leadership styles which can all be effective depending on the situation.  Leaders shouldn’t be married to one specific style because doing so neglects the benefits of the others and potentially indicates a lack of situational awareness.  Also, encouraging awareness of multiple roles (leader, follower, and both) is hugely important and is often forgotten by many school administrators. A pet-peeve of mine has always been school administrators that taught for a couple of years, got their required Master’s degree and then almost immediately became a principal (or vice-principal).  How much awareness of the role of “follower” do these people possibly have?

Reading #3 – Avoiding Repetitive Change Syndrome  

“Repetitive change syndrome harms a company’s capacity to make further changes. That is, for every change initiative added, another one slows down or disappears. In extreme cases, older initiatives aren’t completed and are eventually forgotten. Moreover, 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” (p.3).

I believe that education, more than any profession, suffers from “repetitive change syndrome”.  I can’t even come close to remembering the various initiatives and buzzwords that have come and gone in my 12 years as a teacher.  Professional learning communities, CELS, differentiated instruction, adaptive dimension, integration of technology, team-teaching, schools without walls, scaffolding, SMART goals, etc. I’m not saying that these things are bad, they’re not.  It just seems like every year there is a new fad for teachers to adopt.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise, however.  Change is THE constant in education.

  • When the government changes? Change in priorities and funding.  
  • Cabinet shuffle leading to a different education minister? Again, change in priorities as the new minister seeks to put his/her stamp on the new gig.
  • New director of education? More change.
  • New superintendent? Change.
  • New principal (which seems to happen every 2 years)? Change.

It’s no wonder why education is inundated with constant change and it’s no wonder why new initiatives (regardless of how good their intentions may be) are often greeted with cynicism.

Reading #4: The stupidity paradox: The power and pitfalls of functional stupidity at work

“Today, many schools have fallen victim to image obsession. In the past, teachers had relatively high levels of autonomy. They concentrated their energies on educating students. But as a result of constant educational reforms, schools are now more and more focused on various auditing exercises” (p. 11).

“What the school looks like seems to count for more than the actual education. The people who run schools end up allotting less time and resources to teaching and learning, and more to image-polishing exercises. Schools become machines for persuading others that children are getting a good education, rather than institutions for educating children” (p. 11).

Both of these quotes pair quite nicely with the pitfalls of repetitive change that were discussed in the previous reading.  As a result of constant educational reforms, the responsibilities of the teacher have expanded over the years as we attempt to justify our worth to the public (education, after all, is a public expense).  In addition, an administrator’s responsibilities have also changed. I’m reminded of an article I read for a previous class entitled “The Future of the Principalship”. In this article, several changes to a principals job throughout the years were highlighted:

  1. Increased workload
  2. Increased complexity of the job
  3. Increased focus on instructional leadership
  4. Increased focus on transformational leadership
  5. Development of new skills
  6. Increased focus on external relationships
  7. Changes in leadership approach
  8. Changes in autonomy
  9. Increased levels of stress
  10. Decreased family/personal time

Natrually, all of these changes have had an impact on the quality of meaningful work that principals are able to do within a school.

Reading #5 – Cross-Cultural Understandings of Leadership.

Leaders are responsible for others.  Western leadership accepts this as one of its chargers – to be responsible for followers or fellow workers or subordinates.”

“Trust is one of the factors that has concerned leaders in western leadership.”

“Perhaps one of the precursors to trust is a willingness not to interfere in how others construct their understandings.  Interference implies lack of trust. Non-interference may suggest trust (p.14/15)”.

Now, to quote myself from my previous blog post:

“I also dislike micromanaging and being micromanaged.  If I feel like I’m being micromanaged that gives me the impression that I’m not trusted to do the job.  As long as I’ve been provided with the necessary training and resources to accomplish the job, I’d like to be allowed to do it without having someone constantly looking over my shoulder.  Trust is key.”

Frequent micromanaging = lack of trust

There is a difference between micromanaging and providing support.  It’s important for leaders to know the difference if they hope to foster a healthy work environment.


Author: scottgardiner12

Husband/dad, teacher, sports-geek, traveller, and cantankerous grad student. Oh, and an avid fan of both puns and sarcasm.

3 thoughts on “Leadership Disruption?”

  1. Great post Scott!
    I appreciated your comments on how the dominate view on leadership has unfortunately been from either aggressive, or a controlling perfect human being. They are essentially the “say yes” or “I’m not interested in what you have to say kind of leaders”. This type of leadership is quite frustrating to me….I could not agree with you more.

    I agree with you when you said that leaders shouldn’t be “married” to one leadership style for the reason that it truly does lack situational awareness. Thanks for sharing your thought Scott.


  2. This was a great post. I particularly narrowed in on your comment about being micro-managed. I completely agree with you. When someone is having me check-in and is looking over my shoulder I cannot help but feel like I am not trusted. As a professional I understand we all have different ideas how best to complete a task, however we need trust and understanding to ensure we allow for freedom to complete a task properly. When I am in a role of leadership I try to give freedom and delegate out responsibilities to ensure I am not doing everything and that I am making the most of each person’s strengths.

    I also agree with your observation regarding change. We have seen a lot of change in the last few years and a lot of it seems to be included in the “change for change’s sake” category. You made a very good list of all the reasons we have experienced change and all the different ‘trends’ we have experienced in education and have been expected to adhere to. If I circle around to the concept of trust, I believe the leaders within education need to begin to trust in us as educators to make decisions in our classrooms that are best for our students. As educators we are all leaders for our students. Would it be acceptable to make random changes within our classroom? No, we need consistency and routine to ensure our students know what is expected and can then follow our lead. The same needs to be modeled from other leaders in education!

    Thanks Scott for opening my eyes to some of your observations and for opening up this discussion!


  3. Hey Scott, thanks for this… and for suggesting to me a new, made-up word, that I think stands for an essential process/role within any leadership system:
    “cantankerize” – to stand up and speak in resistance to stupidity within an organization
    “cantakerist” – a hero to teachers, for being a pain in the ass to certain kinds of “masculine, aggressive and controlling self-reliant ‘perfect beings’” type of leaders.


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