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  • Writer's pictureEdwin and George

Leadership - Beyond Popularity (The Uncomfortable Truth)

They Liked It, But Did They Learn Anything?

Navigating Discomfort and the Complex Relationships Between: Leadership, Education, and the Unpopular Path to Results





This is a photo of my dad and my youngest daughter, Siena at the "Grandparents' Day" at her school. It was a chance for grandparents to pop in and see the amazing environment their favourite people are in...how happy they are but also what they are learning.


For Siena, it was just "Grandad" popping in...but when she gets older she might be interested in what research Grandad (aka Professor Ian Johnson) has done around learning outcomes.


For me, as a follower of some of his work, there are many parallels to be drawn from how we teach to how we lead.

Introduction

The synergies between education and leadership bring profound implications for educators, leaders, and decision-makers.


While innovations in education may can positive student feedback, there remains a critical question: Do these innovations lead to genuine improved learning outcomes?


Leaders all too often prioritise being liked, but this can cause them to avoid their key responsibilities of fostering growth and development within their teams.


It's easy for Leaders to be liked but can they get the best out of their people?

Diving into the complex relationship between education, leadership, and effectiveness needs a careful analysis of evidence and insights from various studies and experts (including my dad)!


Let's have a look:

The Learning-Feedback Paradox in Education

Johnson et al.'s study looks at four innovative teaching methods in anatomy education. Students expressed their appreciation for these new approaches.


Let's be real though, the real question was: did these innovations result in concrete improvements in learning outcomes? Did they actually learn anything?


The results pointed to a telling paradox. Although students welcomed the teaching techniques, there was little empirical evidence to suggest significant enhancement in learning outcomes. For example - students may give 10 out of 10 to an educator that gives them the answer or one that makes them feel good about themselves. This distinction between student satisfaction and genuine educational progress challenges educators to assess their methods beyond immediate positive reactions.

Further to this we can look at Prosser, M., & Trigwell, K. (1997). Using a new approach to assess deep learning. The Oxford Centre for Staff and Learning Development, 31-41. It is argued that true educational impact may not align with mere student satisfaction. Assessing deeper learning becomes critical in evaluating the potency of educational innovations.


Leadership - The Uncomfortable Truth:

Leadership is not just about being liked; it's about making decisions that drive meaningful results, even if those decisions cause discomfort or are unpopular in the short term. Carefrontation is central to this.

If we look at Bass, B. M., & Riggio, R. E. (2006). Transformational Leadership (2nd ed.). Psychology Press. Bass and Riggio examine transformational leaders who prioritise their mission over just being liked/popularity. These leaders encourage their teams to transcend their limitations, which results in creating an environment where people can reach their full potential.

If we take Heifetz, R., Grashow, A., & Linsky, M. (2009). The practice of adaptive leadership: Tools and tactics for changing your organization and the world. Harvard Business Press. Heifetz et al. discuss how adaptive leaders tackle challenges head-on, even if it means causing discomfort or resistance.

Braving the Backlash: Leadership Discomfort and Its Educational Parallel

Both educators and leaders may face resistance or backlash when introducing change or making tough decisions. However these situations, when grounded in vision and strategy, can pave the way for the most transformative growth.

In Kotter, J. P. (1996). Leading change. Harvard Business Press. Kotter stresses that effective leadership, just like impactful educational strategies, often involves challenging the status quo. Leaders, like educators, have to remain resolute when guiding their teams or students through the discomfort of change.

In Collins, J. (2001). Good to great: Why some companies make the leap... and others don't. Harper Business. Collins' analysis underlines the significance of leaders who confront challenges head-on, making decisions that may be initially unpopular but are pivotal for long-term success.

Conclusion


In the realm of leadership, the temptation to prioritise popularity is a huge trap.


Leaders who strive to be liked by their teams often inadvertently shy away from crucial confrontations and constructive criticism. This tendency to avoid "carefrontation" can hinder personal and collective growth within the organisation.

While being liked might offer immediate gratification, it's the tangible outcomes that leave an enduring impact.


Educators and leaders alike have to embrace their roles as catalysts for change. They must be ready to face discomfort in their quest for genuine growth and transformation.


Short-term popularity rarely wins in any format.


The goal should always be long-term success, even if it means navigating the choppy waters of unpopularity or discomfort along the way.




Further Reading:

1. Johnson, I., Collins-Praino, L., Burton, L., & Palmer, E. (2017). They Liked It, but Did They Learn Anything? Clinical Anatomy. 2. Prosser, M., & Trigwell, K. (1997). Using a new approach to assess deep learning. The Oxford Centre for Staff and Learning Development, 31-41. 3. Bass, B. M., & Riggio, R. E. (2006). Transformational Leadership (2nd ed.). Psychology Press. 4. Heifetz, R., Grashow, A., & Linsky, M. (2009). The practice of adaptive leadership: Tools and tactics for changing your organization and the world. Harvard Business Press. 5. Kotter, J. P. (1996). Leading change. Harvard Business Press. 6. Collins, J. (2001). Good to great: Why some companies make the leap... and others don't. Harper Business.



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