1.2 Essential Leadership Skills for the Instructional Designer

License: Creative Commons Attribution license (reuse allowed) Attribution: Leadership Development. Manage & Lead Change. Top Leadership Skills Training Company & Guest Speaker Christopher Babson

As instructional designer works daily with various teams of individuals. In order to do so effectively, a designer must hone their communication skills already discussed in section 1.1 of this text and apply those communication skills into a larger group setting where the designer may find themselves as the leader of a group project.  In this section, we will explore the essentials of growing leadership abilities and what that means both professionally and personally.

Learning Objectives

  • Discuss the various perspectives on how and why people become leaders.
  • Compare and contrast various leadership styles.

Leadership is one of the most studied aspects of group communication. Scholars in business, communication, psychology, and many other fields have written extensively about the qualities of leaders, theories of leadership, and how to build leadership skills. It’s important to point out that although a group may have only one official leader, other group members play important leadership roles. Making this distinction also helps us differentiate between leaders and leadership (Hargie, 2011). The leader is a group role that is associated with a high-status position and may be formally or informally recognized by group members. Leadership is a complex system of beliefs, communication patterns, and behaviors that influence the functioning of a group and move a group toward the completion of its task. A person in the role of leader may provide no or poor leadership. Likewise, a person who is not recognized as a “leader” in title can provide excellent leadership. In this section, we will discuss some approaches to the study of leadership, leadership styles, and leadership and group dynamics.

Why and How People Become Leaders

Throughout human history, some people have grown into, taken, or been given positions as leaders. Many early leaders were believed to be divine in some way. In some indigenous cultures, shamans are considered leaders because they are believed to be bridges that can connect the spiritual and physical realms. Many early kings, queens, and military leaders were said to be approved by a god to lead the people. Today, many leaders are elected or appointed to positions of power, but most of them have already accumulated much experience in leadership roles. Some leaders are well respected, some are feared, some are hated, and many elicit some combination of these reactions. This brief overview illustrates the centrality of leadership throughout human history, but it wasn’t until the last hundred years that leadership became an object of systematic study.

Before we move onto specific approaches to studying leadership, let’s distinguish between designated and emergent leaders. In general, some people gravitate more toward leadership roles than others, and some leaders are designated while other are emergent (Hargie, 2011). Designated leaders are officially recognized in their leadership role and may be appointed or elected by people inside or outside the group. Designated leaders can be especially successful when they are sought out by others to fulfill and are then accepted in leadership roles. On the other hand, some people seek out leadership positions not because they possess leadership skills and have been successful leaders in the past but because they have a drive to hold and wield power. Many groups are initially leaderless and must either designate a leader or wait for one to emerge organically. Emergent leaders gain status and respect through engagement with the group and its task and are turned to by others as a resource when leadership is needed. Emergent leaders may play an important role when a designated leader unexpectedly leaves.

Some people emerge as leaders for various reasons, the most common of these are; (1) because of their traits, (2) because of the situation, and/or (3) because of their communication skills and competence.

 

A group leader with high communication competence can facilitate brainstorming and group discussion to enhance the creativity and quality of group members’ ideas. Luca Mascaro – Brainstorming – CC BY-SA 2.0.

Participative Leaders

Participative leaders work to include group members in the decision-making process by soliciting and considering their opinions and suggestions. When group members feel included, their personal goals are more likely to align with the group and organization’s goals, which can help productivity. This style of leadership can also aid in group member socialization, as the members feel like they get to help establish group norms and rules, which affects cohesion and climate. When group members participate more, they buy into the group’s norms and goals more, which can increase conformity pressures for incoming group members.

The participative method of leadership is similar to the democratic style discussed earlier, and it is a style of leadership practiced in many organizations that have established work groups that meet consistently over long periods of time. US companies began to adopt a more participative and less directive style of management in the 1980s after organizational scholars researched teamwork and efficiency in Japanese corporations.

Supportive Leaders

Supportive leaders show concern for their followers’ needs and emotions. They want to support group members’ welfare through a positive and friendly group climate. These leaders are good at reducing the stress and frustration of the group, which helps create a positive climate and can help increase group members’ positive feelings about the task and other group members. As we will learn later, some group roles function to maintain the relational climate of the group, and several group members often perform these role behaviors. With a supportive leader as a model, such behaviors would likely be performed as part of established group norms, which can do much to enhance social cohesion. Supportive leaders do not provide unconditionally positive praise. They also competently provide constructive criticism in order to challenge and enhance group members’ contributions.

A supportive leadership style is more likely in groups that are primarily relational rather than task focused. For example, support groups and therapy groups benefit from a supportive leader. While maintaining positive relationships is an important part of any group’s functioning, most task-oriented groups need to spend more time on task than social functions in order to efficiently work toward the completion of their task. Skilled directive or participative leaders of task-oriented groups would be wise to employ supportive leadership behaviors when group members experience emotional stress to prevent relational stress from negatively impacting the group’s climate and cohesion.

Achievement-Oriented Leaders

Achievement-oriented leaders strive for excellence and set challenging goals, constantly seeking improvement and exhibiting confidence that group members can meet their high expectations. These leaders often engage in systematic social comparison, keeping tabs on other similar high-performing groups to assess their expectations and the group’s progress. This type of leadership is similar to what other scholars call transformational or visionary leadership and is often associated with leaders like former Apple CEO Steve Jobs, talk show host and television network CEO Oprah Winfrey, former president Bill Clinton, and business magnate turned philanthropist Warren Buffett. Achievement-oriented leaders are likely less common than the other styles, as this style requires a high level of skill and commitment on the part of the leader and the group. Although rare, these leaders can be found at all levels of groups ranging from local school boards to Fortune 500 companies. Certain group dynamics must be in place in order to accommodate this leadership style. Groups for which an achievement-oriented leadership style would be effective are typically intentionally created and are made up of members who are skilled and competent in regards to the group’s task. In many cases, the leader is specifically chosen because of his or her reputation and expertise, and even though the group members may not have a history of working with the leader, the members and leader must have a high degree of mutual respect.

Key Terms

  • Leadership is a complex system of beliefs, communication patterns, and behaviors that influence the functioning of a group and move a group toward the completion of its task.
  • Autocratic leaders set policies and make decisions primarily on their own, taking advantage of the power present in their title or status to set the agenda for the group.
  • Democratic leaders facilitate group discussion and like to take input from all members before making a decision.
  • Laissez-faire leaders take a “hands-off” approach, preferring to give group members freedom to reach and implement their own decisions.
  • Directive leaders help provide psychological structure for their group members by clearly communicating expectations, keeping a schedule and agenda, providing specific guidance as group members work toward the completion of their task, and taking the lead on setting and communicating group rules and procedures.
  • Participative leaders work to include group members in the decision-making process by soliciting and considering their opinions and suggestions. When group members feel included, their personal goals are more likely to align with the group and organization’s goals, which can help productivity.
  • Supportive leaders show concern for their followers’ needs and emotions.
  • Achievement-oriented leaders strive for excellence and set challenging goals, constantly seeking improvement and exhibiting confidence that group members can meet their high expectations.

Key Takeaways

  • Leaders fulfill a group role that is associated with status and power within the group that may be formally or informally recognized by people inside and/or outside of the group. While there are usually only one or two official leaders within a group, all group members can perform leadership functions, which are a complex of beliefs, communication patterns, and behaviors that influence the functioning of a group and move a group toward the completion of its tasks.
  • There are many perspectives on how and why people become leaders:

    • Designated leaders are officially recognized in their leadership role and may be appointed or elected.
    • Emergent leaders gain status and respect through engagement with the group and its task and are turned to by others as a resource when leadership is needed.
    • Leaders emerge based on traits, situational context, communication skill and competence, as certain communication behaviors function to create the conditions of leadership.
  • Leaders can adopt a directive, participative, supportive, or achievement-oriented style.

    • Directive leaders help provide psychological structure for their group members by clearly communicating expectations, keeping a schedule and agenda, providing specific guidance as group members work toward the completion of their task, and taking the lead on setting and communicating group rules and procedures.
    • Participative leaders work to include group members in the decision-making process by soliciting and considering their opinions and suggestions.
    • Supportive leaders show concern for their followers’ needs and emotions.
    • Achievement-oriented leaders strive for excellence and set challenging goals, constantly seeking improvement and exhibiting confidence that group members can meet their high expectations.

Exercises

  1. In what situations would a designated leader be better than an emergent leader, and vice versa? Why?
  2. Think of a leader that you currently work with or have worked with who made a strong (positive or negative) impression on you. Which leadership style did he or she use most frequently? Cite specific communication behaviors to back up your analysis.

OER Derivative Licenses and Attributions

CC LICENSED CONTENT, ORIGINAL

Experiential Learning in Instructional Design and Technology, Chapter 1.2 Essential Leadership Skills for the Instructional Designer. Provided by: the authors under an Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) license.

This chapter contains an adaptation of Communication in the Real World: An Introduction to Communication Studies  by a publisher who has requested that they and the original author not receive attribution, and is used under a CC-BY-NC-SA 4.0 International license.

CC LICENSED CONTENT INCLUDED

Video 1: License: Creative Commons Attribution license (reuse allowed) Attribution: Leadership Development. Manage & Lead Change. Top Leadership Skills Training Company & Guest Speaker Christopher Babson

Image 1: Luca Mascaro – Brainstorming – License: CC BY-SA 2.0.

 

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Experiential Learning in Instructional Design and Technology by Joshua Hill and Linda Jordan is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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