Throughout this academic year I’m participating in a leadership institute at my university. I’m part of a cohort of nine colleagues, from across the university and in various leadership roles. We meet once a month to discuss chapters from Reframing Academic Leadership, hear from leaders across campus, learn how to be better leaders, and discuss the challenges and opportunities we see and face in our roles. I’m really excited to be a part of this institute and learn from my colleagues across the institution.
For October’s meeting, we took the Leadership Orientations questionnaire. This was created by Lee G. Bolman and Terrence E. Deal and published back in 1991. They developed four frames for understanding leaders: structural leaders, human resources leaders, political leaders, and symbolic leaders. You rank a series of choices based on how true you feel the statement is to you and your leadership. Once you’ve completed the questionnaire, you add up your scores and you see which of the four leadership frames you scored the highest.
I scored highest as a human resources leader (followed by symbolic, structural, and political). When I looked at the definition of a human resources leader, I wasn’t surprised that was my highest score. In particular, my attention caught on the last line in the definition of a human resources leader: “A good leader is a facilitator and participative manager who supports and empowers others.”
As I shared with my cohort, I feel like the last year as a department head has really pushed me into strengthening and sharpening my facilitator muscles. I’ve always enjoyed facilitation, but in my current role, that’s a huge part of my work. I’m leading department meetings, working through theoretical questions and decisions around our reference services, and overseeing a library informatics bachelor’s degree program. In doing facilitation, I hope that the people who participate in these meetings do feel supported and empowered. That’s certainly my goal and how I think about setting up those opportunities.
The phrase “participative manager” also resonated with me. I feel my leadership style is influenced and informed by the participatory design work I started while I was at my last institution. As much as possible, I like to collaboratively work with the department to make decisions, especially decisions around our priorities and work. This has resulted in meetings where we draw vehicles representing our digital learning objects or where I solicit feedback on a proposal for a way to move the work forward within the department. I feel that style has worked both for me as a manager and for my team (see my last post about laughing with the department).
In thinking about being a participative manager, I also started thinking about how I help, support, and often do the day-to-day work of the department. This is definitely something I struggle with; I feel strongly about “pulling my weight” and being an active participant in the department. However, my job now involves other types of work and sometimes I can’t do all the participating I want to do. In discussing these frames with the cohort, I mentioned that I struggle with balancing participating with some of my other department head tasks and someone in my cohort shared something along the lines of, “Well just don’t do as much.”
While I appreciate the straightforwardness of that answer, I don’t think the solution is that easy. In some ways, it reminds me of the ideas I was sorting through in my coordinator role particularly around my identity. When I started in this department head role, I felt pressure (whether internal or external) that I needed to prove myself. So I jumped right into the teaching and the outreach work of the department. I wanted to prove I could do the work and that I could do it well. And now I’m at a point where I’ve got to start making decisions about where I can step back. I need time to do the departmental work of keeping a department moving forward. I’ve got to find new ways to balance my understanding (and participation) of the day-in-day-out work and strategic department head work. I know it’s always a work in progress and having the space to reflect on my style has helped me bring this a little higher on my priority list.
I appreciated the chance to take this questionnaire and dig into some of my thoughts on how I lead. As a cohort, we had an interesting conversation on how our frames change over time, as we step into new leadership roles and grow as humans. I feel that I’ll always have the human resources in me but there are definitely opportunities for me to strengthen some of those other frames. Knowing where I feel most comfortable can help me think strategically about ways I can lean more into my structural, symbolic, or political side.
Have you taken this leadership questionnaire (or something similar) before? If so, what lessons did you learn about you and how have you tried to use that framing in your job moving forward?