One section of the first module of Respect in Sport, deals with the four leadership styles. As I worked through the module, I was aware of how useful this would be, not only for coaches, but for parents and educators. I thought about the different leadership styles of my parents and about the leadership styles of the teachers I had known throughout my career as a student and an educator.
|Low control/ undemanding||High control/demanding|
Each child’s first leaders are his or her parents. And this influence continues even when the child starts formal education in school.
My father was a consummate example of a high control, demanding authoritarian leader. It really was his way or the highway. He was Harry from Born Yesterday. He rarely said it and I believe that he must have been thinking, “Do what I’m tellin’ you!” – Harry’s favourite line. And he was also like Harry since there was always the threat of some form of violence via a hand raised in anger, or spanking, or yelling and harsh words if any of us bucked his ruling or didn’t measure up.
Anyone who leads from this authoritarian style may have kids who are quiet and biddable and who do what is expected of them without question. And, if those kids are anything like I was, inside they’ll get more and more angry with their leader. Eventually, they will rebel or explode. It won’t matter what the ‘provocation’ is. Something will set off their internal need to break away from the rule-bound narrowly constrained way of being and set themselves free.
My father was also uninvolved with us. If he didn’t see it or hear it, if it wasn’t directed at him, if what we did did not inconvenience him, then we were pretty much on our own. And I know that my sisters and I had each been so cowed into submission over time that he really did not have to get involved. His expectation was that we were to be good law abiding children and students and then he would not have to be concerned about the desires, wishes and choices which we made.
My mother wasn’t really permissive. We were not allowed to run riot and do whatever we wanted. We were not allowed to disrespect others or ourselves. We were not spoiled. However, in comparison to my father, she seemed to be permissive. My mother was, in reality, authoritative not authoritarian. She had expectations of us which were pretty high. Yet, she also recognized that life and living and learning need flexibility. She encouraged negotiation and discussion rather than ordering. I see her as orderly and my father as ordering.
When I think of my experiences as a student, I don’t think I ever had a teacher who was a total authoritarian. The only two I remember were my grade five teacher whose classroom management style involved having students write out pages from the dictionary as punishment for whatever infraction we had committed and one of my grade 6 teachers who belittled and bullied students who did not perform up to his standards which we were not privy to.
When I was a student, for the most part, it wasn’t individual teachers but the educational system which was authoritarian. The greatest threat any of my teachers could use was to send us to the office. Once there, it was presumed that we were guilty of whatever transgression was written in the note we had to take with us to the principal. Then it was the principal’s job to prescribe the appropriate punishment for whatever we had dared to do wrong. When I was in elementary school, the worst thing that could happen was to get the strap. In secondary school, the absolute worst that could happen was that you could be expelled from the system: denied the chance to finish the year and eventually receive a high school diploma.
And, from my experience as an educator, the system is still very authoritarian. However, what the worst that can happen looks like is different now. The strap has gone the way of the Dodo. It’s very difficult to expel any student from any school now. Now the punishment is being sent to the office, loosing some privilege such as going on field trips or being on school teams, detentions or suspension which some students view as a holiday. And even if a student is given a long term suspension, it’s up to the school and the teachers to provide that student with work which can be completed outside of class so that the student’s success is not jeopardized.
I used to wonder how many of my teachers cared about any of us as individuals. It was pretty much ‘read the book, answer the questions, do the test’ and repeat. The course content and curriculum were all that mattered. And, unfortunately, curriculum and testing still drive too many educational decisions. This is not to suggest that all teachers are uninvolved or remote. However, when the need to cover the curriculum and assess each student’s understanding is the paramount concern, then the choices and decisions of individual students end up taking a back seat to that.
I know that I had some teachers who were somewhat authoritarian and some who were somewhat uninvolved. I do not remember ever having a permissive teacher. And I do remember having many authoritative teachers.
As you think about each leadership style as it applies to teaching, let me paint a picture of each one:
- An authoritarian teacher has set lessons which are never deviated from as the needs of the moment and students dictate. There is one way of explaining things and it’s the student’s job to understand it. The classroom is ordered and quiet. A productive classroom is a quiet classroom. The kids seem to be afraid to say, “Boo!” There is a lot of seat work and a great deal of homework which is checked regularly for completion. If it is not completed then some form of ‘punishment’ is exacted. There are a great number of assignments given with immovable due dates. Testing is the order of the day. Like the captain of a ship of the line, the teacher monitors the class from the front of the room – the teacher’s space. Any infractions are immediately dealt with. The whole structure is based upon fear – of loosing control, of being found wanting, of being punished.
- The uninvolved teacher puts the work which the students are to complete on the board – which pages are to be read and which questions are to be answered, which notes are to be copied. Once that’s done, the teacher seems to sit in their own space and do their own work. They’re not available to answer questions from students and don’t encourage students to ask for clarification. These teachers also don’t seem to care if the students complete the work assigned. They’re just not interested. This classroom’s structure is based on indifference and annoyance if the teacher is bothered.
- Permissive teachers want to be every student’s friend. Lesson plan, what lesson plan? Curriculum, what curriculum? Tests – rather pull the grade out of thin air since there’s very little assessment on which to base the mark. The students who need structure don’t have it; those who need to be able to ask questions and try out ideas are left foundering. One of the goals is that learning be fun which seems to be translated to having fun in the classroom pretty much all the time. Again, the structure is fear based – the teacher seems to be afraid of being disliked and not being each student’s favourite. The permissive teacher’s classroom is one of chaos. And if a teacher who has tried to be the students’ buddy decides to change his or her leadership style during the school year, it is virtually impossible to do it. One would have to go back to the very first class and start again.
- Authoritative teachers understand the curriculum for the course. They try to find the best way to explain things to their students. They assess regularly and fairly and students’ grades are based upon how well each student does on assignments and tests. These teachers hold their students as able and capable of completing the work which is set to be done. Students are provided with the skills which they need – the scaffolding – in order to be successful. Authoritative teachers like their subject and see it as a tool to help students learn and realize their potential. The course content is not the be all and end all. Authoritative teachers like teaching and the energy of their students. And most of all, they make learning honest and challenging and real and also fun. In this classroom, the level of trust between the students and the teacher is important. Teachers know that they can admit their mistakes and be honest and human. Teachers feel that they know what they know and that they can admit what they don’t know without losing face. This classroom structure is based on challenge and excitement and is hallmarked by a lack of fear.
When I became a teacher, I held one of my high school teachers who was the consummate example of an authoritative teacher as the model of the teacher I wanted to be. I always felt that if I could have even one half of the impact on my students that he had had on me, then I would be successful. That was always how I measured my success.
So, whether you are a parent or an educator, consider: what do you know, deep down inside, is your overarching leadership style? What kind of leader are you? What kind of leader do you want to be? What is working for you? What might you consider changing?
And once you have done that, you will be ready and willing to change. Then you can choose. If you feel that the methods you have incorporated into your personal leadership style aren’t working, then you can admit that and choose to lead another way. It isn’t enough to want to be a more effective leader in your life. You have to ask yourself what you are going to choose to do to achieve the goals you want. And always know that you can effect any change you choose.
In taking part in the LeaderSELF Coaching Circle with Lisa Weiss, I came to know myself as leader even more intimately than I had before. I came to know that am I able and willing to lead in my world, and that I can and need to choose how I will move forward as leader. It’s never too late to know yourself more deeply and to change what you do.
If you are interested in the LeaderSELF Coaching Circle, you can find more information by going to: https://iofthestormcoaching.com/2015/02/24/leaderself-coaching-circle/