Sunday, January 23, 2011

Lead, or get out of the way!

Recently I ran into an ambiguity while planning a lesson for a course as part of an MBA curriculum.  I soon realized that I had more questions about this upcoming assignment than I did answers.  The assignment was to have my students create a 3-sigma control chart to chart the statistical samples/observations of processes, and make decisions based on the charted data.  I have taken descriptive stats, and I retained enough to handle teaching this topic.  However, the observations were stratified into multiple defect types and it looked like I might have to teach multivariate analysis.

Since this was the first time I taught this assignment, I needed more clarification on the direction of this topic.  The course had strict course guidelines and grading rubrics, but this particular assignment was unclear to me.  Since there was a course lead identified for the course, I contacted him.  I spent 30 minutes carefully crafting my question to him and my request for help.  I tried to imply as best as possible that I was not punting on this assignment, but I genuinely needed help.  I contacted him only after I spent considerable time attempting a conclusion on my own.

My email request to him was a couple of paragraphs.  His response was a one liner, " the syllabus."  I had read the syllabus.  I am not an idiot, and I know how busy professors can be.  I would not have contacted him if I didn't have to.

If he is the course lead, then he should lead, or give up the responsibility to others more capable of providing leadership.  Leading implies coaching and mentoring.  It implies directing, encouraging, and facilitating.  He had the directing part down.  A manager does that as well.  Maybe we should call him a course manager instead.

Anybody who knows me knows that I do not believe in trying to motivate others, even though many leadership texts espouse motivation as a key leadership skill.  Instead of motivation, I believe in encouraging and facilitating others who are already motivated.  I was motivated to develop the lesson plan and be able to teach the topic so that the my students would succeed in stats assignment.  I was not looking for a handout, just a little more guidance.  Since this was an MBA course, multivariate analysis was not completely out of the question.  He chose to direct me to a source that I had already exhausted, one that I had already indicated to him was not enough for me to understand the assignment.

It was another missed opportunity to lead, to encourage, to facilitate learning by a peer.  I immediately wondered if he interacted with his students in the same indifferent manner.  I am not long out of school and I know what it is like to have a professor that just does the minimum to get by.  The students suffer.  Sure, some take the initiative to bridge the gap on their own, but value is lost in the pedagogical exchange.  I felt bad for his students, but in a whimsical manner, I felt that his under achievement would make the rest of of look better.  I decided to teach the course as I interpreted the course guides and ask forgiveness when my choices diverged from the implied direction.

So, I submit, if you hold yourself up as a leader to others, then be one.  Be there when others need you, and understand the additional duties that are implied by the position and inferred by the ones you are charged to lead.  Or...just get out of way and let others do the job as it needs to be done.

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