Leadership Challenge #2

Module 1 LdC reflection on provocative question #1

Provocative Question #1 (LdC)

How are groups and communities of practice (CoPs) different?  How are they alike?  So what?  What now?


C. Reflect on module 1 LdC Step 3 – determine your leadership challenge

What behavior did you experiment with/try out for your leadership challenge last week?
I wanted to bring to my leadership team the idea of mapping our relationships and communication patterns using communities of practice as a framework.

What did you end up doing for your leadership challenge last week?
I talked a lot about communities of practice, both with my leadership team and with other colleagues in my unit. I started to consider how my practice is different when I recast my “team” idea as a “community of practice” idea.


D.   Reflect on module 1 LdC Step 4 – assess and reflect on your leadership challenge

How did your change in behavior affect others in your Community of Practice? Tell the story of what happened.
We started by talking about our boundary objects – reports like our annual statistical report and annual narrative report, our faculty annual reports and goals documents, our position descriptions (at all levels), meeting minutes and working documents posted to our intranet, etc. We realized that one noticeable missing object is a standardized plan or outline for onboarding new faculty and staff in the organization. On the organizational level, we have a new set of mission, vision, and values statements, as well as a new statement of aspirational culture. Approaching this from the perspective of the three types of boundary objects was an interesting concept to my colleagues; we talked about how it made us feel differently about both the objects and about how they come to be written. One observation was that we might have approached things differently if we were thinking of these objects as being items that both span generations within our respective communities and that link our communities together.

Reflect on your experience with the Leadership Challenge for this module.

One interesting effect of this leadership challenge was that I started talking about communities of practice with pretty much everyone I saw, and I started seeing potential or real communities of practice in every group that I belong to. That’s probably not unusual (it’s one of the hazards of being a graduate student, I suppose).

I took the opportunity to discuss communities of practice with a number of colleagues outside of my immediate leadership team (which are the department heads of the other three departments in my unit; I’m both colleague and supervisor for these folks, as long as I’m both a director and acting associate dean). For example, I talked with one of my departmental leaders about reframing the team development she’s doing in the scholarly communication committee as the formation of a community of practice. I discovered that one of my new faculty has written about communities of practice in the past (before she came to JMU), and holds the theory in high regard. And finally, in rethinking my own department as a nascent community of practice, I was able to discuss with another department head a request I had for her to talk with the department, and her counterproposal, from the perspective of our nascent practice and purpose as a community. I started explaining our “ambassador” program between the librarians and the circulation desk staff as a boundary-crossing exercise (the liaisons all nod thoughtfully when I say this. Hard to interpret.).

All in all, I’m excited about the success that I’ve seen in trying to apply the communities of practice concept at several levels (leadership team, department, committee). I found several colleagues who were at least willing to play along with me, one who is working on her own to apply this theory, and another who had expertise of which I was not aware. I am a little concerned that, true to graduate student form, I am over applying Wenger to every situation I can (are my daughter and I a CofP, when we work on her spelling bee words?). This has really given me a nice framework on which to hang some management practices that I had derived but that didn’t seem to fit together. One of the things that really struck me in Wenger was the assertion that communities of practice don’t just happen – they have to be nurtured and supported. This may happen subconsciously by management or a leader, but why not set out to do it intentionally?

I’d like to continue using this theory as a framework for the ongoing development of my new department (we have been in existence since July), and to continue the conversation I’d originally identified as my challenge with my leadership team. Things are changing for me, though; the permanent associate dean position that I am filling on an acting basis will be posted on Monday as an agency-only (internal) search. This means that either I’ll be the associate dean OR the department head, come July – a nice change from being both right now – and that will change my ability to directly impact one or the other of these groups.


Module 3 LdC Steps 1, 2 and 3 on provocative question #2

Provocative Question #2 (LdC)

When/why do I hold back from participating? When/why do I commit to solving problems by myself?

E.    Step 1. Prepare for an on-line Conversation

Quotes from Weick & Amabile

Weick, K. E. (1984). Small wins: Redefining the scale of social problems. American Psychologist, 39(1), 40-49.

Amabile, T. The progress principle. Available at http://www.progressprinciple.com/

Page number or Timestamp
 People often define social problems in ways that overwhelm their ability to do anything about them.  W 40
 When people think too much or feel too powerless, issues become depersonalized. This lowers arousal, leading to inactivity or apathetic performance. The prospect of a small win has an immediacy, tangibility, and controllability that could reverse these effects. W 41
 A small win is a concrete, complete, implemented outcome of moderate importance. By itself, one small win may seem unimportant. A series of wins at small but significant tasks, however, reveals a pattern that may attract allies, deter opponents, and lower resistance to subsequent proposals. Small wins are controllable opportunities that produce visible results. W 43
When a large problem is broken down into a series of small wins, three things happen. First, the importance of any single win is reduced in the sense that the costs of failure are small and the rewards of success considerable. Second, the size of the demand itself is reduced…. And third, existing skills are perceived as sufficient to deal with the modest demands that will be confronted. W 46
 Deliberate cultivation of a strategy of small wins infuses situations with comprehensible and specific meaning (commitment), reinforces the perception that people can exert some influence over what happens to them (control), and produces changes of manageable size that serve as incentives to expand the repertory of skills (challenge). W 46
 … it seems useful to consider the possibility that social problems seldom get solved, because people define these problems in ways that overwhelm their ability to do anything about them. Changing the scale of a problem can change the quality of resources that are directed at it. Calling a situation a mere problem that necessitates a small win moderates arousal, improves diagnosis, preserves gains, and encourages innovation. Calling a situation a serious problem that necessitates a larger win may be when the problem starts. W 48
Survey of managers about top motivational tool. Only 5% of managers chose progress as the most important motivator (from a list). They focus on incentives like awards & recognition as the primary motivator for work and driver of happiness.  0:48
“Making progress on meaningful work” is the best indicator of success on a project…good managers are both catalysts (providing support for the work itself) and nourishers (providing support for the people doing the work). 5:12…6:09

Applications from workplace setting:

Although this is not often the case, right now I am struggling to participate in things I would like to participate in because of a lack of time and an overload of day-to-day responsibilities. This is because I am in two positions – both as department head for the liaisons/subject librarians (13 faculty and 1 staffperson), and as the acting associate dean with responsibilities for three more departments, all of our facilities, and overall administration. I heard a talk from Kenn Baron of the JMU Motivation Research Institute, in which he laid out a model for motivation that included not just intrinsic and extrinsic factors (as positive multipliers), but also the idea of “cost” as a suppressor of motivation. This really resonated with me, because it doesn’t matter how small I chunk things or how much progress I make, if I don’t have the time, energy, or focus to do things they’ll never get done. And, on the flipside, if I’m able to protect time to do something, it’s much more likely to happen (example: graduate school! I’m allowed 4-8 hours/week at work to work on coursework for this program, and I try to use it every week).

I am trying to be part of a culture shift at LET that focuses heavily on collaborative work – which would take the emphasis off “me” and put it on “us”. As a result of this, one of the things that impacts my participating or not participating in a project is the willingness of other people to participate as well – and which people those are. My immediate leadership team consists of the two people whom I trust most in the organization. It is fun to work with them, and we get a lot done. There are other people in the organization, though, with whom I do not work well; when they are on a group I have to think hard about whether I think I can be successful working with them, or if there are alternatives (other people to replace me, other ways to minimize my connection, etc.). So another factor in my ability to participate and lead is the composition of other players in the project.

F.    Step 2. Hold an on-line Conversation

Notes from the Fishbowl (Group 1; Lisa, Kristy, Christy, Jon L, Aaron)

  • Wenger 110 – idea of brokers across peripheries – brokers are neither in nor out, they straddle both. Tension comes in making the decision of when to participate – is this or is it not important for my voice to be heard? (Lisa) Being on the periphery give you options of possibility vs. marginality – the former is empowering but the latter is imposed from outside. (Christy)
  • Weick – defining social problems that overwhelm ability to understand. Example of organizational problem that people tried to fix with big solution – and it didn’t work but actually caused more problems. (Jon)
  • Empowerment and inclusion are important indicators of when/whether you can participate – being allowed to be part of the project is key. (Jon) This is an important piece – the being given opportunity to be included is central. We tend to label people (ex: introverts), wonder what that does socially to inclusion/exclusion? (Aaron)
  • Example of adjunct faculty as “bottom of the totem pole” and definite brokers. Fragility of contracts – “uprootedness” and outsider status is tied up making it hard to feel like you can make a difference or a change. (Kristy) How much does hierarchy make a difference here? (Aaron) Yes, pecking order does relate to influence in the system. (Kristy) Hierarchy is really interesting, because there are novices who are on periphery, but hierarchy limits the connections you are allowed to have and that limits your alignment and identity in the community (see Wenger p. 180). (Lisa) “Deference by hierarchy” – people create space for high-ranking people where they don’t for low-ranking ones. (Christy)
  • Lemke, scales of time, how do we allow for changes over time – gap between perception & reality is linked to this too. (Jon) Wenger Ch1 – participation linked to mutual recognition. (Christy) Timescales are so enormous in their effect. (Aaron)
  • Also important to thinking not just about when prevented from participating, but also when you make a conscious choice to stay out of alignment. (Lisa) Also, how to participate in spite of roadblocks (Kristy). This also happens on group level – example of town/gown relationship in substance abuse/addiction program. (Jon) Silos also within university b/c of individual & department goals/languages/values that don’t cross easily except by students. (Jon, prompted by Aaron) Lisa brings it back around: Jon as broker in these conversations!

Thoughts on the Fishbowl

Very cool to watch this interaction among my classmates. I had focused on the Weick and Amabile readings for this assignment, rather than Wenger or any of the others – the additional comments from the second part of Wenger were very interesting and helpful. They also continue on the thoughts about community of practice and the previous leadership challenge, which provides good continuity. I hadn’t thought about hierarchy as a potential driver/impedance of participation, so that was particularly interesting. Given that I exist in two states right now, what that I do is possible because of one versus the other?

G.   Step 3. Determine your Leadership Challenge

I’ve been very frustrated lately with the feeling that I’m making no progress on the large scale projects on my plate (or that my teams aren’t making progress on things on our plates). This challenge I want to take a step back, look at the major projects ahead, and pick one to apply the “small wins” mentality to. My intent will be to not only make progress but also to communicate that progress to the larger organization in the next two weeks.

H.   Step 4. Implement and Reflect

Module 3 LdC – Reported in the next report.


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