AEE 523 – What I Believe: Post-class

Copper wolves stand by the walkway to Stafford Commons and Talley Student Center. Photo by Becky Kirkland.

The Agricultural and Human Sciences department would like to introduce a new monthly blog called The Student Narrative. This blog will display assignments from courses offered within the department that are completed by students. In the February blog post, we have an assignment from the AEE 523: Leadership Development in Agriculture and Life Sciences course which was completed by AEE Graduate Student Nathan Rowe.


Introduction:

This semester began by us writing a paper on our preconceived notions of leadership. In that paper, I wrote that leaders are ones that show the way, that leadership is learned from watching others, and that leadership is a teachable skill. Now that I have taken AEE 323, I have been exposed to multiple leadership theories that range from trait theory to transformational theory. My ideas about leadership have changed, and I would argue, matured. The beginning of this paper will highlight the change in my thoughts about leadership, how I have learned about leadership, and whether leadership is teachable. This paper will then switch to distilling the leadership theories that resonated the most with me this semester. These theories are path-goal, leader-member exchange (LMX), authentic leadership, and followership. After discussing these theories, there will be a section for reflection and a section for the application of these leadership theories in everyday life. It is important to reflect and apply this new leadership knowledge to my life. Otherwise, the class did not help foster the necessary change in the world.

What I Believe Post-class:

In the pre-class paper, I described a leader as one that shows the way. What I meant by that is that a good leader’s actions and words are aligned. After going through this class, I realized that Authentic Leadership aligns well with this idea. Two characteristics of authentic leadership are internalized moral perspective, and relational transparency (Northouse, 2019). Internalized moral perspective is when a leader uses their morals to make decisions, and relational transparency is a leader being open about oneself. I also wrote that leaders were good listeners and intelligent. While I do still agree with both of those statements, they need to be expanded upon. First, with good listeners, it is not enough for a leader to simply hear their follower’s thoughts, it requires action. According to team leadership, leaders and followers are interdependent (Northouse, 2019). This interdependence makes the relationship between leaders and followers crucial. Overtime through listening and caring about followers, leaders’ and followers’ relationships mature into partnerships. Partnerships are high-quality interactions that lead to better work environments and organizational advancement (Northouse, 2019). In the first paper, I met intelligence as having the mental capacity to solve problems and plan. While this is true, intelligence should also encompass human and emotional intelligence. According to the trait approach to leadership, leaders that are more sensitive to their emotions, and their impact on others, will be more effective (Northouse, 2019). Leaders with emotional intelligence can use and manage their emotions to facilitate thinking (Northouse, 2019). Learning leadership happens in a variety of ways. In the previous paper, I stated people learn leadership through observation. That is still true, but leadership can be learned more effectively through experience and opportunity. Highlighting a problem associated with opportunity is that leaders pass over women for experience and career development opportunities. These same women who do not get the development opportunity get passed over for leadership positions because they lack the experience (Northouse, 2019). Addressing this cycle of passing over women is necessary to get true equity in the opportunity and experience of leadership. The last question we had to answer in the previous paper was whether leadership is teachable or not, and I stated that leadership is teachable. This class has only strengthened my opinion. This class has taught me many things about leadership and how to be an effective leader. It has taught me about relationships between leaders and followers through LMX theory, what leader behaviors are applicable in what situations through path-goal, how to be authentic in authentic leadership, and leadership ethics (Northouse, 2019). My answer to whether leadership is teachable is still unequivocal, yes.

Distillation of Leadership Theories:

Path-Goal examines how followers are motivated by leaders to accomplish goals (Northouse, 2019). The theory works by a leader defining the goal, clarifying the way to achieve the goal, providing support, and by removing anything that could hinder the group or follower from achieving that goal (Northouse, 2019). One problem with this theory is that it is very leader-dependent and centered. For example, the leader defines both the goal and the obstacles and does not account for the follower’s perspective (Northouse, 2019). Leader-dependency could be problematic for some followers who recognize another obstacle than the leader does and cannot determine how to solve it. Categorization of leader behaviors in this theory includes directive, supportive, participative, and achievement-oriented. Directive leaders are task-focused, and everything revolves around work. Supportive leaders are the opposite of directive. They are friendly and care about the emotions of a follower rather than the work. A participative leader is one who encourages participation in the leadership process from followers and incorporates followers’ ideas into the group’s strategies. Lastly, achievement-oriented leaders are trying to get followers to achieve at the highest level possible (Northouse, 2019). An example of achievement-oriented leaders is a strength coach or a sales manager that is giving a bonus based on the amount sold. The reason I chose this theory is because of its simplicity and practicality. The leadership behavior exhibited by the leader is dependent on the task situation. For example, a highly repetitive task on an assembly line would become monotonous to a worker, so an effective leader would encourage this follower with supportive behaviors. The theory makes it easy for leaders to directly see how their behavior affects follower performance (Northouse, 2019). I think this theory’s practicality and simplicity make it very useful, especially for less-experienced leaders. It allows them to look at a situation and then, based on that situation, decide what leadership behavior fits the scenario best. This leadership theory is far from perfect and should be coupled with other leadership theories to account for followers more. However, this theory resonated with me this semester, so I had to include it.

Leader-Member Exchange (LMX) describes leadership as a process centered on the interactions between leaders and followers (Northouse, 2019). I choose this theory because it reminded me of so many of my work experiences. The early LMX theories categorized followers as either the in-group or the out-group. The in-group were those followers that had a good relationship with the leader, and in exchange, had more influence. The out-group followers were those that lacked a good relationship with the leader. Out-group members’ relationship with the leader was strictly a formal one centered around the job (Northouse, 2019). While this is sad to think of some people having more influence than others, it is so true in the work environment. Reflecting on every job I have ever had or group that I have been a part of there have always been in-groups and out-groups. As LMX matured, it has become more of a prescriptive approach called leadership making. Leadership making emphasizes that a leader should work to create high-quality interaction with all followers (Northouse, 2019). The leadership making process goes through three phases: stranger, acquaintance, and mature partnership. The stranger phase’s interactions between the leader and the follower are very formal and work-oriented. The acquaintance phase begins with an offer to improve the relationship. Examples of an offer would be to ask the follower if they wanted more responsibility, such as training new employees or offering them lunch. These offers and accepting offers are what is called the testing period (Northouse, 2019). The testing period in my mind is both sides feeling each other out to see if the relationship is ready to move to the mature partnership phase. The mature partnership phase is characterized by having high-quality exchanges between the leader and follower and often result in organizational growth (Northouse, 2019). As I mentioned earlier, I felt compelled to include this theory because of my personal work experiences but also because it brings up an important point. The important point is that relationships matter. Work is not just about getting a job done, it is about our interactions with our boss and fellow employees. I think sometimes these interactions are downplayed, and it is good to see that this leadership theory puts its central focus on the relationship. 

The next leadership theory I felt I had to include is authentic leadership because authenticity in American leadership is lacking. Our major political parties cannot agree on much, but we do agree that we do not trust our leaders. In another paper for this course, I included a Gallup study that found just twelve percent of Americans view our congressional leaders as very highly or highly honest and ethical (Gallup, 2019). That statistic saddens me and is the main reason my distillation included authentic leadership theory. Authentic leadership focuses on whether leadership is genuine and has three definitions: intrapersonal, interpersonal, and developmental (Northouse, 2019). Intrapersonal is based on a leader’s self-awareness and relies on the life stories of the leader. These leaders lead from their convictions, and they are one of a kind. Interpersonal states leadership is created by leaders and followers together. Lastly, the developmental definition states leadership is learned and nurtured over a lifetime, is grounded in strong ethics, and is impacted by critical life events (Northouse, 2019). Critical life events are events in a person’s life that stimulate growth, and when they talk about these events, the person’s self-awareness increases (Northouse, 2019). An example of a critical life event would be a person whose mom is diagnosed with breast cancer at a young age going to medical school to be a cancer research doctor. These events are those moments in everyone’s life where people realize why they are who they are. The authentic leadership model has four components: self-awareness, internalized moral perspective, balanced processing, and relational transparency (Northouse, 2019). I spoke about internalized moral perspective and relational transparency earlier in this paper, and they are a leader using their morals to make decisions and being very transparent about themselves. Self-Awareness is reflecting on one’s core values and trusting one’s feelings. Lastly, balanced processing is objectively analyzing a situation and accounting for other’s opinions before making a decision (Northouse, 2019). Can you imagine a leader who embodied all four of those components? It has become so rare today that I struggle to fathom the idea. America needs more authentic leaders not just because they are effective, but because they would restore our faith in our leadership. 

The last theory to be discussed is followership. I included followership because, without followers, leaders do not exist. Several of the first theories taught in this class were very leader centered, and it was not until the end that followers became more important in the theories. Seeing the lack of emphasis put on followers throughout the semester made me want to include followership for distillation. In addition to the lack of consideration of followers in leadership theories, I believe after this class that leaders and followers are equally important to accomplish goals and, so, I felt compelled to include followership. Followers are individuals that accept the influence of another to accomplish a goal (Northouse, 2019). Followership has an ethical component, and the behaviors and decisions of followers reflect and influence an organization. The two followership perspectives are role-based and relational-based. Role-based perspective focuses on the typical roles a follower performs and how the behavior of a follower affects the leader and the organizational outcomes. Relational-based perspective is co-created by the leader and follower and occurs as people exert influence on each other and respond to this influence (Northouse, 2019). Four major typologies describe followership, but the most recognized is the Kelly typology. The Kelly typology for followership behavior has an axis for independent critical thinking and dependent critical thinking, and another axis for active and passive. These axes result in five followership groups: alienated, passive, conformist, pragmatist, and exemplary. For example, a passive follower would look to the leader for both motivation and direction. Kelley also defined four characteristics of effective followers, which are they self-manage, show a strong commitment to the organization’s goals, build their skills, and are ethical and credible (Northouse, 2019). These characteristics are important for us to strive for because no matter who we are, in some situation, we will be a follower. Lastly, regarding followership are the two theoretical frameworks: reversing the lens and the leadership co-created process. Reversing the lens focuses on how followers impact leaders and organizations. It emphasizes the ability of followers to create change because of their impact on the leader, the impact their follower’s characteristics have on them, and the impact that leaders and followers both have on outcomes. The leadership co-created process is that one person’s leadership behaviors interact with another person’s followership to create an outcome (Northouse, 2019). Followers are crucial because they are the ones that get the job done (Northouse, 2019). As I stated earlier in this paragraph, I believe that leaders and followers are equally responsible for an outcome. Therefore, no leadership class is complete without discussing how to be a good follower.

Reflection and Synthesis of Course Content:

 This course has challenged me to think more critically about leadership, and more specifically, my beliefs about leadership. One demonstrable change is that in the future if given the opportunity, I would encourage my female co-workers to explore leadership experience and developmental training. Before taking this course, I had thought that the gap between men and women in leadership positions was shrinking steadily, and there was not a problem in the United States. The fact that women outnumber men in higher education and yet are still lagging so far behind in leadership positions baffles me. This information about gender disparities forced me to alter the way I thought of the leadership gap, and now in the future, if given the opportunity, I will do my responsibility and be a part of the necessary change. 

 A second belief that fundamentally shifted for me was the idea of studying followers and how we treat followers. I had adopted the popular mindset that it is best to be a leader and that followers were like sheep. This class proved those ideas wrong to me. Now, like I have mentioned many times in this paper, I believe followers are equal to leaders. In the past, I have judged a leader by the outcome and completely excluded the followers. Now the followers are the first thing I consider. The metaphor I have for this is a college football coach. A college football coach can be the very best coach in the world, but if the players are not good, then the team is not good. The same thing applies to leadership. It does not matter how good the leader is if the followers are weak the outcome will be poor. Therefore, this class has reversed my thinking that followers are sheep. They are not sheep, and they are vital to success! An organizational outcome is interdependent on both leaders and followers.

A third and final belief that has changed for me was the relationship between a leader and a follower. Until this class, I have always thought that a relationship between a boss and an employee should be strictly professional. The boss should be kind and considerate to the employee, but not their friend. I thought that if they became friends that the level of respect would drop, leading to the employee receiving more leniency. It led to me thinking that bosses that are friends with their employees are less likely to discourage bad work behavior and performance, and therefore, be less effective. LMX theory changed that perspective for me. I thought about how relationships mature from stranger to partnership, and it validated what I had experienced in my work environments. The key point I took from the LMX theory is that as the relationship matured and the interactions became not necessarily about work, that there was organizational growth. This was counterintuitive to my preconceived notions coming into this course. I was wrong about handling relationships between a leader and a follower. This course exposed me to that, and I am thankful it did.  

My participation in this course was moderately high, but there were some things I could improve. First, as with so many things in our world COVID has caused a tremendous amount of change. This semester is not at all how I imagined spending my first semester at NC State, but it has been a good one. I have felt the most connected and engaged with this class. My other classes either did not meet on Zoom or, if they did, there was very little participation with few classmates involved. That was not the case for this class, so this class felt the most “normal” to me. As with everything I do, there is always room for improvement. I read the chapters associated with the class discussions. However, I often read it after we had talked about it in class or right before the exam. I would have benefitted more from reading the material before its discussion, so I could come prepared and ask thought-provoking questions. This increased participation would not only benefit me, but it would have benefitted my classmates as well. Active participation in learning would have helped me learn this material better and saved me time before exams. It would have also made me a better follower. Just as I talked about earlier when discussing followership, the success of this class is not solely dependent on Dr. B and Ms. Tess, but us as well. The class communicated through the chat primarily. The chat discussions helped me feel connected, and I learned about classmates that I have never seen before. Another improvement I could have made is to be more participative in the chat. There were times when I had a question, a point to make, or had an anecdote to add to the conversation that I did not put in the chat. I regret that because it may have helped one of my fellow classmates as well as myself. Participation was critical in this class for making me feel “normal,” learning the material, and for building relationships with my classmates, my TA, and my professor. The material in this course is relevant to our world today, and many of our chat discussions revolved around the disbelief and sadness that particular ideologies still occur in the year 2020.  The greatest example of this was our discussion about women still being passed over for leadership roles. This needs to change, and the other scenarios like it must change. This class got a dialogue started and exposed me to the information I did not know. However, the most important thing I learned in this class was the leadership skills that will enable me and my classmates, to be the catalyst for change.   

Leadership Lessons:

I learned so much about leadership this semester, and it is hard to synthesize it into a couple of examples. One lesson I learned was that leaders can have informal authority. In the past, I have always looked at leaders with formal positions, such as generals, managers, and congress members, but there are leaders with informal authority as well. Leaders are people who exert influence on others to achieve a common goal (Northouse, 2019). This influence can come from anyone, not a designated formal authority. A good illustration of this is my past summer job. At this job, we were responsible for cleaning a peanut mill, and we were all equal sanitation employees. Our boss had a very hands-off approach and just told us what to get done. I worked this job with friends as well as strangers, but the more we worked together, the more they trusted me to determine which job we were going to do next and how we were going to get the job done. I was still receiving equal pay and had an equal position, but I was organizing and checking the work for correctness. As I prepare to go back to that job over winter break, I think of all that I have learned about leadership and how I am going to apply it to working in the peanut mill.  When I get back, I want to be considered an authentic leader. I know my position with the crew is informal, but I want them to feel that they can trust me. As an authentic leader, I would work just as hard as everyone else, hold my work to the same standards, and be transparent about why I think we should do certain jobs over others first. I respect that crew and will do everything I can to keep earning the respect they have for me. 

Another lesson I have mentioned several times in this paper is leadership building from the LMX theory. Leadership building encourages leaders to have high-quality exchanges with all followers (Northouse, 2019). We have all been in work environments where some employees have a special status with the boss and they are called the in-group. We also all know some employees have the opposite relationship and are in the out-group. This can create a toxic work environment with animosity between the two groups. The best way to overcome that is through leadership building, which strives to allow all followers to be in the in-group. Dissolving the groups will lead to a less toxic environment and organizational growth. In the future, if I am a leader, I will remember this lesson. In a work setting, I will offer to build relationships with all of my employees. The offer is theirs to accept, and it would be unethical to force them to accept against their will. The leadership building model describes interactions moving from the stranger phase to the acquaintance phase because of the offer (Northouse, 2019). My offers would start simple, such as carrying the employee for lunch, asking them to sit in on meetings, or asking them about their family. As the interactions became better and the trust builds, I would offer more responsibility by assigning them a project or asking their opinion on my project. Through time a honest and sincere interaction would move me and my employees, to a mature partnership with organizational growth. This class has taught me that relationships are important, and as a leader, I will do my best to foster good ethical relationships with all of my followers in the future.

The final lesson I am going to discuss in this paper is that I will use situational leadership theory in the future. This theory forces leaders to adapt their leadership style based on the follower’s competence and commitment. The four leadership styles are directive, coaching, supporting, and delegating. These styles are arranged based on follower’s characteristics from low to high competency and from high to low commitment. The exclusion to that is the delegating style, which has high commitment, and the supporting style, which has variable commitment (Northouse, 2019). The reason I chose situational leadership because it focuses on adapting my style to the needs of my followers. The problem with this theory is that it is from the viewpoint of the leader. However, I would incorporate this leadership theory with LMX and authentic leadership so that the followers would have the relationship trust with me to express what they need. Basically, in the future, I would adopt the leadership style from situational leadership but make it less leader centered. Every follower is different, and so are their wants and needs from a leader. This approach will allow me to adapt and tailor my behaviors for each individual follower based on the situation. A good example is if I have a new employee, I will adopt the directive style approach to explain their responsibilities. As they adjust to the job, I would then try to build a relationship with them and offer support. The lesson I learned with situational leadership is that it is good to be able to adapt to the situation, but the theory is too leader centered. My goal as a leader in the future is to have the adaptability offered by situational leadership but me more follower centered and authentic. I truly believe that taking the good components of some of the leadership theories we discussed this semester and pairing those with the good components of other theories would make a leader ethical and effective.

Conclusion:

This class has exposed me to so many valuable things. I feel that I am a better person, leader, and follower because of what I have learned in this class. For comparison purposes, my pre-class paper on leadership was just two pages compared to the seven pages I have written here. This paper serves as my summary of the course and provides some of the highlights that stick with me. It started with answering the same questions from the pre-class paper with a different viewpoint now that I have been through a leadership development class. I then broke down four important theories: path-goal, leader-member exchange (LMX), authentic leadership, and followership. These four theories represent ideas that really stuck with me, validated leadership that I have experienced, and focused on what an ideal leader would be to me. By breaking these theories down, I gained more insight into what they mean to me. After distilling the theories, I reflected on my personal experience in the course. I discussed my participation and ways of improvement, and three beliefs I had about gender equity in leadership, my ideas about followers, and my thoughts about leader and follower’s relationships, and how this class caused them to change. The final section of this paper explored three lessons I learned this semester and their application to my life now and in the future. There were multiple lessons from this semester that did not make it into this paper but will stick with me as I go about my life. I have truly enjoyed this class and the bond it created for me with sixty strangers over Zoom. This course has taught me so much about leadership, and it is so crucial because no matter who we are, we are going to experience the effects of leadership. So, let us take the material we have learned and make leadership in our lives a positive experience for us, and more importantly, the people around us.