By Jason Johnson, Master of Public Policy Candidate at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs and 2012 - 13 CIL Student Leadership Team Member
As a former high school teacher who was frustrated with the education system, I came to the Humphrey School of Public Affairst just over one year ago seeking ways to reform education in the United States from behind the scenes. I had not thought much about leadership and had never heard of "integrative leadership." Because my naive conception of a leader was the traditional type who is powerful, charismatic, enjoys publicity, and motivates or compels people to follow him or her, I misguidedly thought I lacked the personality to become a leader.
After taking the required Management of Organizations course, my view of leadership changed. I was intrigued by the research on multi-sector collaboration. I soon began to realize that meaningful education reform requires many organizations with wide-ranging interests across the government sector, market sector, social sector, and civic sector to work together. Consequently, I am pursuing every opportunity to acquire integrative leadership skills. Though I am far from being an expert, I have been able to draw some insights from the literature that connects with my experience as a teacher.
First, based on my understanding, the most important skill for being an integrative leader is the ability to facilitate multiple parties with a wide-variety of perspectives and interests to work together to create public value. This requires open-mindedness, critical thinking, listening, reflectiveness, being well-rounded, willingness to modify or transform previously held beliefs when confronted with well-researched new ideas, and humility.
Nevertheless, what I find most fascinating is that integrative leadership cannot simply be learned, but must also be practiced. One must be willing to reflect and learn through failure. Therefore, finding examples of integrative leadership through everyday experiences seems vital to those who want to practice this type of leadership.
One such practice that has helped me connect with integrative leadership is inquiry-based teaching. This method requires the teacher to be a facilitator and stimulate active critical thinking, rather than as a lecturer who requires students to listen and passively absorb information. To stimulate high-level critical thinking that can generate creative approaches to address problems, the teacher as facilitator must challenge the students with tasks that push them just outside their comfort zone. However, going too far can cause frustration, disengagement, and loss of trust. Thus, because the teacher is required to give some power to the students and lead from behind the scenes, gaining the trust of the students by being sensitive, empathetic, open-minded, and well-rounded is critical in creating a safe space for students to learn from each other in a decentralized setting.
Like a teacher that must lead a diverse group of students to work together to create an innovative solution to a problem, a facilitator of a working group consisting of diverse stakeholders must create the safe space where people can debate each others' ideas in a constructive way to create innovative education reform. Indeed, similar to the different life experiences and ways of thinking that students bring with them into the classroom to solve problems, each of the different sectors have unique strengths they can use to improve education; however, the challenge is for them to trust one another and share power. Therefore, not only do I finally understand that integrative leadership is critical to education reform, but I also discovered that anyone - including myself - has the potential to be an integrative leader through practice.