Leadership As Influence

Leadership is the exercise of influence on organizational members and diverse stakeholders toward the identification and achievement of the organization’s vision and goals. (OLF, 2013).

…” the exercise of influence” is a phrase that sticks with me as a leader as we attempt to make continuous enhancements to the learning-centered agenda that must serve as the foundational culture to our Board Learning Plan.  I think about:

What does it mean to “exercise influence”?

 How do we engage in this work so that change is fast?

 Do all formal and informal leaders see themselves as individuals whose role is defined by the exercise of influence?

Do all leaders understand and champion our vision?

I share this thinking as it was the result of a struggle that I had this week – one which every leader knows and I believe struggles with – the tension between the learning agenda and the management agenda.  As of Wednesday, I was feeling that nothing was exciting me in terms of my learning (yet) this week as I had struggled to actually be able to focus; there were so many “distractors” that pulled my attention from the learning environment (which happened to be a Primary Math PLC). While I know that this is reality for any leader, I maintain the stance that I need to be relentless about the learning focus and that I need to model this relentlessness in everything that I do – you have all heard me say “practice what you preach”.  I truly believe that when we approach everything that we do from a learning stance, good things happen for everyone. It really means that we say “every decision that we make is in the best interest of students and student achievement”.  This is our organization’s vision and goal; one which is expressed by both the SGDSB Strategic Plan and consequently, operationalized by our Board Learning Plan for Student Achievement and Well-Being.

When I expressed my lack of excitement (and thus the notion that I had little to reflect on and share in my writing) to a valued colleague, she offered a suggestion. Why don’t you write about the leader’s struggle to maintain a learning stance while juggling other management items? 

As I began to think about this tension, what I realized is that I had actually not left the learning stance through the week even when I approached management pieces…that in essence, I made those management decisions through the lens of influencing the learning agenda.  When I reviewed the Ontario Leadership Framework in preparation for our Principal Learning Meeting, I realized that I was in fact influencing through (most of) my actions – actions which align with the Five Domains of the OLF.  For example, at a Principal Performance Appraisal meeting the discussion was framed around the learning of the principal, his influence on the learning of the staff in his school, and their impact on the learning of the students in their care.  When working with a principal to plan a PD Session, our focus was all about supporting the Learning Mindset of the participants. In preparation for our Leads’ Meeting, my focus was on analyzing the evidence that I have collected during school visits to determine learning themes.  And finally, at the Senior Administration meeting, conversations about staffing were focused on the learners.  I am realizing that it is my stance, not the structures that I may or may not be fully present in, that determines my leadership.

I have re-framed my theory of action question to be What impact is my relentless focus on learning having on the leadership stance of those with whom I work?  Although I am often impatient to see change, I know that the only way to move forward is to be consistent with our message, to be clear about our focus, and to constantly see myself as an “influencer” of that change.  By influencing, we may not see impact right away, however it implies the respect for the learner that needs to be in place.  We cannot simply “tell” people to change, we need to set the conditions in which they begin to want/see the urgency to change on their own accord. If “influence” is defined (by Google) as “the capacity to have an effect on the character, development, or behavior of someone or something”, then I need to truly analyze my capacity to lead us to an environment that is completely “learning focused”. Being fully engaged in learning at PLCs is important, however I am coming to realize that leading this agenda requires so much more. It is the “in-between” work that matters as well.

Until next week...At the end of each day, take a few minutes and ask yourself how you influenced the vision of our district. Then decide what you next action will be to “turn up the  heat”!  Let’s continue the moment on #nmcblog!

Habitudes Thermometer

(obtained from Growing Leaders, Habitudes for Leadership, http://growingleaders.com/habitudes/)


12 responses

  1. Heidi Patterson | Reply

    I liked the quote I read today from “George Couros’s blog- “In a world that constantly moves forward, if we choose to stand still we will eventually fall behind.” When we are in those operational – managerial modes we sometimes feel like we are falling behind in the agenda that needs to be front and center! I find to that what energizes me is when I am involved in something and I see change- I see the impact the work is having for the learner! It is not always how we find our learning experiences. We wonder what learning is or has gone on? Are we all on the same page? Are we all in that open to learning mindset? Thank you for assuming the lens of the learner- for having that relentless mindset. It helps to move the learning agenda forward. Will let you know how the reflection goes!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think that we can easily get mired in the operational which truly does keep us standing still. If we focus on the learning, it springs us forward, gets us talking and thinking differently. I guess the question always remains…what is the mindset of the people in the building? When they have a learner mindset, the building seems to flourish! Thanks for reading and sharing Heidi.


  2. Awesome! There are many ways to model the learning stance within the role we are tasked. It is the reflective practice in which you described that allows us to determine if we are approaching our work through the lens in which we communicate is our priority!


    1. So true Joy. You also made me think about the enhanced lens including measuring impact! What is the impact of my leadership stance on the leadership stance of others?


  3. What I am hearing in your post this week really resonated with me. As professionals in leadership positions we are tasked with an inordinate amount of managerial tasks. In fact, it is easy to become weighed down by the number crunching, report writing, emails and other seemingly endless paperwork tasks while forgoing our passion for learning as we hold ourselves accountable to everyone else’s needs. What is evident in your post is your desire to keep learning, to keep pushing your thinking while maintaining a responsible balance with your SO responsibilities. The duality of your role is a struggle. On some days learning is much easier achieved, while on other days it is not. What resonates me is the struggle you are voicing.You are curious. You do want to learn. You do want to model what you preach.
    In reflecting on how you felt to struggle with the balance of your responsibilities both as an SO and as a learner, I think you have you have solidified your learning as a non-negotiable, and with time, the conditions for learning that you strive to create for everyone else might be easier to create and hold fast to for yourself. In protecting our learning opportunities, we are in fact, supporting all learners.


    1. Thank you Stacey, for so eloquently describing this ongoing struggle. You have helped me to unpack my thinking further to the writing of this reflection. I appreciate that very much! I truly believe in this learning agenda and have such confidence in the people who I am fortunate to work alongside – together we will achieve our goal of ensuring that ongoing learning is first and foremost. The 21st Century Competencies truly have me inspired as I see where we have to go…in an urgent way for our learners to achieve -both academically and well-being wise! I appreciated the feedback from another colleague via email – “change happens at the speed of trust” from Covey. A key point for me to always remember. Thanks again Stacey for “naming” this struggle – not only for me but for all leaders!


  4. George Drazenovich | Reply

    A friend sent me an interesting article that speaks to this tension (leadership/management) which is actually creative tension. You need both dimensions and both approaches; within our selves and our organization. He wrote that “You can’t manage your way out of crisis. You can’t lead your way into stability”. You need both dimensions and when I think about influence, it is easy to influence those who already think like me and vice versa. But that is not what I think about when I read collaboration in the theory of action. I see that as entering an echo chamber, not collaborating. Not that I have anything against echo chambers they have their place! But they are not the best places to collaborate effectively. And it is also not the kind of risk taking I think about when I look at the theory of action. Risk taking to me means to seek out those who do think differently and try to find ways to collaborate. We all have our blinders and have limited perspective based on our own professional and even cultural location. It requires that we find people who are very different from ourselves. Margaret Heffernan on a TED Talk shared how difficult that is. She said that for her “that means we have to resist the neurobiological drive, which means that we really prefer people mostly like ourselves, and it means we have to seek out people with different backgrounds, different disciplines, different ways of thinking and different experience, and find ways to engage with them. That requires a lot of patience and a lot of energy.” But the paradox is that is how we can sharpen our thinking and increase effectiveness.


    1. So many great points George! I truly love the quote as it definitely reflects the need to be balanced! I have a great colleague who I have build such a powerful relationship with that we challenge each other’s thinking all the time – it is one of my most powerful learning opportunities! and what is great about this relationship is that we ground our discussions in what research is telling us about best practice – not our personal opinions. I think that is a key point! I do need you to clarify your “echo chamber” collaboration thinking – I am not sure that I understand it YET!


  5. George Drazenovich | Reply

    Thanks Nicki. And I can see how my message was not well stated. I meant the opposite of what it may actually sound like as I read it back now. Actually I meant that collaboration in the theory of action means working across differences ….and this runs counter to what we usually gravitate to. It is easy to collaborate with ourselves or those like us! Much harder when there are differences.


    1. Thanks George! I get it now!! Nick


    2. When I read comments on Nicki’s blog, I always seem to focus on when posts are written. George, 3:15am is sleeping time!


  6. I’m writing while sitting in a Tech Champion meeting where there is so much to share and be excited about. It’s very clear how leadership, influence, and our commitment to students is shining. Teachers like Chelsea Adams, Dave Binette, and Colleen Rose (among many, many others) are shining examples of the great things transforming our board. All of what I’m hearing as everyone shares their tech successes connects directly to our board’s Strategic Plan and the idea that “every decision that we make is in the best interest of students and student achievement”.

    Our schools are increasing student voice and parent/community connections by capitalizing on social media. When I saw the sharing, likes and comments on our GCHS Facebook page following the posting of our student Drum Group, I understood the success of our Theory of Action, our leadership, and our direction.

    We have arrived at this point due to leaders who fully understand and push a Learner Mindset and while change sometimes takes a while to be appreciated, it’s clearly happening. Yes, there are some distractors – but I think that’s the reality of our operation – but there are so many amazing things that are happening.

    I think, having had a [small] taste of administration, that it’s easy to get bogged down in paperwork, reports, data, and all that important stuff. However, it’s just as important to talk to teachers across the board who are putting our students first and engaging our learners.

    You mentioned something that I want to focus on: “We cannot simply “tell” people to change, we need to set the conditions in which they begin to want/see the urgency to change on their own accord.” The best part of all I mentioned is that it’s been organically happening. Teachers in our Tech Champion meeting are all here because they want to learn and want to push our students to be the best.

    So, in short, the influence is happening. Be happy!


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