This is a course that seeks to develop your understanding of leadership and begins the task of helping you develop your leadership practice. The work is continued, with more of an emphasis on practice, in our other optional leadership course, Collaborative leadership in voluntary organisations. Both of these courses are aimed at anyone working in or around voluntary organisations – people employed by them, people who volunteer for them and people who run them. Why such a broad base of people? Because it is our case that we can help build leadership, we can all invest leadership with meaning, as long as we learn to think differently and more ambitiously. That is because we are going to be making the case in this course, as well as the one that follows it on collaborative leadership, i.e. something that many people can contribute to, that leadership should be thought of as a practice, as something we nurture, feed and critically reflect upon, rather than as some personality characteristics possessed by a particular person or collection of people. This course will help you feed and nurture a practice that can be shared between a number of people.
Week 1 introduces the concepts of leadership and management, and invites you to reflect on your existing knowledge of what these terms mean. We will also offer you a definition of leadership and invite you to judge it.
In Week 2 we will begin to explore leadership as person. This position holds that leadership is equated to the characteristics and behaviours of certain people. Rather than focus on individual leaders as role models for leadership, we will instead urge you to think of leaders as symbolic resources that can teach us a lot about what the sector does and does not value.
In Week 3 we will explore leadership as person in more depth. Our focus will be upon the most influential of leadership perspectives, transformational leadership. We will explore some of the underlying problems with ceding too much authority to people in positions of leadership. Leadership as person will be turned on its head and we will reflect on what kind of symbolic leaders might be made to matter for the voluntary sector.
In Week 4 you will explore leadership as ethics. Our account of leadership as ethics explores the work a purpose can do within leadership and urges that such purposes become the sites of contest and healthy debate. This week also introduces the idea of the ethical dilemmas – how we work through them and after them in leadership.
In Week 5 you will explore leadership as practice. Focusing on practice draws our attention to the work of leadership, rather than the personality of leaders. We focus on three dimensions of leadership practice – processes, spaces and technologies. We will explore how these dimensions can act as points for reflection but also brought together in interesting ways to generate new approaches to leadership practice.
Throughout the course we will keep referring to ‘development’ rather than alternative terms such as ‘teaching’ or ‘education’. You will spend some time learning about different approaches to leadership, particularly in this first course. However, the main focus of your work will be on developing yourself as a practitioner, as someone confident and capable of stepping into leadership work.
This does mean that you will need to take control of your own learning. We will introduce you to our thinking on leadership and provide case examples along the way. You are expected to reflect on these in relation to your own working environment. More than this, you will be asked to try out certain ideas in your work context or to gather certain information along the way that will aid your development.
We have set up a discussion forum where you can discuss and debate the course content with your fellow learners and with us, your course authors. You will also see that you have a learning journal where you can record your own thoughts on your development in leadership. Key members of the OU’s Centre for Voluntary Sector Leadership will be able to see what you write and we may anonymise and draw on some of what you say for future research – we see this as a circular relationship where we develop one another’s knowledge. The aim is to build a community of learning: we are all in this together.
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You will notice that throughout this course we will point you to an online space where you can reflect on your learning, engage with the activities we set you here and talk with others pursuing the course. This space is comprised of two main areas.
The first is your learning journal. Only you and the course team (Owain and Carol) can see what you write here. The space is designed to enable you to reflect on your own development as you progress. Keeping a learning journal is good practice because it allows you to connect your learning to your work explicitly and also allows you to track progress over time.
The second area you will notice is a discussion forum. This is a space where you can debate and discuss ideas generated in the course with others. It is not solely a space for text and we will be asking you to post photographs in addition to writing. We encourage challenge and debate but please do maintain a civil tone and keep things focused on ideas rather than on personalities. The area will be facilitated and we do reserve the right to delete any contributions we think run counter to the spirit of generosity and robust challenge valued on the course.
Finally, we expect to be challenged ourselves, so if you find yourself taking issue with any aspect of the course or if there is something you think should be explored in more depth – please post something online or email us directly.
Owain Smolović Jones is a lecturer in organisation studies at the Open University Business School’s Department of Public Leadership and Social Enterprise. His main research focus is the political in leadership development and leadership. Prior to working for the OU he worked in leadership development facilitation and research at the New Zealand Leadership Institute (NZLI), University of Auckland. He secured his PhD at Cranfield University, basing his thesis on public sector leadership development programmes. Prior to earning his PhD he worked in professional politics – but that seems like a long time ago now …
Carol Jacklin-Jarvis is a lecturer in management at the Open University Business School’s Department of Public Leadership and Social Enterprise. The focus of her research is collaboration between voluntary and public sectors and the practice of leadership in the collaboration context. Carol completed her PhD at the Open University after a career of over 25 years in voluntary and public sectors. At the weekend, she is often found volunteering in her local community, cooking and serving community breakfasts and dinners – and cleaning up afterwards!
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This free course was written by Owain Smolović Jones and Carol Jacklin-Jarvis.
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