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Being Leaderful From Where You Are

This week is the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative Online Focus Session: New Directions in Instructional Design: Keeping Pace in a Time of Rapid Change. The program is robust, lining up experts to talk about trends and innovations in teaching and learning while focusing on where instructional (learning or educational) designers have impact and directions we might grow in the future. My colleague Melody Buckner (University of Arizona) and I were asked to help design the focus session activity workbook. Our goal was to bring purposeful reflection and meaningful application to participants as they look toward the future of their careers, projects, and roles as potential agents of change at their institutions.

One of the activity tracks is about being “leaderful”. I first learned this phrase at the EDUCAUSE Learning Technology Leadership Institute (2013) and fell in love with the concept. It not only empowers your person, but leaderful actions help to empower the team around you.

Leaderful practice is described by the originator Joe Raelin (2004) in "Preparing for Leaderful Practice" as, “The practice of involving everyone in leadership, that leadership can be a collective property . . . “ (p. 65) He goes on to describe the four facets of leaderful practice as collective, concurrent, collaborative, and compassionate.

Collective leadership means that everyone in the group can serve as a leader; the team isn’t dependent on one individual to take over. Concurrent leadership means that not only can many members serve as leaders, but also they can do it at the same time. No one, not even a supervisor, has to stand down when any team member is making his or her contribution as leader. Collaborative leadership means that everyone is in control of and can speak for the entire team. All members pitch in to accomplish the work of the team. Together, they engage in a mutual dialogue to determine what needs to be done and how to do it. Compassionate leadership means that team members commit to preserving the dignity of every individual on the team, considering each when a decision is made or action taken.” (p. 66)

My favorite quote from Raelin (2004) is:

“Everyone’s talent is allowed to shine through and contribute to team goals. People can bring their whole selves to work and feel at home contributing to the greater good.” (p. 66)

Who doesn’t want to work in that kind of environment! Being leaderful is not only for the designated manager/director/supervisor. Leaderful actions can be embraced and internalized by anyone. I don’t have to argue the point that a collaborative team would only benefit from everyone acting in a leaderful way.

So how do these ideas transfer into the real world? Mickey Kolis (2013) outlines some leaderful actions in Chapter 7 of his book, Rethinking Teaching: Classroom Teachers as Collaborative Leaders in Making Learning Relevant. Go here for a Google Book preview of Chapter 7 pp.37-39. I find his suggestions and summaries in the context of K-12 education more relevant than the examples found from the business world. We assigned a few pages from his book as background reading for the Being Leaderful activity. Usually available through Google Books preview, some participants were not able to access the content. A quick blog post later, and I’m able to share some of the insights from Raelin and Kolis with not only the ELI Focus Session participants, but also those in my local Dartmouth community.

Kolis’ prose on the leaderful actions is perfect and I’m struggling to summarize his I won't. Below are his main points and the deeper descriptions and examples can be found in his book. Just by reading these three pages on leaderful actions I was reminded to be reflective and intentional in my communications and collaborations, striving to be a better team member and empowering my colleagues in a variety of ways. I was able to find the book through interlibrary loan and have enjoyed his voice and ideas. I do suggest finding the book through a library or your favorite book/e-book provider.

Quoted directly from Chapter 7 Leaderful Actions:

1. Advocating for people, ideas, and organizations in ways that include rather than exclude others. . . . It means making sure that every idea is heard and that inclusion is a natural part of any conversation. . . . Advocating for yourself and for others requires you to go outside your perceptions and look for deeper meaning and reason.

2. Facilitating open (belief-level) group discussion, problem solving, and decision making. . . . Leaders must think and encourage others to think creatively and critically in an attempt to find new and win-win solutions.

3. Exercising sound judgement and political skills while working with people with different agendas and belief systems.

4. Promoting systemic and long-term versus symptomatic and short-term solutions.

5. Seeking creative local actions and solutions as a means to global actions and solutions. . . . Since everything is connected, small changes will in face impact larger settings.

6. Sustaining ideas, trust, and collaborative focus while responding to changing circumstances.

7. Accepting personal and professional responsibility for one’s actions.

8. Providing the means for partners to set incremental and obtainable goals and celebrations along the way.

9. Making yourself dispensable so that change (and learning) continues with or without you. . . .Helping others act like collaborative leaders keeps the learning cycle alive.

Wow, right? Let’s just all sit on those beautiful thoughts for a minute and reflect back to a moment we weren’t being leaderful and how we could have, and what might have happened differently. I know I have quite a handful.

I’m left wondering if Kolis facilitates workshops for higher education professionals and teams. I’m also left with some larger questions to think about:

  • How might these actions help break down the dreaded “silo analogy” we so often talk about in higher ed?
  • How do you start being leaderful without overwhelming yourself and everyone in your team? Kolis talks about small actions repeated over and over creating a spiral-like effect.
  • How can leaderful actions help promote the work and perceptions of instructional designers within the institution?
  • How would leaderful actions help my work and relationships with faculty collaborators?

Thank you for reading about leaderful actions. Writing this blog post became a reflective and cathartic activity for me and I hope it has conveyed the salient points from Kolis’ book.


Raelin, Joe. "Preparing for Leaderful Practice." TD March (2004): 65-70. Print. Kolis,

Mickey. "7 Leaderful Actions." Rethinking Teaching: Classroom Teachers as Collaborative Leaders in Making Learning Relevant. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Education, a Division of Rowman & Littlefield, 2013. N. pag. Print.

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