Meet the authors: Q&A with Gigliotti, Goldwaithe and Ruben
What information in your book is new or surprising?
Ruben, De Lisi, and Gigliotti wrote A Guide for Leaders in Higher Education: Core Concepts, Competencies, and Tools (Stylus Publishing, 2017). In this new general leadership book, we attempted to distill key insights from the higher-ed specific text in a way that would be accessible for more general audiences. We learned that much of what we wrote to be of relevance for leaders in higher education extends across sectors – leadership is co-constructed with followers, leadership is understood to be both intentional and unintentional/formal and informal, communication cuts across all aspects of leadership excellence, and effective leadership relies on an understanding of self (values, goals, philosophy) and an understanding of others/context.
How do you define the term “social influence?”
We understand social influence to be a process of directly or indirectly changing or impacting the thoughts or behaviors of another through both verbal and non-verbal behaviors. Hopefully this passage from the book gets at why we frame leadership as social influence – a process that extends beyond position and is inherently communicative:
“For example, one of the authors of this book raised the following question with a group of undergraduates who were participating in a co-curricular leadership program: “How many of you identify yourselves as being leaders?” Very few students raised their hands, which is particularly interesting given the program’s central emphasis on leadership development. After some probing, it became clear that many of the students in attendance—particularly those first-year students—failed to identify themselves as leaders because of their new status at the university and because they failed to consider the wide range of circumstances in which they have likely served as informal leaders in the past. We want to challenge this way of thinking in this book. Regardless of formal title or leadership position, we want to encourage you to consider the wide array of formal and informal contexts where you can exert positive social influence. Think less about ‘being a leader’ (i.e., having a title) and more about pursuing opportunities for ‘doing leadership’ (i.e., being influential).”
Why is it so important in today’s world that people work to improve their personal and professional communication skills and social influence?
Another extended passage from the book that might answer this question. “Our primary focus in the book is on formal and informal leadership in groups and organizations. That said, we believe that most, if not all, of the concepts and ideas discussed in this book have applicability across settings—in families, clubs, teams, communities, and society more broadly. Furthermore, in an effort to strengthen the effectiveness of leadership development efforts, we believe that the focus on communication and social influence offered in this book can provide a more productive, nuanced, and realistic way to think about the dynamics of leadership… We believe that leaders should aspire to enrich the lives of those around them, but we also recognize that there is often a range of opinions about how one thinks about ‘enrichment.’ In a world full of discord, the time for positive social influence has perhaps never been greater.”
Please provide a few of the strategies and tools readers can employ in their personal lives to improve their communication skills.
It’s probably worth sharing the organization of the chapters in the book. Part One highlights what we see to be some of the foundational theories and concepts for understanding leadership, Part Two provides several models and questions for better understanding one’s personal approach to leadership (e.g., the role of ethics, understanding one’s leadership philosophy, and identifying one’s core values that lead one to pursue opportunities for social influence in the first place), and Part Three addresses specific applied domains for leadership/communication practice, including planning and change, defining excellence in groups/clubs/organizations, teamwork and conflict in organizations (authored by SC&I’s Teaching Professor and Director of the Master of Communication and Media Program Richard Dool) and leadership in the digital context.
Will you do a book tour?
We have presented and will continue to present on various concepts from the book at an array of different conferences and meetings, including the International Leadership Association, National Communication Association, Network for Change and Continuous Innovation in Higher Education, and Leadership in Higher Education Conference. We are also identifying ways to incorporate many of the principles from the book into our ODL leadership programs – and to share the content with key stakeholders from across the university who organize student leadership programs.
Do you have any future projects in mind?
Leadership is a timeless subject, yet is also ever-changing and dynamic. We will continue to keep track of stories, examples, articles, and concepts that can both inform our approach to leadership in ODL and may ultimately end up in a future edition of this publication if the opportunity becomes available.
Please add any other information or quotes you would like.
We’ve included a copy of the Epilogue from the book. It’s fairly brief, but we think it addresses our reasons for writing the book, our goals for the project, and our optimistic outlook – despite the many challenges and obstacles facing leadership.
“Attempting to fully address a topic as complex and nuanced as leadership in one book is a daunting task. Our aim for this book was to provide you with a coherent and accessible point of entry into the study of leadership; and it is our hope that you feel inclined to explore the topic further through reading, reflection, and experimentation. The communication approach offered in this book is one of many possible lenses through which to understand the dynamics of social influence in personal and professional settings. We believe that an exploration of leadership without consideration of communication is incomplete, and we remain confident that the communication-centered perspective can complement, enhance, and enrich the many other perspectives offered by other textbooks and resources on the subject of leadership.
It is difficult to ignore the fact that the topic of leadership is one of the most contemplated themes in contemporary life, one that continues to attract a great deal of atten- tion from scholars, practitioners, and pundits. This is due, in part, to a perceived deficit in leadership across groups, organizations, and societies—and the tendency to attribute these deficits to problems in leadership. This perception is heightened by the well-publicized incidents of our time—ethical lapses in corporate entities, the collapse of non-profits and educational institutions during an era of great change and transformation, the growth of global terroristic activity, and the growing mistrust of leadership across sec- tors, including government (Pew Research Center, 2015). We, too, feel compelled to write about, teach, and develop tools and concepts associated with leadership because of this growing need for effective and ethical leaders who maintain a commitment to the highest standards of leadership, and are also responsive to their followers. We have seen far too many leaders in the private and public sectors model behaviors that are inconsistent with “best practices” and incongruent with the needs, expectations, and desires of their followers. We have also observed too many college students pursue leadership positions for the wrong reasons, and we have learned of many individuals who failed to meet their full potential as leaders due to an inadequate understanding of communication, culture, and planning. This book is one response to these many challenges and difficulties. At the same time, from our perspective, many of the contemporary problems attributed to leaders, can also be thought about as problems in followership.
We remain hopeful about the promise of leadership, particularly its potential in contributing in positive ways to the many group, organizational, community, national, and international challenges we face. Consider the ways in which formal and informal opportunities for social influence may be used for good. In response to the 2013 bomb- ings near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, we witnessed individuals running toward the site of the explosions to be of assistance to the victims. In response to bul- lying and social injustices, we have seen individuals stand up and help to give voice to those most marginalized in our society. In teams and organizations of all kinds, we have observed many formal and informal leaders helping others to reach their full potential. These examples speak to the importance of leadership—leadership that is guided by a clear sense of purpose, and responsive to the needs of followers and the challenges of the situation at hand. As leaders speak, behave, and engage with others, any number of messages—intended or unintended—can have great significance to others who are prepared, able, and ready to receive them. Recalling one of the axioms of communication discussed in Chapter 3, we cannot not communicate—and this is of particular importance to individuals who pursue leadership.
Leadership is not simple—and simple answers for how best to lead may be misleading. We attempted to address the complexity and nuances of leadership in this book, while also distilling some of the clear concepts, insights, and themes found in the voluminous literature and research on this topic. Referring back to an opening theme of this text, our goal in this book was to provide a GPS to help readers navigate through the complexity associated with the topic in order to develop an integrated and useful understanding of leadership dynamics. As you pursue opportunities for social influence, it is our hope that the concepts and models highlighted in this book are useful as you attempt to enhance, enrich, and inspire the lives of those who seek your leadership.”