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Effects of leadership on management of academic institutions PART 1

Unlike the leadership in organizations, it was perceived till date that leaders in Academic Institutions lead their people with an academic bend of mind. However, with the passage of time, the top level management at the academic institutions replaced the grey with black hairs. 

Author: Smita Biswal

Unlike the leadership in organizations, it was perceived till date that leaders in Academic Institutions lead their people with an academic bend of mind. However, with the passage of time, the top level management at the academic institutions replaced the grey with black hairs. It meant that the approach would be more unorthodox and less dogmatic as compared to the leaders of the past where there was lesser space for a democratic form of leadership to flow. A closer look at the work culture however, reflects an adapted leadership style from the corporate world where this set of leaders is more than aggressive and less than flexible to allow innovation or suggestions to creep in. While in a few schools Teachers have been provided the best of the facilities to motivate them, a greater number of them believed in autocracy. Such an approach towards the human resources only hampers the growth prospects and the belief that teaching is a noble profession. This paper attempts to examine the different leadership approaches and their effects on the human resources therein.

Introduction

Let us assume the following scenarios:

An old private sector school with an excellent strength of students and an equal ratio of teachers operates successfully through a management run and handled by the founding family members. With an experienced Academic Director at the reins, the teachers felt free to work and deliver their plans on time. He used to conduct meetings, sort out issues in a friendly conversation, used to mentor and guide the students and teachers alike by giving suggestions and ideas about how the situations can be handled and the like. While for a few teachers he was a terrific leader, a greater section of the young teaching professionals followed his advice and were quite comfortable with the pace he expected. He followed a democratic style of leadership which allowed suggestions and ideas, a discussion on the same and implementation if found beneficial. The academic director never left a chance to praise the teachers for the efforts they put in and made it a point to encourage excellence through participative work in the institution. From designing methods to conducting out of the box events for teachers, the Academic director believed in maintaining a healthier relation with his teachers. The situation however changed when the management started interfering into his area of expertise. The Director and his team who were inexperienced in terms of academic management suddenly felt a desire to test their abilities as managers and started to put obstacles by modifying the existing work culture including the teaching methodology by teachers. While some of their ideas were good, they lacked rationality. Suggestions and ideas from the teachers though taken were seldom implemented. The management which constituted of the family members who were young and inexperienced, created a system of direct approach to the Director thus bypassing the Academic Director, to get a first hand information about the daily developments which meant that the powers of the Academic Director were now being reduced to a selective few.  Such regular interference and ramifications in the work including changes in teaching portfolio for the existing teachers meant a dilution of interest on the part of the teachers resulting a decline in interest to teach and put efforts.  The work environment reflected the change immediately. Teachers were reluctant to take orders, felt pressurized and stressed to carry out the additional duties and responsibilities which were by now being thrust upon them in the name of experimentation and were equally feeling unsecured about their positions—any teacher who opposed the suggestions or orders were fired with immediate effect and nobody wanted to lose their job as they were being paid well. While some of them chose to play the spy card, a few chose to walk out in search of better opportunities. A greater number of teachers acted neutral and chose to just work as they knew nothing would change for good.

Yet another private school, nearly as old as the first one in this case, was struggling to emerge as a contender in the competition which it once, led. From being a pioneer in schooling in the city, the school was by now the least preferred. The management body which constituted of an Ex- Army personnel and his family, found it difficult to manage the reins of the school but did not desire an outsider as they felt they could reinstate the waning glory with their son now on board. The young Director however, had a different vision for the school which was quite opposed to his father’s idea of leading a school. While he and his father preferred focusing more on studies than any other activity which would add to the students morale and confidence, he was open to ideas from teachers and implemented them as he felt were right. However, he would ignore issues which were related to teachers’ development, students’ participation in extracurricular activities and the like. A larger number of teachers never desire to work whole heartedly as the pay was equivalent to the Grade IV employees pay. Yet another problem with the management was understaffing. Despite the fact that the management knew of this, they decided to adjust teachers without specialization to manage subjects which were beyond their area of specialization. This caused the teachers to become adamant and least reciprocating to their demands. Such is the environment of the school that the coordination between the teachers and the management lies fragmented and applicable in circumstances favoring self acts and not for the welfare of the students. Even though the infrastructure of the school changed the outlook of the management towards the teachers though respectful, has continued to remain the same- ignored!

In the cases presented above, an attempt has been made to showcase how the human resources, who are considered as an asset, are exploited. Even though they are have qualifications on the basis of which they deserve salaries at par with their colleagues in the government schools, it has been found—time and again, that the teachers are the least respected and most abused of the professionals today. An attempt has been made to understand the condition of the teachers and the management by relating the same to the basics of management including the functions being performed and what all steps can be taken to improve the working conditions at schools.

An understanding of the case studies

Management as a term can be easily defined as ‘an art of getting the work done by others’. However, such a definition is directionless. It does not clarify what ‘work’ it refers to nor does it throw any light on ‘who’ those ‘others’ are? It is thus in the light of these lacunas that several definitions of management have evolved over time where the authors have deemed it fit to stress more on team work and improving the efficiency and effectiveness levels of the tasks assigned than simply define management in an ambiguous manner.

As put by Trewelly and Newport, ‘Management is defined as the process of planning, organizing, actuating and controlling an organization’s operations in order to achieve coordination of the human and material resources essential in the effective and efficient attainment of objectives.

In the two cases presented above, management as a definition given by Trewelly and Newport has not been justified in totality. The reasons cited include- excessive control in one situation while in the other it is partial omission of the most important factor – coordination apart from the other factors which will be discussed in the paper. The first case, as we can see, presents two scenarios.

In the first one, with the academic director at the helm of affairs, the situations presented a contrast of what the situation was post his exit.  While the Academic Director chose to follow a leadership style which suited all, i.e., Democratic form of Leadership, the Director and his team followed a leadership style which was least preferred and liked- Autocratic leadership. As a result, the complete system of administration dragged in a reluctant manner and not smoothly as it was earlier.

In the former situation in the first case study, the teachers and the other administrative staff members felt free and open to present their case to the management, felt less hesitant and more confident to work as the environment was more congenial than restricted. It allowed the teachers to develop their skills better as the Academic Director chose to discuss and find a solution to their problems than reprimand and discourage them, though in an indirect manner. Instead of pinning down the aspiring leaders of tomorrow, he used to instill confidence in them take charge of certain events, conduct them and learn through mistakes. While this opened the way for the teachers to find their potential, it also assured that the school got the future leaders. It also ensured that the teachers did not get monotonous on job and with an additional responsibility they learnt how to develop new skills and improve the old. In a way, he worked more towards enriching the job at hand by explaining them the benefits and mentoring those who found the tasks assigned difficult than thrust upon them and guide none as was in the case in the later half.

An inference thus, can be drawn on the basis of the above discussion that the work of a leader or a manager includes a wider range of activities like mentoring, counseling, motivating, leading as and with an example for others to be inspired and follow, being emphatic and every other activity which can help an organization to function smoothly with lesser hiccups and more confidence. However, it is necessary for the manager or the leader to be calculative as to what constitutes a balanced democratic style of leadership because there is no tailor made presentation of any of the styles of leadership.  Any leadership activity which allows space and freedom to the subordinates at times may be considered or assumed as given due to lack of managerial abilities of the leader while on the other hand a continuous follow up or hand holding of the weak employees which is mentoring, may be perceived as autocratic by the employees. It thus becomes necessary to ensure that the act be clearly defined by the way of proper communication thereby clarifying the intent of the act to be done or being initiated for an effective result instead of a chaotic or confused outcome.

In the situation after the exit of the academic director it could be seen that the work environment changed. While it was slow, it was visible. The management was able to gauge the situation but it decided to act the way it desired. That the arrogance could be attributed to the goodwill it was able to garner in the past or to the pay structure which attracted several applications as prospects cannot be ruled out. While the teachers to a greater extent were reluctant, the management knew how to exactly make them work. Even though the confrontations between the management and the teachers took place within the Director’s cabin, the repercussions were felt everywhere. Unlike the former who used to pray the teachers for the efforts they put in, the Director did not. As such, these developments led to a rise in an insecurity feeling amongst the staff members who by now were on their toes and under constant pressure to perform and deliver. With the supervisors now on continuous rounds including the director himself, it became a difficult proposition for the teachers to even have a subjective interaction during their free periods or during departure.  Such a stringent control factor only meant that the work environment was no more conducive for the teachers who planned a long term career with the school.

It can be understood thus, that the last function of management- controlling was excessively in force on teachers than on the students who were allowed to behave their way with less punishments and stringency. This in turn made the students realize and understand that their teachers were in no way decision makers on any of the issues  be it teaching the syllabus by following a particular pedagogy, discussing issues which needed their attention or for that matter taking any steps to ensure disciplinary action at their levels.  Such an approach meant only the diminution of the respect and honor for a teacher and as such as an employee of an organization they had the responsibility but no authority at all which was in contrast to the principles of management where the managers i.e., the class in charges and the subject in charges had insufficient ‘authority to carry out his/her responsibility as per the Principle of Authority and Responsibility- one of the 14 principles contributed by Henri Fayol.

  1.  Principles of Management – guidelines for effective management

Even though the principles of management were a contribution in 1880’s, the effectiveness of these principles and their relevance in designing an effective and efficient management system cannot be ignored. However, like the school management mentioned above, there are several such academic institutions which ignore either deliberately or in ignorance of these principles a greater number of principles as have been contributed by Henri Fayol and F.W. Taylor. The effects of such an ignorance gets reflected in poor management skills of the leaders and in the performance of the students, the blame of which once again is put on the teachers for being incapable to give their best.  By turning a deaf ear to the suggestions, demands and problems of the employees, an organization does no good to itself as the decisions taken by it ignorance of the challenges being faced only leads to a biased and unsatisfied outcome which again has negative repercussions for the working class.

This brings to the next part of my discussion about the principles of management which act as a mentor to the business organizations and the managers therein. To clearly state, the principles are broad guidelines which suggest a step or recommend an action when a manager is faced with challenges for which he has no answer. However, a view at the case studies presented above reflects that the schools being discussed followed their own gut feeling and thinking more than those principles which could have improved their employee satisfaction and levels of education for the children.

Management of the schools thus, should abide by the principles and apply them as and when they are required not only for the benefit of the top level or the founder members of the schools but for the benefit of all who are being employed.

In order to understand the real problem behind the teachers not being interested to give their best which is a serious problem, the reasons need to be understood. While the management and the staff differs on several issues it becomes necessary that reconciliation between the two should happen at certain stages for the organization to run smoothly. Some of the most common problems faced by the teachers are identified and listed below:

  1. Pay structure not followed: it has been found upon interaction with several teachers from different schools that private schools which demand higher qualifications and experience fail to pay salaries as per a scale. This does not only discourage a teacher to teach but also to take up any additional task as entrusted by the management from time to time. A consolidated pay exhibiting a break up of HR, Dearness Allowance and other such benefits is a part of the pen and paper records in many schools but the reality of the situation speaks a different story.
  2. No added benefits: the salaries of the teachers are a mere consolidated pay either paid in cash, by cheque or deposited in bank accounts opened by the school. Neither do the teachers get an insurance cover, nor do they get the benefits of EPF or PPF. Thus, the fact that the teachers’ safety or security needs as have been identified by ‘Abraham Maslow in his Need hierarchy Theory are sidelined gets reflected. As has been said by some of the teachers, the management deducts PF only for class IV staff and not for the teachers while the management of some schools when contacted has claimed that they are ready to make a deduction if the staff members allow them to do so. They further add that some teachers would want a gross of their earnings and not a net earning with a portion of their salary going out as forced savings. This is the reason for which they decided to go for a blanket rule where none of the teachers were given these benefits. It however, can be deduced that the management of several schools are not interested about the financial safety and security of the teachers who are the most important resource for this industry. The fact that there is abundant supply of teachers in the market as compared to the demand makes them sideline the interest of the teachers and their financial well being.
  3. Security deposits: ranging from a months’ salary to any amount as would be decided by the management, the teachers in some of the established private schools are bound to pay a hefty amount as security deposit which once again pinches their pocket. As several teachers belong to families with less financial strength, this security deposit in lump sum results in searching for an avenue better than teaching.
  4. No pay for first summers: it has been found that several schools in North India follow a system of no salary for the month of June during which the summer vacations are declared. This rule is applicable to the teachers joining the school either as a fresher or as an experienced. It once again proves to be acting as a burden on the families which have no secondary source of income or in other words, an extra working member in the family to depend upon.
  5. Outstanding payments: the teachers of some schools complained that their salaries were paid once in a quarter or two months. Such has been the scenario that the teachers find it difficult to manage their families with a meager income from coaching classes or from other sources. At least 10 teachers cited that requests for payment of salary would result in embarrassment and insult from the management who would rise irrelevant issues which never are a part of their duties.
  6. Stringent measures and control: while for the students the disciplinary measures were found to be lenient, it has been found in some schools being surveyed that the measures were acting like a noose around the teachers’ neck.  Despite being a co education system, teachers were being watched for interactions between the same gender and the opposite gender and any action – either in the form of refusal to act or adherence of anything in contrast to the beliefs of the management even if it was good for the students resulted in severe action including expulsion of the teachers.
  7. Additional responsibilities: citing that the professionals in the corporate would not grimace an extra bit of work, the directors of the schools mentioned above, ensure that their teachers are put to task beyond teaching in classrooms. Starting from dusting of libraries to arranging of books which happens to be the task of a librarian, the teachers are required to work without an objection.

As such these issues cited above clearly indicate that the workforce is abused and not properly managed because of which the human resources work with least motivation and more of retaliation.

Please click here to read PART 1.

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