Book Review 1: Instructional Designers are Leaders Too!

To support my annual professional development, I enjoy reading texts recommended by others in the field. One of the books recommended to me while I was finishing up grad school (5+ years ago) was, Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us. The premise of this book is to galvanize change and build a following (a tribe) through a focused passion or idea. In 150 (short) pages, blogger Seth Godin inspires readers to ask themselves, “Do you believe in what you do? Every day? It turns out that belief happens to be a brilliant strategy.” Seth argues that the internet provides a platform to connect humans and enables them to share ideas organically to create social change or lead a movement. Within this community (or tribe), emerges a leader or leaders who challenges the status quo. These “heretics” (as Seth calls them) organize and lead the group to advance their niche.

My focus is not to encourage you to follow the rhetoric of Seth Godin or purchase his book, but instead, it is to reflectively analyze the relationship of this text to the field of instructional design. Quite often the role of an instructional designer is viewed as a support position, one who assists in the academic goals of a course or a program. Unfortunately, what goes unnoticed is the instructional designer skillset and competencies are often identified as leadership skills and competencies in other contexts. Due to this oversight, instructional designers are often not positioned in a place of authority within an institutional hierarchy.

A few overlapping characteristics come to mind:

  • Inspire change,
  • Challenge processes,
  • Model best practices,
  • Solve problems,
  • Strive to meet and exceed goals,
  • Think strategic and systematically,
  • Advocate for inclusive and ethical practice, and
  • Effectively communicate,

We, as instructional designers, aspiring course designers and educators need to recognize that education systems are shifting to online, distance education delivery systems. And, instructional designers are best suited to consult and shape the framework of these high-quality, learning models. Instructional designers may not be positioned at the leadership table, but through a grassroots-like initiative, we will passionately create change. Maybe it starts with a new course homepage or a team status report? Or maybe it starts in a book club? As  Seth Godin states in Tribes, “Generous and authentic leadership will always defeat the selfish efforts of someone doing it just because she can.”

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