How should leaders lead online faculty?
With the pace of life accelerating and the nearly instantaneous availability of information, ideas presented last year may seem outdated. However, McGregor's (1960) notions of Theory X and Theory Y are still widely accepted as seminal in the world of management and leadership. Even in the context of online education, these theories serve as foundational for educational leaders.
To recap, McGregor explains that Theory X is the notion that people despise work and must be coerced to work by management in order for there to be any reasonable amount of productivity. As observed over many years, the result of implementing this theory is often an authoritarian regime comprised of micromanagers who perpetuate a labor/management divide. McGregor continues that Theory Y, conversely, takes the approach that management exists to develop employees so that they can reach their full potential thereby propelling the company to success. Again, observation reveals that implementing this theory generally leads to an environment of participative leadership in which employees are considered stakeholders along with management and shareholders.
These theories translate quite directly into the administration of online education. Theory X produces a sense of administrative distrust of distance faculty members who, according to the theory, likely despise work and will avoid it at all costs. This expectation, like other aspects of distance education, is easily magnified by the distance of the faculty from the campus. The result is, as in the traditional corporate environment, an authoritarian administrative oversight system characterized by micromanagement of employees who are perceived as mere facilitators rather than as highly educated and qualified faculty members.
Implementing Theory Y in the online educational environment brings with it a sense of shared responsibility, mutual respect, and joint leadership. In this model, faculty are seen as intelligent individuals who have an innate desire to lead their students to success and will offer whatever tools are necessary and available to assure that success. The administrator's role in the Theory Y environment becomes to select excellent people and develop them so that they can teach rather than just mindlessly facilitate in the online environment. This does not mean that the administration should remove itself from the online environment and place the full responsibility of student success on the shoulders of the online faculty members; there must be shared responsibility based in mutual respect. This leads to joint leadership and improved performance by both faculty and administration.
If moving toward Theory Y is unnerving to administrators in the traditional educational environment with co-located faculty members, it is terrifying to them in the online education environment where faculty members are remotely located. However, implementing Theory Y is also extremely important in the online environment as faculty have an increasingly large pool of institutions from which to choose their employment and will likely select those where they feel most supported and valued through shared responsibility, mutual respect, and joint leadership.
McGregor, D. (1960). The human side of enterprise. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.