Notes on Parenting

Insights for parenting babies, toddlers, teens, and young adults.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Learning Team Leadership from Cartoons

by Jason

Near the beginning of the summer, Kellie Englehardt--a guest contributor--wrote a column in this blog highlighting some educational summer television for kids. I absolutely loved her suggestions! Being a parent of two preschoolers, I experience a steady dose of educational television. My oldest child is five-years old. Prior to his birth, it had been quite a while since I tuned in to that type of programming. I was very surprised with the changes! "Back in the day" when I was a kid, I only saw cartoons on Saturday mornings. The choices were limited, and I am not sure there were any educational goals in most of the programming. (Although Bugs Bunny did help me get some things right in my college Music History class!) 

Kellie's list is a great place to look for suggestions to help your child develop educationally and have a lot of fun doing so. She suggests several shows and highlights key learning concepts behind each one. If you missed the blog, go back and read it for sure.

I would like to expand upon her thoughts by offering one more suggestion. It happens to be my favorite one to watch with my kids: "Wonder Pets".

Wonder Pets, Wonder Pets, We're on Our Way
Wonder Pets is a show featuring three adorable pets: Linny the guinea pig, Tuck the turtle, and Ming-Ming the duckling. In each episode, the trio is faced with helping another animal who is in trouble--or as Ming-Ming says, "There's an animal in twooble!" (So cute!) So, these unlikely heroes put on their super capes and hats (and Tuck puts on some shoes!), and they are off to save the day.

What is their super power you ask? (I know you asked, because everyone knows super heroes have specific powers.) Well, their power is not found in wings of steel, martial art, gamma radiation, or highly advanced technologies. Instead, their power is TEAMWORK. The theme song of the show says it best (and in a way that it will get stuck in your head forever): "What's gonna work? Teamwork!"

On a serious note, this show is important in influencing your child to understand a concept of leadership that is burgeoning in leadership studies today: the idea that leadership is found not in an individual person, but rather in the context of several individuals working together toward a common goal, each contributing their part to the leadership experience.

From the Leader to the Follower to Shared Leadership
In the early days of leadership research, scholars focused on the leader and specific traits of that leader. One of the first theories was known as the "Great Man Theory," because it studied great leaders of the past and looked for the attributes that made them great. That theory maintained that leaders were born, and gave little opportunity for those not born into leadership. Studies following continued to focus on the leader and the leader's traits or behaviors and were striving to determine specific traits or specific behaviors that would predict or enhance leadership effectiveness. Slowly, the researchers began to consider the context or situation in which leaders found themselves. These researchers believed that the results of leadership was contingent or dependent upon many environmental factors. Theories such as Hersey and Blanchard's Situational Leadership exemplify such an analysis. These contingency theories helped make researchers aware that leadership is a greater phenomenon than a person. Leadership is not so much about a leader, but it is more about an experience or phenomenon. Research began to focus intensely on the follower's role in constructing the leadership event. James Meindl, one of the earliest proclaimers of the importance of examining the followers, began to see leadership as a social construct in which the followers are very important in creating the idea or, as he refers to it, the "romance of leadership."

Leadership, it seems, is not some quality that an individual possesses. It is not a super power or a super trait. Instead, it seems to be best expressed in the occurrence of people working together and using their various strengths to reach a common goal. The theory of Shared Leadership explains this phenomenon. Conger and Pearce (2003) define shared leadership as "a dynamic, interactive influence process among individuals in groups for which the objective is to lead one another to the achievement of group or organizational goals or both" (p. 1). Linny, Tuck, and Ming-Ming call it teamwork! And not only do Linny, Tuck, and Ming-Ming proclaim that it works, but researchers agree.

Together is Better
Wonder Pets illustrates the value of teamwork and shared leadership wonderfully. It is by working together they accomplish the tasks of helping others. Each one contributes various strengths, and in the end-together-they are successful.

So what challenges are you facing these days? Are there challenges that you could overcome if you had others around you to help? Take some advice from a guinea pig, turtle, and duckling and find your team!

Conger, J. A., & Pearce, C. L. (2003). A landscape of opportunities: Future research in shared leadership. In C. L. Pearce and J. A. Conger (Eds.), Shared Leadership (pp. 285-303). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Meindl, J. R., Ehrlich, S. B., & Dukerich, J. M. (1985). The romance of leadership. Administrative Science Quarterly 30. 78-102.

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