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Olusegun SogunroOlusegun Sogunro:
Exploring Leaders and Followers


“What’s the dynamic between leadership and followership?” Olusegun Sogunro, associate professor of educational leadership, asks. Animated and confident, the associate professor of educational leadership is a commanding presence. He smiles broadly, “Effective followership is the heart of a successful leadership. Followers make leaders what they become. I’m always intrigued by the interaction between the two concepts.”

Since his graduate school days at the North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, Greensboro, where he earned a master’s in educational administration, Dr. Sogunro has wondered about the attributes of leaders. “Can leadership be taught? What makes a leader unique or special?” he wonders. “Can it be training, background, or personality characteristics?”

Ground-breaking Scholarship

A native of Nigeria, Sogunro returned home after graduation and served as coordinator for Schools Agricultural Program and acting head of the newly established Agricultural Training Institute in Lagos State. In those roles, he gained first-hand knowledge of leadership complexities and decided to expand his interest in educational planning and administration by pursuing a doctorate at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada. As part of his dissertation, he conducted a study of a 19-year-old leadership training program for rural organizations and individuals sponsored by the Rural Education and Development Association in Alberta. “Often, evaluations are done with questionnaires at the conclusion of such training. These provide very little information about the real effect of the program on participants’ behavior on the job,” explains Sogunro. Using in-depth data-gathering strategies involving mixed research methods, such as interviews, document analysis, observations, and questionnaires, Sogunro set out to determine the actual effect of the training on participants’ leadership behavior on the job.

“The most important finding of the evaluation study of REDA’s leadership training program is that training can improve a participant’s leadership competency on the job,” concludes Sogunro. “There was an increase in leadership abilities—such as listening to others, getting people organized and motivated, making better presentations, organizing effective meetings, planning ahead, goal setting, encouraging participation and shared leadership among groups, and being more outspoken and assertive.”

After he presented his findings in Evaluation Review (1997), Sogunro was hired to evaluate the First Year University Experience program at the Faculty of Agriculture at the University of Alberta and subsequently taught two years in the Department of Educational Policy Studies prior to joining CCSU in 1998.

Attuned to the changing perceptions of factors influencing leadership effectiveness in a group, Sogunro next launched a study that shifted focus from personality characteristics of the leader to those of group members. “The old belief that only the leader has the inherent ability to make things happen has been found wanting,” declares Sogunro. “Emphasis is fast shifting away from the idea that leadership effectiveness is unilaterally influenced by the leader.” His paper, “Leadership Effectiveness and Personality Characteristics of Group Members,” published in The Journal of Leadership Studies, 1998, explicates this assertion. Citing the REDA’s training program and other studies, he concluded “that leadership effectiveness in a group should be a collaborative venture between leader and group members” so that the cognizant leader who identifies and appreciates the skills of individuals can harness unique abilities in the group to meet group goals. “Group members’ personality characteristics produce a synergy that results in outcomes greater than would otherwise be attained,” so that “the leader and the led are mutually complementary and instrumental to leadership effectiveness.”

Recently, Sogunro embarked on a new facet of research. He has sent out more than 1,000 questionnaires across the state as part of a study to determine the leadership attributes of school principals, because, he says, such qualities as “vision, communication, competence, trustworthiness, motivation,” and some 50 others are “essential to understanding school effectiveness.”

Role-playing to Evoke the Teachable Moment

Sogunro’s REDA study has become a touchstone for his subsequent scholarship. Role-playing was a key technique used in the REDA study. Three leadership styles, for example, were role-played: autocratic, democratic, and laissez-faire. “In terms of accomplished tasks, the autocratic leader with a “power” role increased productivity but decreased satisfactions among members,” reports Sogunro. “The democratic leader was active and flexible, and participants found that though decision making was slower, quality and satisfaction rose. The laissez-faire leader, passive and relaxed with no purposeful direction, produced no self-initiative and performance was below expectation. Role-plays exposed participants to different styles and outcomes.”

Today, Sogunro has adopted the use of role-playing in his teaching. At CCSU he introduced the technique to graduate classes. Assigned cases or scenarios, students enacting the parts of teacher, principal, student, and union leader in his Supervision course considered the issue of how to supervise a marginal employee. The Administration class tackled, through role-playing activities, such issues as an administrator’s liabilities and responsibilities along with relationships with other schools, government agencies, and the judicial system. Sogunro endorses the method because it “captures attention and interest of students as well as evokes the most teachable moments. Role-playing is a fast and effective pedagogical technique for developing desired knowledge, skills, and attitudes in aspiring leaders.”

Earlier this year, Sogunro published “Efficacy of Role-playing Pedagogy in Training Leaders: Some Reflections” in the prestigious Journal of Management Development. Already the piece has attracted queries and international interest from scholars in France, Australia, Canada, and the U.S. While not abandoning traditional methods, Sogunro champions the strengths of role-playing as a complementary instructional mode.

Reflecting, Sogunro adds: “I could role-play a leader or follower, change my hat at will between those two dynamics, and I would always learn from either experience. What I would do as a leader might be different from what someone else would do. However, in every situation, there are basic expectations of a leader and a follower’s behavior. There can never be an effective leadership without an effective “followership.”

— Geri Radacsi


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