Case Study Women In Leadership Education Essay

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Within recent years, the appearance of women in any leadership position has become more abundant and more acceptable. For decades, there has been much debate and enduring interest in the study of women in leadership positions. It has often been questioned whether or not women were even capable to lead. Before this question can even be answered one must understand what it means to lead or be a leader. Webster's Dictionary defines "Lead" as a: to guide on a way especially by going in advance. B: to direct in a course or in a direction. C: to serve as a channel for. This paper will cover the following questions, and use leadership theories to explain the effectiveness of a woman, Dr. Jane McFerrin, in a leadership position. In particular, the leadership styles she effectively used while serving as Dean of Education at Piedmont College. The questions are: What are the leadership styles that she portrayed? Did she lead in a different style than a man would in her position? If so, what are the differences? Finally, was she an effective leader in her position as Dean of Education? For those who loved and admire Dr. Jane McFerrin it is known that without her direct participation and support, the School of Education would not have been on the right path to reaching its full potential of producing the finest future educators for Georgia.

Leaders are found all over the world, in just about every arena of life, they can be found in any and every city, and within any home, church, of school. When people think of leadership they try to find it in the government systems, entertainment, healthcare, business corporations, and most importantly, leadership is often found in education. Education is such an important place to look for leadership because this is the area that influences and guides the future leaders of today. We see it everywhere we look. Sometimes, leadership is a hard earned position that took lots of dedication, or in certain cases, leadership can fall in your lap and you have no clue what hit you or how you are going to be effective as a leader. Women have for hundreds of years commanded leadership positions, and done so effectively. Some of the most powerful and influential female leaders include Cleopatra, Catherine the Great, Queen Elizabeth the 1st, Empress Dowager Tz'u-his of China, Hilary Clinton, Sarah Palin, Nancy Blousy, and so many more! These women created images that they could compete with men in political and leadership positions.

Women are regarded as more sensitive than men to the needs of others (Denise Spitzer pg. 277). Women, as mothers of the nation and reproducers of our society are entrusted with the task of maintaining cultural identity through educating their children and teaching them to model their behavior. Dr. McFerrin said, "I don't want to stereotype but I feel that women are more observant of employee's feelings and considerations. Women in general had more strength in the areas of team building and collaboration, and often are more effective communicators.

Dr. McFerrin Introduction

When Dr. McFerrin arrived at Piedmont College it was a very different experience for her, because she had come from a female dominated career in public education where women were in control and were the majority. Once here she realized it was different than she was used to; Piedmont was a male dominated society where each person had their own style of leadership. When she first joined on at Piedmont she was only one of three women on campus and there were no Dean positions, there were only department chairs. As the institution began to grow, the schools began to require the role of Dean, and some would say that the position was built around and for her. Dr. McFerrin's wish as well as Dr. Madge Kibler's is to turn out teachers that they could trust to teach their grandchildren, and they feel that every child in the state of Georgia in public schools is their grandchildren. Education and employment experience increase women's potential earnings, making the opportunity cost of staying home greater. These may be indicators of the greater interest in and commitment to paid work, as well as access to more interesting jobs. Probably for all these reasons, studies have long found a positive association of education with employment, especially when husband's earnings are controlled (Paula England p. 497). This being the case, this paper will discuss a powerful woman in the field of education, Dr. Jane McFerrin.

Skills Approach

The Skills approach is a theory that says that a leader's skills and abilities can be learned and developed over time. Based on field research in administration and his own firsthand observation of executives in the workplace, Katz suggested that effective administration depends on three basic personal skills: technical, human, and conceptual. Katz argued that these skills are quite different from traits or qualities of leaders. Skills are what leaders can accomplish, whereas traits are who leaders are. The three administrative skills that Katz regarded as important are: technical, human, and conceptual. Technical skill is the knowledge about and proficiency in a specific type of work or activity. These skills include competencies in a specialized area, analytical ability, and the ability to use appropriate tools and techniques (Northouse p. 40). Human skill is the knowledge about and ability to work with people. It is vastly different from technical skills because human skills are "people skills" (Northouse p. 41). People Skills help leaders to work effectively with their coworkers, superiors, and peers to work collectively toward a common organizational goal or vision. And finally, Conceptual Skills are the ability to work with ideas and concepts (Northouse p. 42). A Conceptual leader has the confidence to feel comfortable enough in his or her environment to speak freely and comfortably about the ideas that he or she feels shapes the organization. They can verbalize the departments vision in a way that everyone involved can understand.

When interviewing Dr. Bob Cumming, Interim Dean of Education, he stated that he believed that Dr. McFerrin was first a conceptual, then human, and finally technical. "Jane was more than a leader, she is a mentor, a confidant, and a friend…and I love her, appropriately, not many people can say that about their boss. She was the best boss I ever had. Her gender never played any role in my perception of her as a leader on a conscious level." It took him two weeks to realize that she was the best boss that he had ever worked for, but many years before he could figure out why she was. She tried to encourage people around her, regardless of job description, ethnicity, gender, or age to be all they could be. Her conceptual skills gave her the footing that she needed and the confidence to speak to people in a manner that enabled them to see their fullest potential. Dean Cummings said "If you want to know how I internalized her leadership, look at how I treat you-Lydia Scarborough, is it not true that every conversation that I have ever had with you has been to empower you and to encourage you to perform at your fullest potential?" Reflecting on his statement made me realize that he was in fact telling the truth. He modeled his leadership styles from Dr. McFerrin although they do not seem to lead in the same manner. What made Dr. McFerrin a great leader was that she was trustworthy, loyal, humorous, empathetic, devoted, and cared so passionately about those around her. It did not matter whether they were students, administrators, faculty or staff; she treated everyone as an individual, not a stereotype.

Her human skills could very well almost tie into her conceptual skills and the culture in the education department. Dr. McFerrin created a relationship with her staff that allowed for collaboration and congenial relationships with all the faculty members. Dr. McFerrin modeled her leadership after a principal she worked for. Her principal was a female, who in her opinion wore a variety of hats; she treated everyone with the same respect. She was just as thoughtful and considerate to the lunchroom ladies as she was to the teachers in her school. This principle had an open door policy, and her way of communicating with people allowed you to understand why tough decisions were made even if you did not agree with them, you had to respect her, her decisions, and her professionalism towards her colleagues. Dr. McFerrin displays some of the very same human skills as this principal she admired did. She is transparent, she has no hidden agendas, she never hid her reasoning for decisions made, and is always cordial to everyone she meets even now when she is no longer the Dean of Education. Her leadership did not stop because she retired; her leadership was given a door of opportunity expand to a new horizon to allow this amazing woman to touch the lives of hundreds of other people outside the educational realm of Piedmont College.

Dr. McFerrin's technical skills were the knowledge of the School of education. She had to follow the expectations that the administration anticipated for her. She had to make sure that the accreditation was up to date, she had to help faculty with any questions or problems that they might have had, she had to coordinate program development as well as faculty development, she had to meet students' needs, and oversee all the activities of the school of education. She had to be aware of every facet of the programs and activities that were going on. She was extremely proficient in knowing what was going on, who was teaching, what students were not meeting the expectations set forth by the school, and so much more! It's absolutely amazing that she was able to do so much at one time while unbeknownst to her encouraging, motivating, and becoming an inspirational role model for everyone around her who took the time to internalize her leadership.

LMX Theory

Leader-Member Exchange Theory, also called LMX or Vertical Dyad Linkage Theory, describes how leaders in groups maintain their position through a series of tacit exchange agreements with their members. This theory basically says that leaders often have a special relationship with an inner circle of coworkers, assistants, in the case of Dr. McFerrin, the faculty in the School of Education, to whom she gives a high level of responsibility, to whom she gives decision influence, and complete access to valuable resources.

According to Dr. Ed Taylor in the school of business, the LMX Theory found two general types of linkages (or relationships) The In-Group and the Out-Group- these are based on:

Expanded/negotiated role responsibilities (extra roles) = In-Group

Relationships marked by mutual trust, respect, liking, and reciprocal influence.

They have positive job attitudes and are less likely to quit their job.

They show intrinsic motivation patterns.

Probably receive inflated performance ratings.

Receive more information, influence, confidence, and concern than that of the Out-Group members


Formal employment contract (defined- roles) = Out-Group

Relationships marked by formal communication based on the jobs descriptions.

Subordinated disfavored by leaders characterized by lack of trust, respect, and liking.

Researchers found that high-quality leader-member exchanges produce less employee turnover, more positive performance evaluations, higher frequency of promotions, greater organizational commitment, more desirable work assignments, better job attitudes, more attention and support from the leader, greater participation, and faster career progress over 25 years (Graen & Uhl-Bien, 1995; Liden Wayne, & Stilwell, 1993). Dr. McFerrin was a perfect example of a leader who tried to keep everyone as part of the in-group, because she empowered her employees and created an environment where job satisfaction was higher than anywhere else that I had seen on campus. To summarize, the in-group works harder, they are more committed to task objectives, and share more administrative duties. They are also expected to be fully committed and loyal to their leader. The out-group, on the other hand, are given low levels of choice or influence. When using this theory to analyze the leadership style of Dr. Jane McFerrin one automatically realized that because of her leadership style, there was no Out-Group, and if anyone felt excluded for any reason it was likely to be a personal choice versus her excluding anyone from anything. Dr. McFerrin advocated the importance of high-quality exchanges between her faculty and her students. She created an atmosphere in the Education Department that promoted mutual trust amongst employees, respect, and commitment.

Transformational Leadership

Transformational leadership is often time considered a leadership theory in which the leader has the ability to transform or change a group by inspiring them or giving them a passion. They have a way of interjecting their enthusiasm and energy toward a common goal or idea. Having the opportunity to work for a transformational leader can be a very rewarding and uplifting experience. Transformational leaders have a way of showing you that they care about you and want to push you forward to become a successful individual. Working for Dr. Jane McFerrin was definitely a privilege. She had a way of showing you what her vision was. The way that she engaged herself in the work she did inspired her coworkers and fellow future teachers of Georgia. Her view of the bright future that lay ahead for education excited the undergraduates to see her vision and convert their potential into something great! "Transformational leadership is concerned with emotions, values, ethics, standards, and long-term goals. It includes assessing followers' motives, satisfying their needs, and treating them as full human beings" (Northouse pg. 171). If nothing else could be said about Dr. McFerrin it is that she incorporated such enthusiasm and passion for the development of her vision for the best future educators for the Northeast Georgia region.

Dr. McFerrin said that she felt that "[she] could foster creativity in other people and [she] tried to bring out the best in them. I saw my job as setting things up so that others could do their best. I know that I did not have all the answers and that I cannot solve the entire problem, but I could lead them in the right direction. I think that my biggest vision [while at Piedmont] was trying to create the kinds of teachers that the children in Northeast Georgia deserved. Was [my leadership going to influence] the faculty to make better teachers, and were the students going to take this and become the best teachers that the children in NE GA deserved? My ultimate vision was education in general". Dr. McFerrin's transformational leadership style created an atmosphere within the education department at Piedmont College where all her coworkers were engaged with everyone, and there was a connection between faculty where morality and motivation for creating the best future educators was shared.

Culture and Leadership

According to Gudykunst & Ting-Toomy, "culture is defined as the learned beliefs, values, rules, norms, symbols, and traditions that are common to a group of people, It is these shared qualities of a group that make them unique. Culture is dynamic and transmitted to others. In short, culture is the way of life, customs, and script of a group of people". Piedmont College Education Department has one of the most diverse groups of people throughout the entire campus. In my opinion, the Education Department is the friendliest, happiest, and most well brought together school than any other on campus. According to Dr. Madge Kibler, previously department chair for Middle Grades Education, Dr. Jane McFerrin "[made such a positive impact on the culture that is now found] at the School of Education, and I'm not sure the impact was so much because she was a woman, more because of the fact that she was Jane. She was one of the most emotionally healthy individuals I have ever known. As Jane, she had a tremendous impact on the department; she had handpicked everyone in the department. Everyone [that is currently here] was hired by Jane. She had a way of bringing people together that thought they had no commonalities and leading them to find commonalities through working collaboratively." The culture in the Education Department is most assuredly the shared vision of the best preparation for pre-serviced teachers, and is the constant collaboration and congenial relationship between all the faculty members.

At the beginning of every month, Dr. McFerrin would gather everyone in her office, there would be a cake on the desk, and we would all celebrate the birthdays for that month. There was also the tradition to have everyone bring a dish and we would have a potluck lunch in L-122. There were no prejudices and no ethnocentrism between members of the faculty. No one was more important than the person next to him, and no generalizations were made that would damage anyone's reputation or hurt someone's feelings. Everyone who stepped into her office was welcomed with a smile and a cheerful laugh. Even on some of her toughest days she modeled for others a style of professionalism that surprised the faculty that worked for her. She said, "[When you are having a bad day, you have] to try to leave your problems at the door when you walk in. Especially when someone steps into you office, you have to remember that for those 5 to 20 minutes that they are there they are the most important thing in the world, and you have to stay in the present moment. When that person leaves, you can shut the door and deal with your own problems". The culture she created led her faculty members to give their best every day, to do it happily, and to the best of their ability. She motivated us first of all by her work ethic. When you saw just how much of herself that she was willing to give, it just made you want to give that much more of yourself, because you did not want to let her down.

Dr. Jane McFerrin's leadership and way of modeling her values left such an impression on the School of Education that it can easily be said that when she retired she left all her faculty with the core values to trust each other. They have become a safety net for each other and have taken from her the beliefs, the values, and tradition to take as many opportunities to listen to the students as possible. So often professors assume that the programs that they have created are doing a good job, but if the students opinions are taken into consideration, they will tell you whether or not they are taking the material presented to them and learning it or if they feel like they do not have the appropriate skills or knowledge needed to be successful. She believed in creating a working environment where she was most effective at was setting conditions so that people could do their best work. I also believed in consensus building after a good period of healthy discussion where everyone differences were aired and different voices could be heard.


Dr. Jane McFerrin is an inspirational woman who touched the lives of everyone she met. Her leadership styles can be broken down and explained using theories of motivation, skills approach theory, LMX leadership theory, and transformational leadership theories. She can be described by the culture of her work environment, and explained by those who worked for her. This paper cannot adequately relay the positive influence that she has had on the people that have had the opportunity to come to know her and call her friend. Dr. McFerrin is a very influential woman, who was in a very important leadership position, but her position as Dean was not what she worked so hard for, it was for the goals and the visions that she had for the School of Education that she used her position to channel her energy through.

Dr. McFerrin saw being in a leadership position as Dean as an opportunity to motivate those around her to accomplish tasks and meet the goals set out before them. To have the capacity to see the big picture painted before them and to stay focused on that. She created ways to branch out and break new ground while her time was spent at Piedmont. Although she was a woman, she did not believe that gender played as much of an impact on someone's leadership abilities as that person's own individual style and situation. Gender was not the variable that constituted or defined a person as a leader but their inner belief to become successful. She might not have been able to run a large multimillion dollar corporation, although I strongly believe that she would have been extremely successful at any and every endeavor she tried, but she knew better than anyone how to lead a great group of individuals who were all working toward a common goal in education.

If I could model anyone's leadership style it would be hers because she had a way of making everyone feel like they were important, that their decisions and opinions mattered, and that their actions would make a difference in someone's life. When she retired and gave her final speech at piedmont at the graduation commencement in the Spring of 2010, what I walked away learning from her was that our progress is not defined by the job title we have, but by the people that we surround ourselves with and the lasting impressions we leave as a person. Her leadership did not end when she retired, but she gave the opportunity for someone else to have a powerful impact on those she had worked with. I would like to apply the things that I learned from her and appropriate those skills to any leadership position that I may have in my future. Her leadership style cannot really be defined by a certain theory or group of leadership traits, because there was so much more to the person she was. She was a better leader by just being Jane than she was being the "Dean of Education." We lead from the essence of who we are as a person. You have to believe in something yourself first, before you can get others to believe (Krous & Posner, 43). Dr McFerrin believed in who she was, knew what her goals were, and had a way of getting others to believe in her cause. I would like to take what I learned from Dr. McFerrin and model my leadership styles to hers. I would like to inspire people to give me 100% in everything they do, to be willing to motivate people to aspire to reach their fullest potential, and to view me as a person, a leader, rather than a woman.