Part of the job of leaders is to provide an appropriate level of effort and challenge for our followers, in order to engage them. On the surface this seems to make sense. Increased engagement should lead to increased learning, as well as improved evaluations by followers of a leader’s effectiveness.
Maybe not. A recent review of research on teaching effectiveness shows that learning and perceived teaching effectiveness are not related to each other. Yes, you read it right. The research is pretty persuasive. It turns out that what we think we have learned, and what we actually have learned are different. And what we think is good teaching is actually not related to what we actually know.
One of the factors that cause this disconnect between actual learning and perceived quality of teaching is related to what Dennis Clayson calls the Paradox of Rigor. Rigor, defined as increasing levels of effort and challenge, generally leads to better learning. However, studies suggest that when a course has higher levels of difficult, challenge and effort, students rate the professor’s teaching more negatively. Thus, while they may learn more, they like the experience less. Clayson also noted that in an unpublished study he found that the timing of the evaluation matters in a very rigorous course. Students rate professors teaching rigorous courses more negatively during course, but their ratings of the professor improved after the end of the course. (Perhaps as they recognize the value of the challenge and learning experienced during the course). While we like lenient graders, we don’t tend to learn as much from them.
While it is not clear that student ratings of professors are transferable to follower ratings of leaders, it is suggestive. Perhaps we need to consider the nature of the challenge a leader places before us. Perhaps the more difficult the challenge, the less likely we are to rate the leader highly while experiencing the challenge. Much as we like lenient graders, perhaps we like bosses who do not challenge us or hold us to high standards. Sometimes we need leaders who challenge us, who hold us to higher standards. We may not like it, but we may need it.
In the end, good leadership may not be about how much you like your leader. It is more about how effective the leader is at creating vision, direction and change in your organization. Change is often difficult, challenging and painful. Good leaders do what is necessary, even if it means being disliked.