The Importance of Leadership

If Not You, Who?

Members of an educational community, business, or agency can all have the best intentions when it comes to creating a Web presence that is accessible to those with disabilities. Too often, however, these individuals with good intentions wait for someone to come and help lead them. Change is a difficult path. It is common to be told to acquire new skills because change is going to happen. So you do just that . . . you obtain the skills you were asked . . . you wait for some new policy, some new set of procedures, someone who will support what you were implicitly asked to do . . . yet nothing happens. This scenario occurs frequently when nobody takes a leadership role. Even when leadership will occur within a group, the group will be more effective if someone takes the responsibility of "carrying the flag" to it's intended destination. You probably remember the famous line, "If not you, who? If not now, when?" If you truly believe that accessibility to your Web site is important (or required) for your organization, then I ask you to answer this question for yourself. Your own actions or inactions will speak louder than any voice you give to this effort. You should not assume that someone else would take this role. You should not assume that it would happen in the near future. The only way you can assure that Web accessibility will become a part of the path of change in your organization is if you consider taking the lead, now.

Leadership in a Nutshell

Much has been researched and written on the role of leadership or the qualities of a good leader. Of course there are many books and workshops on the topic. Researchers who try to describe and predict good leaders disagree about many critical elements, however, they agree on many as well. Personal traits are important, acquired skills are important, and the situation for leadership is important. Some of the key concepts that reoccur in leadership research are:

  • Commitment, perseverance, dedication
  • Risk-taking
  • Communication skills with an emphasis on active listening
  • Using or learning skills necessary to accomplish the job (tasks and human relation needs)

A leader is much different from a manager. Sylvia Mendez-Morse quoted Bennis and Nanus as saying "Managers are people who do things right and leaders are people who do the right thing". At its core, leadership is all about taking people to places they would not go alone. Could this be your role, your calling? Could this be the way you make significant contributions to your organization? What follows are a few Internet resources on leadership, with an emphasis on leadership in educational settings:

  • provides a wonderful review of leadership characteristics research and points to the future of system change in education
  • a corporate description of becoming a good leader ("lead and they will follow"). It covers important traits such as communication, commitment, management, and using your own skills and developing others.

The Task at Hand

OK, it is time to commit yourself to a leadership role in Web accessibility. Will you decide to take the plunge and lead out on this important issue within your organization or institution? We hope you will. If not, please find someone within your organization that is willing to take this on and stay close to those efforts. For those of you that will take a leadership role please keep in mind that you will need to concentrate your efforts

  • Both above and below your current placement within the administrative structure of your organization;
  • With all stakeholder groups;
  • To gather support (i.e., in concept, in importance, and in priority);
  • To disseminate public relations on this effort (e.g., press releases, notices in meetings, notices to shareholders or alumni)
  • To obtain necessary elements for success (e.g., training, support, and perhaps new software)

Remember that each one of us is responsible for change.