Monday, April 07, 2008

Time for real leadership

Martin Luther King:'I have a dream'...leadership by ideas.

Leadership is tricky idea to tie down.

Most leaders are more managers, keeping things going well in any organisation. Continual improvement is the name of the game

Most school principals are managers. Even those in the Ministry, with the responsibility for leadership development, are products of academic success rather than from ideals forged in the heat of real practice.

Many years ago ,at school, we had to learn, as a example of irony, the verse from W.S. Gilbert

'Stick close to your seats and never go to sea
And you will be rulers of the Queens navy.'


Leadership is about change and transformation and this is at best a risky business involving what scientists call 'enlightened trial and error'; there are no road maps to the future. The leaders of change have presence and are often seen as unconventional 'mavericks', or 'canny outlaws', happy to cut through red tape, but they are all trusted by those who work with them for their intuitive intelligence and judgement.

Such leaders are well respected, seen as by followers as 'admire-able'; well worth the risk of following

In a low trust environment, where school principals are continually asked to respond to compliance and outside audit requirements, we have seen a couple of decades of, at best, low risk leadership.

The vision behind the 'new' New Zealand Curriculum asks for true leadership from school principals, and better still from groups of principals working together. Intuitive 'canny leaders' are required who see through eyes not blinded by the status quo have aways been a scarce commodity; one all too often seen as a threat by those who currently hold power.

Someone has to start the ball rolling. Unfortunately recognising creativity in others is not a trait I would associate with principals. This hasn't been helped by the competitive ideology of the last decades but, thankfully, times are changing.

The dream, for educational leaders to get behind in the 21stC, is to create a personalised education system where all students talents, interests and passions can be developed.

Such dream involves transforming both the culture and structures of current schooling. And, as there can no longer be a 'one size fits all' system , a range of experimental approaches needs to be encouraged with successful ideas being shared and amplified. 'Attractive' ideas will 'converge' that will, in turn, 'seed' further experimentation.

This organic approach is the opposite of the past top down technocratic approaches and will require action by leaders at all levels. Creating an environment for such diversity, and developing a system to tap into and share ideas, will be the new role for Ministry leaders.

Principals and teachers, as well as students , will need to be seen as active energetic, 'users, seekers and creators ' of their own learning, to slightly adapt a phrase from the New Zealand Curriculum. Leaders create powerful inspirational stories that give others permission, or courage, to act.

Key roles of such creative leadership will be;

1 To see leadership as one of providing direction -an enlightened view of the future. Leadership is an issue of purpose not personality.

2 With this in mind, once the direction has been clarified, the three most important requirement of leadership are: communication, communication ,communication.

3 Leaders have to have a recognisable point of view if they are to challenge current expectations.'It is what we know already that often prevents us from learning', Claude Bernard. Leaders never adopt they adapt - everything is judged according to the schools vision, values and shared beliefs. Such leaders know when to say no - they control their change agenda.

4 Leadership is all about purpose. It is purpose that creates consensus, commitment and collegiality.

5 Leaders focus on making explicit to the wider team what is important. To do this they limit and focus innovations valuing clarity and doing fewer things well; quality not quantity. Such clarity reduces overload complexity and provides a sense of security and hope which , in turn, develops empowerment and improving of decision making.

6 Leaders manage the heart; they say thanks to those who have made the effort; they model the way.

7 Leaders always expect the best and expect everyone to continually improve; they do this by clarifying expectation and by building an environment of trust.

8 Leaders treat others with empathy
and apply the 'golden rule' in all their interactions. They must be seen as trustworthy and must practice what they preach

9 Leaders ensure all understand what criteria staff members have to live up to and how success is to be judged
. See point 2

10 Leaders hold people accountable to agreed commitments even when it would be easier to ignore.Leaders show moral toughness, seeing any conflict as an opportunity to focus on what is important.

11 Leaders give recognition to those who show initiative or appropriate behaviour building on strengths member have by continually providing feedback and encouraging sharing.

12 They support those who need help the most - providing whatever help is required.

14 And they encourage leadership by all to achieve the school's vision.

It is time for real leaders to stand up, or out, to take the risks needed to make a real difference.

Creating a true personalised education system able to develop the creative talents of all students is a dream worth pursuing.

2 comments:

Tom said...

Another blog of wisdom. This one is going on my wall !

Bruce said...

A little bit of 'close reading' for you Tom - I have aded a few more thoughts.