Category: Leadership
The greatest mistake a leader can ever make

The greatest mistake you can make as a leader is believing that you are better than anyone else; better than you really are.

All too often I have seen leaders falling into this trap. Even I have from time-to-time. I have to fight against it, my ego wanting to be fed. They think that because they are the leader they have to be the font of all knowledge, the wisest person in the room, the judge, jury and executioner. They fall into the trap of believing in their own abilities rather than drawing on the collective wisdom and experience of those around them.

We would describe this trait as arrogance. Sometimes it can be identified in the words the leader uses: “my school, my staff, my School Board, my… ”

Rather than calling it ‘arrogance’, as arrogance is easy to identify and all of us would repel the idea of being called arrogant, I would call it ‘having a fixed mindset’. Leaders who have a fixed mindset are doomed to failure at their own hands.

According to Carol Dweck, author of “Mindset”, fixed mindset leaders live in a world where some people are superior and some are inferior. They must repeatedly affirm that they are superior.

This not you? Then why do we seek to wear the brands we do, drive the cars we drive, and look for affirmation and thanks for the work we do?

Leaders with a fixed mindset do not admit or correct their mistakes or deficiencies. They’re constantly trying to prove they’re better than others. Fixed mindset leaders don’t want teams. They want to be the only ‘big fish’ so that when they compare themselves with others they can feel a cut above the rest. They try to intimidate people with their brilliance.

This not you? Then why do we only seek the counsel of those we know will agree with us? Why do we shift the blame and never say sorry?

“Sadly, most managers and even CEOs become bosses, not leaders. They wield power instead of transforming themselves, their workers, and their organisation.” (Dweck)

When the boss has a fixed mindset a change comes over the place. Everything starts revolving around the boss. When this occurs everyone takes on a fixed mindset. This means that instead of learning, growing, and moving forward, everyone starts worrying about being judged—trust disappears.

This not you? How often do you think about how your decision will impact on the trust people have in you? When was the last time you elevated a person above you when it came to praise and acknowledgement?

In contrast, wise leaders with a growth mindset seek out the counsel of others, seeking to hear different points of view before making a decision. They have the humility to hand over decisions that really aren’t in their expertise or ability.

Growth mindset leaders don’t define themselves by their position or the organisation they work for. They don’t fall into the trap that so many of us do, of focusing on the institution itself rather than the very purpose for its existence, with the institution and our position within it becoming a reflection of our reputation, something to protect at all costs.

True self-confidence is the courage to be open—to welcome change and new ideas regardless of their source.

Ultimately truly great leaders possess and attribute that they few of us can truly claim: humility.

Dweck, C. (2012). Mindset: How you can fulfil your potential. London: Robinson.

Cultural change: Is it possible?

I recently read about a fascinating experiment from way back in 1966.

Five monkeys were placed in a large cage. In the middle of the cage was placed a set of steps, the top of which was a bunch of bananas.

Every time one of the five monkeys went for the steps the experimenters sprayed all five with freezing water. Pretty soon the five learnt that touching the steps resulted in everyone being hosed. The bananas stayed where they were.

The experimenter then turned off the water and replaced one of the monkeys. Upon seeing the bananas the new monkey rushed for the steps. But before he could reach them the remaining four monkeys set upon him: they didn’t want to be hosed with freezing water. The bananas remained untouched.

One-by-one all five monkeys were replaced until none of the monkeys who had been hosed remained, and yet, none touched the steps. None of the new monkeys had been hosed, and yet they knew they weren’t to touch the steps and reach for the bananas.

Even though this was almost 50 years ago, and there is some conjecture as to whether or not this experiment happened as described, it is a great analogy that speaks into how organisational cultures are formed and set.

A person’s values and beliefs cut to the heart of their identity. These values and beliefs are shaped by his/her parenting and life experiences. Typically these set at a young age. It becomes part of their ‘DNA’. It shapes how they act and behave—what others see of them. A person will rarely waver from this position.

The same is true for an organisation. An organisation’s cultural identity is shaped by the parenting, that is, leadership style imposed upon it and the events it experiences. The subsequent norms and values are set as a result. Once set, it is very hard to change.

Comments such as, “we have always done it this way” will be uttered to any new employee when they arrive at the organisation for the first time. Often people don’t even understand why something is done in a particularly way, they just do it anyway.

Group behaviour comes into play. Individuals desire to fit in and belong. Before long they fall into line and, “do it how it has always been done”, perpetuating the culture much in the same way the new five new monkeys did. The culture is embedded and becomes the organisation’s DNA—its identity.

Trying to break, or shift a deeply embedded culture is like trying to shift a person’s character—nigh on impossible. A person has to want to change for any lasting effect to be experienced. In the same way an organisation has to want to change. A start for any new leader is to ask countless questions:

“Why do we do it this way?”

“What is the reason for it?”

“Please explain why we cannot change this?”

Challenging, and hopefully changing the narrative of the stories that have shaped an organisation to help people see that there are alternatives takes persistence and courage. Many people will want to cling to the original narrative. Bonding to the experiences and stories, particularly traumatic ones, provides connection. The Stockholm syndrome can even come into play where, to neutralise a threat, others accept and normalise the values of the aggressor (the aggressor being the leader).

I have had the immense privilege as a leader to set the norms and culture of one organisation before being given the privilege of leading an organisation that has a deeply embedded history. I was the founding Head of a School that grew from 24 students to one that enrols over 1500 today. Shaping its culture and embedding the norms was immensely satisfying.

Moving to a School that has a long history and seeking to understand how my actions as a leader can effectively change culture has been an incredible learning experience. According to Daniel Goleman, leadership style has a 70% impact on organisational climate. But when you come into a school which has had a long history of an opposing leadership style, I have come to appreciate that it takes time, considerable time, along with persistence, courage and constant questioning to shift the norms. Ultimately though, the organisation, which is a living breathing community, has to collectively want to shed its old cloak and embrace new values and beliefs. Helping it to see this and then supporting it to do so is not easy.

The most compelling example of leadership and challenge to the prevailing culture of the time (and now) is the story of Jesus. He consistently challenged the cultural norms of the day, seeking to change the narrative. His actions and the parables he told were an outward demonstration of his courage:

  • the host washing the guests’ feet—unheard of;
  • you have heard is said, “an eye for an eye,” I tell you turn the other cheek –remarkable teaching;
  • a rabbi eating and socialising with the outcasts: tax collectors and prostitutes—never done;
  • A Samaritan coming to the aid of a Jew—preposterous!

He demonstrated that there was another way and supported and taught those who wished to change. Well worth looking at how he did it.

Work life balance is a myth

The term work-life balance is such a clique. To ensue our wellbeing we are all encouraged to ‘get the balance right’. But when a colleague was bold enough to say that the whole notion is a myth it really resonated with me. What exactly is a ‘work-life balance’ anyway?

I have been a principal for 17 years. My typical day starts at 6:30am. I check my emails and Twitter account. I then have breakfast while reading the news. I get into the office at 7:30am. Each day is different, but most days are filled with appointments. I haven’t had a lunch break in all of those 17 years, I work through. I usually leave the office at 5pm. Have dinner with my family and then might put in another hour or two before relaxing. I find myself checking emails until 10pm, but that is a bad habit.

Being an independent school principal I am out for work, on average, three nights a week on top of Saturday sport. Some weeks it is up to six nights a week. I try to have Saturday afternoon to Sunday afternoon off but settle in for a few hours of work on a Sunday afternoon. Most weekends I am reading for professional development. I would normally read a book a week.

A typical work week amounts to 60 to 70 hours. School holidays are a bit slower, my hours are more flexible. They are a time when I can catch up on work and there are no nights out, thankfully.

Being a Head is an extremely demanding job. There are studies that suggest that the role of Head of an independent school is amongst the top 10 most stressful jobs a person can take on. So work life balance, what does that look like for me? I certainly don’t have time for hobbies, and I struggle to make time for exercise.

“Do you live to work, or do you work to live,” is a question that does the rounds. “Is your life defined by who you are or what you do,” is another of those questions challenging you to think about work-life balance. For me, my purpose in life is encapsulated in what I do; and the benefit is that I get paid for it! I live to fulfil my purpose, and that purpose is to make a difference in the lives of those people I meet and the communities in which I work: schools.

Work-life balance will be different for everyone because we are all different. What works for me won’t necessary work for you. I certainly don’t endorse working as much as I do (and I know that there are others who put in far more hours than I do). So what exactly is it for me?

Work-life balance for me is about ensuring I look after myself and I look after the relationships that are important to me. If I don’t listen to my body when it tells me it is time for rest, or I work so much that I ignore the people who matter most to me (my wife and my family), then what do I have, and what will I become? Useless, no good to anyone.

Stress does weird things to my body. I have a whole range of physical symptoms ranging from terrible back pain to strange heart palpitations. When things like that are happening it is my body’s way of saying slow down, take a break.

I have come close to burn out once. I know my limits. I have been right to the edge of them a number of times and it isn’t a nice place to be. It is a dark place where I am ineffective and make poor decisions. However, I thrive under a certain level of stress and adrenaline; I work my best under a high degree of pressure.

Work-life balance for me is knowing the limits and making sure I listen to my body. It is about taking time each week to rest and switch off. I know I have to be disciplined to do this. My wife is a great help. The whole notion of a ‘sabbath day’ is a wise one.

Work-life balance is also about ensuring I take the time to foster and nourish the relationships that matter. I certainly don’t want to wake up one day to find my wife and children gone because I ignored them. No one goes to the grave wishing they worked harder.

For me getting the balance right is about ensuring I can fulfil my purpose in life in an effective way. And my lessons learned as I have sought a ‘life-balance’:

  1. discover your gifts and find your purpose, align your work with those gifts and purpose;
  2. learn to be content, no matter your circumstances, but particularly if your work doesn’t fulfil your purpose;
  3. know yourself, the conditions that help you thrive and where your limits are;
  4. take the time to care for yourself, rest and keep healthy; and,
  5. make the time to care for the people who matter to you.

Hobbies: one day it will be time to retire. I’ll need to get some hobbies before then.

A leader is at their best when…

A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves. Lao Tzu (604 BC – 531 BC).

This is one of my favour quotes about leadership. It epitomises for me what the essence of leadership is about: it’s not about me. One of us can never be as good as the sum of us. Together we can achieve far more, make better decisions, come up with better ideas.

The role of a leader is to bring out the best in people, to identify their gifts and align them with roles that will see them shine. Good leaders spend time coaching others, developing their capacity. They make people feel like it was their idea. They step back while others take the limelight.

Remarkable to think that this quote about leadership was written 2500 years ago. But then again, perhaps not surprising when you consider the greatest example of servant leadership, which again is not all about me, was given to us 2000 years ago in the person of Christ.

Admitting mistakes builds trust

Trust is foundational to a positive culture in any organisation, but how does a leader develop and maintain a culture trust? My PhD research uncovered 10 key practices that highly trusted transformational leaders use to build trust between them and their staff; the first of which is admitting mistakes.

Leaders are not infallible; they are human as one individual who participated in the research project described her leader:

He is very human; he displays a human error side of him… He is happy to admit when he makes mistakes (Sam, teacher).

How leaders deal with their mistakes sets the tone for the rest of the organization and is a key factor in the creation of trust (Reina & Reina, 2006). A leader’s willingness to display his/her vulnerabilities, both personally and professionally engenders a staff’s admiration and trust. Staff members view this practice not as a weakness but as a key strength of leadership, connecting them to their leader on a very human level.

The willingness to be vulnerable, to have the ability to be self-reflective and recognise one’s own strengths and weaknesses, to apologise when an error had been made or to reverse a poor decision portrays the leader’s humility. Dickson (2009) describes humility in leadership as the ability to redirect your power, to forego your status and deploy your resources or use your influence for the good of others before yourself.

Collins (2001) asserts that it is possible to be humble, iron-willed and successful—and many successful leaders have these qualities. These characteristics were certainly evident in one of the four highly trusted leaders studied during the research project: [Ella] was described by her staff as being very upright and professional, and even formidable or stern. Others described [Ella] as “very cut and dry,” not letting emotions sway the decisions that she makes. [Ella] said that trust “isn’t about being nice, because I am certainly not nice.” Yet, [Ella] was happy to be vulnerable and admit freely to her staff that there is much that she does not know.

When was the last time you made a mistake or made a poor decision; how did you respond? Were you willing to be vulnerable in front of the people you lead? Did you have the confidence and humility it takes to say sorry? Did you then act and fix the problem? Are you willing to accept responsibility for other people’s mistakes?

Next blog: Offering trust builds trust

Are you driven to be the best?

I want to be the very best school leader I can be. Why, because for me being a principal (or a teacher for that matter) is more than a job, it’s a vocation. I don’t go to work to produce something, to sell something, or to manage something. I go to work to make a difference. And that difference is measured in people’s lives.

What I do as a principal, the decisions I make, the school culture I create, the way I lead will make a difference in countless people’s lives. It can make a difference to the earning capacity of a young person; it can make a difference to a person’s sense of self-worth, to their wellbeing, the lives of their families, the lives of their future children and the lives of the communities in which they live. The sense of responsibility is huge; that is why I want to be the best principal I can be.

While I have been a school leader for 17 years I don’t think for a minute that I am the best. I can’t allow myself to think I am great because the moment I do I’ll lose the desire to be better. To be better I know that I have to be reflective, honest with myself, willing to be vulnerable and admit that I could have done something better. I often compare myself with other leaders, listen to what they do, learn from their wisdom and experience. However, one thing I really need as a leader is feedback. Without feedback I cannot truly understand the real impact I am having and how I can improve.

To promote growth feedback is vital. But to be of real value a recipient really needs to want it, be willing to listen to it and ultimately, have the desire to be the very best they can be for the responsibly they carry as an educator is enormous.

The same can be said about teaching. I don’t understand why all teachers aren’t driven by the enormous responsibility they have to very best they can be. Our children, and their children deserve outstanding teaching and outstanding schools.

Do you value and welcome feedback? What motivates you as an educator? Is teaching and school leadership more than just a job? If you are a leader, where do you get your feedback from?

When it all boils down, good leadership is about two things: vision and trust

There is a wealth of literature and research on leadership. Many academics and psychologists have committed years to studying and understanding the practice. There have been countless leadership models or styles proposed (e.g. transformational, transactional, collaborative, consultative, servant, etc.), and lists of qualities or attributes of good leadership identified (e.g. honesty, humility, self-control, respect, empathy, inspiring, credible, moral courage, etc.). However, when it all boils down, good leadership is about just two things: vision and trust.

Many people (and leadership models for that matter) confuse leadership with management. A manager is responsible for directing and controlling the work and staff of an organization. Managers typically have their eyes on the bottom line, ensuring that things are functioning efficiently. Leadership on the other hand deals with the ‘top line’; what are the things that I want to accomplish—in other words—vision. Covey (1989) provides a good analogy:

Imagine a group of people cutting a path through the jungle with machetes. They’re the producers, the problem solvers. They’re cutting through the undergrowth, clearing it out. The managers are behind them, sharpening the machetes, writing policy and procedure manuals, holding muscle development programs, bringing in improved technologies and setting up work schedules. The leader is the one who climbs the tallest tree, surveys the entire situation, and yells, ‘this way’.

Don’t be confused, management is not leadership. The key difference is vision. A true leader has a vision, and that vision is compelling enough to entice people to follow. A good leader is someone that others choose to follow because they have been convinced that the vision is worth the effort. A compelling vision energizes people by providing them with an exciting picture of the future rather than providing them with rewards and punishments (Bartram & Casimir, 2007). It unites leaders and followers to pursue higher-level goals which are common to both (Sergiovanni, 2005), raising one another to higher-levels of motivation and morality (Burns, 1985).

Vision (vïzh’ən) n: an imagined idea or goal toward which one aspires

Visioning requires you to rise up out of the minutia to scan the horizon, to dream and to imagine what could be, to take a risk and trail blaze. Not everyone can vision; a true leader can. They are not held back by fear; they believe in themselves and what can be. They invest in the vision and keep pursuing it until it is achieved. Not until then is the job done.

However, vision is not enough. No one is a leader without someone to follow; and no one will follow a leader, particularly into the unknown, if they don’t trust him/her. Trust is the critical ingredient that goes hand in glove with vision. Without it leaders cannot expect people to work together to achieve the vision: and ultimately, without trust, the leader will lose credibility and fail (Sergiovanni, 2005; Reina & Reina, 2006).

Research has identified 10 key practices that good leaders consistently use to generate trust and compel followers towards a vision (Browning, 2014). They:

  1. admit mistakes;
  2. offer trust to staff members;
  3. actively listen;
  4. provide affirmation;
  5. make informed and consultative decisions;
  6. be visible around the organization;
  7. remain calm and level-headed;
  8. mentor and coach staff;
  9. care for staff members;
  10. keep confidences.

When a leader turns their attention to trust they begin to reflect on their own behaviour and how it impacts their relationship with the people who choose to follow them. When you examine the practices all the qualities of good leadership espoused in the plethora of literature, models and styles, is encompassed by the notion of trust. For example, humility, transparency, honesty, confidence, respect, courage, empathy, and above all, a genuine focus and commitment to the people who have chosen to go for the vision, rather than the selfish ambition of a bad leader. Good leadership boils down to just two things: vision and trust.

 

Bass, B. (1985). Leadership and performance beyond expectations. New York: Free Press.

Bartram, T., & Casimir, G. (2007). The relationship between leadership and follower in-role performance and satisfaction with the leader: The mediation effects of empowerment and trust in the leader. Leadership and Organization Development, 28(1), 4-19.

Browning, P. (2014). Why trust the head? International Journal of Leadership in Education. 16 January 2014.

Covey, S. (1989). Seven habits of highly effective people. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Reina, D., & Reina, M. (2006). Trust and betrayal in the workplace  (2nd ed.). San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler.

Sergiovanni, T. (2005). Strengthening the Heartbeat. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Compelling leadership takes great courage

This blog was written in response to a question that I was asked about a previous blog on performance management.

I have to make a really hard decision. Already I can feel my anxiety levels rising. My mind is racing, going over a multitude of possible outcomes. I find some of the most difficult decisions to be the ones where there is the most personal risk. I already know that when I break the news to this person they are going to be incredibly hurt. They’ll become angry; go through a range of emotions and may never be able to forgive me. The relationship we currently have may never recover. At risk for me is that person’s respect and perception of me. At risk is the trust others in the organisation have in me as a leader. Will the hard decisions I have to make grow or diminish trust?

I know that others around this person won’t understand why this decision had to be made. They will side with the ‘victim’ of the decision, offer genuine care and support to them and I’ll get the icy stares. “How could he possibly do that to you; and we thought he was such a caring person; he calls himself a Christian?” will be some of the comments said about me, sometimes within earshot. I know that I will never be able to fully explain why the decision had to be made and defend my actions.

As for any compelling leader tough decisions have to be made, often with the long-term view in mind and not the short game. For a school leader these sorts of decisions could be around the expulsion of a student, the termination of a staff member, or a restructure and program of redundancies.

There is a common adage that says you can afford to make a tough decision every now and again once you have banked enough credits in your ‘trust’ account. This line of thought suggests that you can make a withdrawal and then save up enough trust to make another hard call. I wonder if this is true. If it were we might never make the tough call for fear that we don’t have enough in the trust account. How do you know what’s in your account now?

Learning from four highly trusted transformational leaders it was obvious that trust isn’t associated with being nice, or allowing people to have what they want, or making people happy. Highly trusted leaders make hard decisions all the time, if they didn’t they wouldn’t be transforming the organisation in which they work into an even better place.

When it comes to a really difficult call that is going to significantly impact a person, and an ever increasing circle of people around them (the ripple effect), highly trust leaders call on four of the 10 key practices proven to generate trust:

  1. Consultative decision making: While it isn’t appropriate to consult widely when making a hard decision that requires significant confidentiality, trusted leaders still consult. In cases where a person is going to be significantly affected they may well be consulting with their Board, or an external organisation to help them make the best decision. Often there is never a ‘right’ decision; right, like truth, depends on your own perspective. It is important to gain the perspective of others, particularly when you have an emotional attachment to the situation.
  2. Listen: Trusted leaders listen carefully to what is happening around them. They listen careful to hear how people are feeling, predict how people might feel, and respond in a caring way. This can be incredibly difficult because sometimes you just feel like defending yourself and responding in anger in an attempt to tell ‘your side of the story’. Sadly you can’t do this. You have to forgo yourself.
  3. Care: Even though you sometimes have to make a person redundant, expel a student, or terminate a person’s employment you can do it with genuine care for that person. They may feel that you don’t care at all when they are angry with you, but how you respond to that anger, and how you put in place support mechanisms and respect the person will go a long way in terms of trust. Even though you have to make a hard call others will learn that you will still care for them and treat them fairly and with respect.
  4. Confidentiality: It is so tempting to justify why you have to make a call, but to really care for the person most affected you can’t. Even though people will be angry with you, be thinking all sorts of nasty things about you just remember that you aren’t the victim.

Compelling leadership takes great courage. It calls on you to put aside your own emotion, to put aside yourself and behave in ways that engender genuine trust in your leadership. To be trusted doesn’t mean you avoid the hard decisions, quite the contrary, trust is about why you make those decisions, how you make them, and how you care for the people impacted.

Having said all this there is still a risk. I know it isn’t going to be any easier for me. We’re all still human after all. Will I get it right? Probably not. Will it be the best decision? Only time will tell.

Global Education Summit in Washington DC

I was gobsmacked when in June of this year I received a personal invitation from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Sutton Trust to attend a Summit on 3 and 4 November 2014 to discuss and share effective teacher development strategies. 100 attendees from the US, England, Finland, The Netherlands, Canada, Ireland, Singapore, Hong Kong, New Zealand and Australia descended on the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington DC, where the Beetles have played and Kings, Queens and world leaders have stayed. I was one of four delegates selected to represent Australia. The event was covered by the UK-based, Times Education Supplement.

The purpose of the two days was to share best practices in teacher development, with the hope of identifying the most effective strategies that could then be replicated in schools across the globe, but particularly in schools that serve the socially disadvantaged (a key focus of the Sutton Trust). Delegates had been selected because of their reputations and innovative strategies already implemented in their schools or jurisdictions (when I received my invitation I had to check three times that it wasn’t a hoax!).

IMG_1807

The four Australia delegates

In the preparation leading up to the Summit all delegates were asked to share one of their strategies on an online forum. Half of these were selected to be unpacked further at the Summit.

What an amazing two days it was; what a humbling and privileged opportunity to be in a room of remarkable educators from across the globe. The facilitation was spot on. From the moment the first day commenced to the very end we were worked hard, with the program ensuring that we met and made the maximum number of productive connections possible. We work shopped people’s strategies and built upon ideas in a number of ‘blue sky’ brainstorming sessions.

I met John Tomsett, a Head from the UK. He is using an IT system called IRIS to observe teaching and learning in his school. An unobtrusive camera is set up in a classroom, enabling John to remotely control the device, watch and record the learning. He can then unpack the lesson with the teacher, identify each teachable moment and provide feedback that promotes growth. High levels of trust in his school, created in part by John’s willingness to record and share his own teaching (which he says is pretty ‘crap’), means that teachers have become thirsty for the opportunity to improve.

Barbara Cavanagh from Albany Senior High School in Auckland, New Zealand, has implemented ‘Impact Learning‘, a pedagogy not too dissimilar to project-based learning. Every Wednesday students work on their own self-directed project for the entire day. Students begin by designing their project and then ‘pitch’ it to the teachers for approval. The only stipulation for a project is that it must be of industry standard. Time for this initiative was created by reducing the students’ load from six subjects to five.

Barbara shared some of the work the students have produced. One 16-year-old boy designed a method to help local businesses improve their productivity. Another young man, passionate about fish, discovered that plants watered with fish tank water grow faster and bigger. He has since been offered full scholarships to four universities in NZ and is off to speak at an international conference in Japan (he’s only 17 mind you!). A young girl created a series of five picture books to help children cope with living with mental illness. These short stories were truly amazing, bringing a tear to your eye when you realised what was actually going on in the story: “Emily has five sisters, and they don’t get on,” begins one book. It is not until later in the book that you realise that Emily has schizophrenia. The young lady is now selling her books worldwide; a fellow student has developed a business plan for her. And the final year results? For the six years the program has been running they have been better than any of the other local schools.

Dame Alison Peacock talked about her work on Learning Without Limits, passionate that we desist from labeling, or grading young people so we don’t limit their potential. Every child can, and has the right to learn, no matter their background, disability or school setting.

I have never met another person as passionate about her students than Stacey Quince from the Campbelltown Performing Arts School, who prefers to forego personal comforts and opportunities to ensure that every dollar her school receives from the government goes to her students.

Barbara Ala’alatoa from Sylvia Park Primary in New Zealand has developed a unique program to engage the parent community. The program is a preventative one, aimed at ensuring that every child is given the very best start to their education. “If we don’t get it right in the early years,” Amanda says, “then you’ll be paying for it for the rest of that child’s formal education.” Upon entry each child sits a diagnostic test. A parent liaison staff member then meets with the child’s parents to discuss the results. But they don’t ask the parents to come into the school; they go to the parents, in their homes or to their place of work. The initial meeting can take up to an hour. Parents have said, “I came away from the meeting with tools and ideas of how I can best help my child at home; I feel empowered.” The process happens again when the child is five and a half, six and seven years old.

A local university has been working with Barbara to track the impact, and it is staggering. But the most exciting part is that Barbara is now replicating the program in 10 other schools this year, and a further 44 next year. And if you’re skeptical of the cost, wait for it: Barbara says that for a school of 300 Year 0, 1 and 2 students you only need a 0.5FTE parent liaison (teacher) for it to work!

I listened to Professor Rob Coe speak and had morning tea with Sir Alasdair Macdonald. I met Megan, a young woman who has been given her first headship, a Charter School in LA funded by Bill and Melinda Gates. I Barnett Berry, CEO of the Center for Teaching Quality in the US. I heard from Geraldine Davies who has changed the conversations in her school by sponsoring groups of teachers to do a Masters of Leading Innovation and Change, delivered by St Mary’s University through the weekly PLCs (Professional Learning Communities). We brainstormed using the strategy, “Yes, and…”. We shared, we collaborated and we worked hard. My favourite quote from the two days was,

“teaching is rocket science.”

Of the 100 delegates 12 were asked to run a workshop on the strategy they shared online prior to the Summit. I was stunned to be asked by Sir Alasdair to run a workshop on my research into the practices that generate trust (but perhaps not surprised because almost every delegate recognised the important role that trust plays in any teacher development program).

At the conclusion of the Summit delegates were asked to name the best ‘takeaway’ strategy, tool, or idea they had come across over the two days. Each delegate wrote their favourite strategy on a piece of card and then voted for Summit’s best ‘takeaway’. And the strategy voted as the most profound shared by the 100 educational leaders from the 10 countries: the Trust and Transformational Leadership Rubric!

What an incredibly privileged and humbling experience; I couldn’t let myself sleep that night, still wondering if it had all been a hoax! Thank you to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Sutton Trust.

When it all boils down, good leadership is about two things: vision and trust

Our-Vision[1]There is a wealth of literature and research on leadership. Many academics and psychologists have committed years to studying and understanding the practice. There have been countless leadership models or styles proposed (e.g. transformational, transactional, collaborative, consultative, servant, etc.), and lists of qualities or attributes of good leadership identified (e.g. honesty, humility, self-control, respect, empathy, inspiring, credible, moral courage, etc.). However, when it all boils down, good leadership is about just two things: vision and trust.

Many people (and leadership models for that matter) confuse leadership with management. A manager is responsible for directing and controlling the work and staff of an organization. Managers typically have their eyes on the bottom line, ensuring that things are functioning efficiently. Leadership on the other hand deals with the ‘top line’; what are the things that I want to accomplish—in other words—vision. Covey (1989) provides a good analogy:

Imagine a group of people cutting a path through the jungle with machetes. They’re the producers, the problem solvers. They’re cutting through the undergrowth, clearing it out. The managers are behind them, sharpening the machetes, writing policy and procedure manuals, holding muscle development programs, bringing in improved technologies and setting up work schedules. The leader is the one who climbs the tallest tree, surveys the entire situation, and yells, ‘this way’.

Don’t be confused, management is not leadership. The key difference is vision. A true leader has a vision, and that vision is compelling enough to entice people to follow. A good leader is someone that others choose to follow because they have been convinced that the vision is worth the effort. A compelling vision energizes people by providing them with an exciting picture of the future rather than providing them with rewards and punishments (Bartram & Casimir, 2007). It unites leaders and followers to pursue higher-level goals which are common to both (Sergiovanni, 2005), raising one another to higher-levels of motivation and morality (Burns, 1985).

Vision (vïzh’ən) n: an imagined idea or goal toward which one aspires

Visioning requires you to rise up out of the minutia to scan the horizon, to dream and to imagine what could be, to take a risk and trail blaze. Not everyone can vision; a true leader can. They are not held back by fear; they believe in themselves and what can be. They invest in the vision and keep pursuing it until it is achieved. Not until then is the job done.

However, vision is not enough. No one is a leader without someone to follow; and no one will follow a leader, particularly into the unknown, if they don’t trust him/her. Trust is the critical ingredient that goes hand in glove with vision. Without it leaders cannot expect people to work together to achieve the vision: and ultimately, without trust, the leader will lose credibility and fail (Sergiovanni, 2005; Reina & Reina, 2006).

Research has identified 10 key practices that good leaders consistently use to generate trust and compel followers towards a vision (Browning, 2014). They:

  1. admit mistakes;
  2. offer trust to staff members;
  3. actively listen;
  4. provide affirmation;
  5. make informed and consultative decisions;
  6. be visible around the organization;
  7. remain calm and level-headed;
  8. mentor and coach staff;
  9. care for staff members;
  10. keep confidences.

When a leader turns their attention to trust they begin to reflect on their own behaviour and how it impacts their relationship with the people who choose to follow them. When you examine the practices all the qualities of good leadership espoused in the plethora of literature, models and styles, is encompassed by the notion of trust. For example, humility, transparency, honesty, confidence, respect, courage, empathy, and above all, a genuine focus and commitment to the people who have chosen to go for the vision, rather than the selfish ambition of a bad leader. Good leadership boils down to just two things: vision and trust.

 

Bass, B. (1985). Leadership and performance beyond expectations. New York: Free Press.

Bartram, T., & Casimir, G. (2007). The relationship between leadership and follower in-role performance and satisfaction with the leader: The mediation effects of empowerment and trust in the leader. Leadership and Organization Development, 28(1), 4-19.

Browning, P. (2014). Why trust the head? International Journal of Leadership in Education. 16 January 2014.

Covey, S. (1989). Seven habits of highly effective people. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Reina, D., & Reina, M. (2006). Trust and betrayal in the workplace  (2nd ed.). San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler.

Sergiovanni, T. (2005). Strengthening the Heartbeat. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.