Monthly Archives: December 2016
Great expectations: Lost or won?

I usually write from the perspective of the leader and not from one who is being led. We are all led by others, no matter what leadership position you are in, including me. So what happens when when trust in my leader is broken? What should be my response?

I know what it feels like when trust is broken. For me it begins with a feeling of disappointment, and if not fixed quickly, the feelings escalate to a deep hurt and even anger.

I could go through the 10 leadership practices that engender trust and point out which ones he/she failed to employ in his/her leadership of me.

I could let my feelings consume me and destroy any possibility for reconciliation.

I could continue to scrutinise my leader’s actions, looking for further confirmation of their ‘inadequacy’ to reinforce my disappointment and to build myself up by saying, ‘I’d never lead like that’.

I could respond with any one, or all of these, but ultimately, they aren’t really helpful. None will have a particularly positive impact on my wellbeing (which ultimately I am responsible for), nor will they have a positive impact on the organisation I work for.

As a follower I have a responsibility in what is a broken relationship. In the words of the wise “Trust Lady” Vanessa Hall, my expectations of my Leader have not been met. For me to trust someone I have to know that they care for me deeply. So, have I told them what my expectations of them as a leader are?

Truly great leaders get to know the people they lead so they can employ the appropriate leadership practice to engender each individual follower’s trust. But when a leader has responsibility for a lot of people, or the location of their office means that they rarely have an opportunity to get to know the people they lead, it is hard for them to know what a person’s expectations are.

When trust is broken, I could meet my leader and use the ‘I’ word in my sentences, “I am feeling…”, but what is more helpful is to say, “my expectations are… I need you to lead me like…”

Give your leader a chance. They aren’t mind readers. They don’t intend to be poor leaders, or mean to leave you feeling hurt and angry. True leadership is a relationship. If no one is following, the other isn’t leading.


Teach for the best, not to the test

The despairing commentary of the most recent international maths and science performances by Australian students is as predictable as it is unfortunate.

Despite the commentary, Australia’s education system is not broken.
We’re just talking too much about a race that may not be worth entering.

The reality of the data is that Australia’s test scores in science and maths have essentially remained stagnant for many years, while other ‘competing’ countries have invested heavily on lifting these results.

I’ve been in classrooms overseas and have seen some of these nations that have improved in these international tests.

The difference is that many of these other countries, including Shanghai, which was noted as “outperforming” Australia, focus on rote learning.

You will see rows of desks occupied by 40-60 students, all compliantly gazing at the blackboard, hanging on every word of the teacher.
The difference between us and these countries is not the skill of the teacher, the resources of the school, or the content of their curriculum, but in the respective cultures. There is a difference by a country mile in work ethic and expectations. The really intriguing thing is that teachers in Shanghai are saying that they need to look to Australia because we have a greater values-based education, something they are lusting after.

The real question we should be asking is, “what is an education worth having?” Is it one where we adopt a ‘me too’ philosophy and simply judge ourselves by the results of some standardised testing, or should we think more broadly? Should we think more creatively.

My worry is that the narrative of a failing education system will continue to gain momentum. The implications for teachers and students are alarming.

There will inevitably be a growing temptation among educators to ‘teach to the test’. Teachers will be encouraged to prioritise students’ standardised test results at all costs and the effects will be twofold.
One, we’ll likely rise on the international leader board ranking, causing policymakers and commentators to cheer.

Second, we’ll cripple the creativity of classes, leading to a generation of students who are great at sitting tests, but with no imagination.
If you were to consult the C-suite of Australian businesses regarding what they most value in their employees, I would expect “the ability to perform well in standardised testing’ would not rank among the highest answers.

They would likely say that a candidate’s ability to problem-solve, think laterally, persist in the face of obstacles and work in teams would be valued far more highly.

And this is the disconnect – the education sector is being pushed in one direction, while business is pulling in another. And these latest international rankings and predictable outrage will only reinforce this misdirected status quo.

The reality is that, to prepare students for the needs of a current and future workforce, one where many of the jobs they’ll be performing don’t yet exist, we need to prioritise more than just test results. Students need high levels of creativity, the ability to persist through failure, an innovative mindset and an entrepreneurial spirit.

The challenge for educators is how to find ways in which to help students access and grow their remarkable creative capacity. The encourage them to develop resilience and not see failure as ‘the end’.
At St Paul’s School, we recently ran an Entrepreneurs Club. Students from Years 7-12 (and even some teachers) worked alongside one another to prototype and pitch a business to a panel of investors. One idea was a bin that disintegrates rubbish, improving waste management systems.

Some ideas won’t work, but one or two have already generated investor interest with a view to becoming fully-funded start-ups.
However, how will these students find the time to develop these businesses while also needing to prepare for the pressure of standardised testing? The unhealthy preoccupation with this testing is potentially costing Australia it’s next Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg or Steve Baxter.

Australian educators, corporates and policymakers need to work hand in hand to help realise a vision for Australian education that isn’t based on comparing ourselves to a set metric. Rather, we must all work together to build an entrepreneurial, innovative and creative capacity into our education system.

Let’s not teach to the test, but focus on what is best – and that is preparing our students to be the real leaders of tomorrow.

Know your people, they are your bread and butter

I recently met a young restaurateur who, with his older brother had opened their first business, “The Wooden Horse.” They were 18months in and going well. He was talking to a group of budding entrepreneurs, sharing what he had learned from the experience.

For someone who is just 22 I was amazed at what he had learned about leadership in such a short space of time. As he shared the challenges of running a business he identified the appointment and management of staff as one of the most difficult.

He wisely said that staff are people, they are not inanimate objects. Every person is unique and brings with them to work their own story. Once he understood this he realised that, “every interaction with each individual staff member had to different because they all have their own unique personalities. A joke with one doesn’t work with the next. Know your people. They are your bread and butter.”

I was staggered by this young man’s wisdom. So many leaders never wake up to this seemingly obvious point. Instead, they rely too heavily on their own ‘expertise’, assuming that a ‘one-size fits all’ approach is best when leading a group of people because ‘they know best’. What this type of leader is actually saying is that it is ‘all about me’.

This young man had worked out that the way to get the very best from his staff is see each of them as individuals, to know them and adjust his behaviour to support them to achieve the goals of the organisation.

One of the most common questions I am asked when sharing the 10 key practices that build trust in leadership is, “which one is the most important?” No single leadership practice is more important than another because trust, like leadership, is a socially constructed phenomenon. It is all about the relationships we form and you cannot form those relationships if you first don’t know yourself, and then the people you seek to lead. Every person has their own life story.