It’s been a few months since I’ve had the time to write on the blog site. Starting a new job will do that to you, especially when the new job is being THE leader. Over the past five years I’ve done a lot of thinking and reading about leadership, but when the buck really does stop with you it takes the internal dialogue to a whole new level. On an aside, I love my new job. It’s a challenge every day, and there are certainly difficult moments, but it does give me the opportunity to put into practice ideas and concepts that I’ve been interested in trying for a while.
One of my top talking points when working with my leadership team is how do we reduce siloed behavior and thinking in teachers, so that their potential can be unleashed and student learning can be exponentially increased as a result of collective consciousness and action. One of the many unfortunate byproducts of the teacher accountability movement tied to student growth scores is the increase in propensity for individual action as a tool for self preservation. If you don’t know what I mean, spend a few days in a building during the fall when the approval of student learning objectives is taking place….you’ll quickly understand.
In any given school day, there are a number of evidence points that go unconnected regarding student performance simply because our teachers don’t interact with one another in a manner that will lead to the sharing of information that will benefit learning. All too often, the precious collaboration time teachers have is usurped by conversations that are not instruction focused or growth oriented.
The only way to move the needle on practices that inhibit both student and adult growth alike is to focus on the power of leadership in creating a culture of empowered decision making and shared, collective action. As education has become more complex, the need for leaders who understand their role in crafting a culture conducive to a different kind of de-centralized thinking is imperative. As a leader, it matters how I grow and empower those who are under me, for the success of the organization begins and ends with my ability to move others out of their silos.
As I’ve been wrestling with how to achieve this goal, I’ve been reading (and just finished) “Team of Teams” by General Stanley McChrystal. It is the type of book that gets better as the pages move on. The first half of the book uses the lens of the Iraq war and the early struggles in 2003-2004 to paint a picture of how traditional, hierarchical leadership is failing to keep pace with the changed realities of the informationally dense, interconnected world in which we find ourselves. McChrystal patiently sets the parameters of the issues in the first half of the book, and then spends the second half exploring the changes in philosophies and behaviors that lead ultimately to the team of teams which changes the trajectory of the war by 2007.
While this is not a book about education in any real sense, there are applicable lessons for principals and superintendents throughout the book. Often with leadership books the text starts strong, but wains as the book moves on and the author begins to repeat him/herself. ‘Team of Teams’ is just the opposite. I found myself throughly understanding the problem about 100 pages in, and was wondering when I would get to the ‘answer’ part of the book. Rest assured, you do get there, and when you do it’s the type of read where you’re just going to finish it in one sitting because the material is so strong.
If you are an educational leader looking to release untapped potential in your District or organization, I would highly recommend exploring this book. Below are a few of my favorite quotes from the last section of the book where things really got good.
“As our environment erupts with too many possibilities to plan for effectively, we must become comfortable sharing power.” (p. 212)
“The speed and interdependence of our current environment means that what we cannot know has grown even faster than what we can (which means…) The role of the senior leader (is) no longer that of controlling puppet master, but rather that of an empathetic crafter of culture.” (p 222)
“As a leader (the) most powerful instrument of communications is (your own) behavior” (p. 226)
“‘Thank you’ became my most important phrase, interest and enthusiasm my most powerful behaviors.” (p. 228)
“Gardeners plant and harvest, bur more than anything, they tend…Regular visits by good gardeners are not pro-forma gestures of concern – they leave the crop stronger. So it is with leaders.” (p. 229)
“Creating and leading a truly adaptive organization requires building, leading, and maintaining a culture that is flexible but also durable.” (p. 231)
“The leader’s first responsibility is to the whole.” (p. 232)
“A leader’s words matter, but actions ultimately do more to reinforce or undermine the implementation of a team of teams. Instead of exploiting technology to monitor employee performance…the leader must allow team members to monitor him. More than directing, leaders must exhibit personal transparency. This is the new ideal.” (p. 232)
“As the world becomes more complex, the importance of leaders will only increase. Even quantum leads in artificial intelligence are unlikely to provide the personal will, moral courage, and compassion that good leaders offer.” (p. 232)
“A gardening approach to leadership is anything but passive. The leader acts as an ‘Eyes-On, Hands-Off’ enabler who creates and maintains an ecosystem in which the organization operates.” (p 232)