Bold Leadership

Of all industries, education needs bold leadership.

Of all industries, education has lacked bold leadership in the past. Where will the bold leadership come from if there is inadequate attention to leadership in the profession. Education is no more guilty than many other professions that it takes some of its best practitioners (teachers) and promotes them in to roles that require a completely different set of skills and competencies – with no certainty that they have those skills and competencies, are ready and able to develop them or real, cohesive support to acquire them.

The last point may be the real issue. In the same way that there is all too often a hangover from past views of collegiality that suggest that how a teacher taught was his/ her own business, so the prevalence of idiosyncratic leadership styles and methods is almost part of the folklore in the education profession. If we are really serious about change in education, then we have to pay serious attention to the leadership skills of our leaders at all levels in our schools.

Here is a really interesting webinar recording from Zenger Folkman. They have a history of gathering vast amounts of data and evidence through 360 degree feedback processes and then analysing it for the lessons that can be drawn about all aspects of what makes leadership most effective – and especially what leaders need to do more of/ less of;

Zenger Folkman – Webinar – Bold Leadership

As well as the webinar, the page also has a number of other links to very useful and worthwhile materials.

Until we really address these issues of leadership, we are going to see schools vulnerable too often to issues in the leadership. This is especially important in the light of some research I saw a few years ago that suggested that, by some margin, the impact of good or great leadership in schools was of greater significance than differences in leadership in other types of organisation or company. In other words, when our leaders lack some of the fundamental skills of leadership the negative impact is greater.

And yet, as a profession, do we really pay adequate attention to the development of leadership skills. In my experience, when you look at the professional development made available for educational leaders, too much of it is focused on educational pedagogy and practices than on their leadership skills, reflective awareness and continuous development in this area.

Maybe one good piece of news coming out of the Zenger Folkman research is that women in leadership score higher on key aspects of bold leadership than men, considering the educational field has a higher than normal level of females in leadership. However, this is still leaving way too much to chance.

One of the issues that I see standing out way too often is the ‘one size fits all’ approaches to leadership – Principals and senior school leaders who have a limited range of responses to situations that they wheel out in response to all the situations they deal with. Schools are busy and hectic places and when things are happening rapidly leaders often don’t have much time in the moment to stop and reflect. therefore, they ‘act’ often very intuitively. This is not a problem if, at other times, the habits have been built to have a broader variety of tools in the toolkit. Then, intuition leads to the selection of the right tools to fit the situation more often.

With this in mind, I was reminded, this weekend, by the values of the Ken Blanchard Situational leadership model, as a result of seeing this excellent webinar recording;

Ken Blanchard Companies – Webinar – Creating an Effective Leadership Development Curriculum

Education has an inclination to be summative – to focus on the outcomes that we want (exam results, how students turn out etc.) Along the way, we need to put far more emphasis on the processes by which goals are achieved. This is where leadership development becomes so very critical. We need to be sure that leadership will happen in ways that are most effective to deal with any particular set of circumstances. We need to put considerable stress on developing good coaching and mentoring skills, whilst acknowledging that this is not simply meant to replace one always used leadership style with another. There are times when it’s right and times when it’s wrong to coach.

Better leadership leads to more engaged employees, which leads to better learning experiences for children and better parent relationships. These, ultimately, are the best ways to ensure long term and consistent achievement of strong student learning outcomes, development of strong and enduring school cultures and schools that learn and enable learning.

Responsible & Courageous Leadership

Are there some spineless people around who become leaders, but shouldn’t have done? Yep. I think there are, and we’ve probably all met a few in our time.

This is an interesting Forbes magazine article written by Joseph Folkman (of Zenger Folkman), highlighting the awful impacts on people and the organisation of irresponsible leaders;

Forbes – Would Your Boss Throw You Under the Bus?

In mitigation (occasionally) for some of the spineless bosses out there, they are sometimes the product of the organisation – the company gets the bosses it deserves. However, if you find yourself in such a situation, probably better to not just be thinking about a change of boss, but a change of company!

Years ago, I worked for such a boss. Everyone who worked for him knew their first job was to make him look good. If you didn’t he’d “get you back,” somehow. After a few years I got promoted and went to another office – part of the same region. After a couple of months I was sitting at the same table as him at a regional mangers’ meeting. We were there to fix sales targets for the coming year. The regional manager wanted to take bottom up targets, but when they were all added together they weren’t enough to match the head office requirements. We were all asked to take bigger targets.

Come lunchtime debate was still going on without too much progress. Over lunch the regional manager talked to my old boss who headed the biggest office in the region. When we re-convened, he said he would take about 40% of the extra target. This opened the gates and within an hour the gap had been closed.

Everyone went away thinking a good solution had been worked out.

A few weeks later I went to a party with a couple of my old colleagues (who still worked for bad boss). At the party they turned on me. It turned out, he had told them that he had no choice but to take the extra target against his wishes because we had “all ganged up on him.” In order to avoid telling the truth to his team, he had painted the other managers in the region including me as nasty and scheming! I was glad i didn’t have to work for him any more!

Supporting Performance With Feedback

leadership in schools has many aspects, but undoubtedly one of the most important roles is helping each and every teacher and other employee to;

a) Work in accordance with the mission, vision and values of the school, and
b) Exhibit being a ‘lifelong learner’ by seeking to continuously enhance their abilities in their role, and
c) grow

For these to happen one of the most important areas of insight is with regard to giving feedback. Over the years I have heard so many leaders in educational fields who have been frustrated and challenged by the issues related to giving feedback. All too often they have struggled with perceptions that teachers only want ‘nice feedback’ (praise, congratulations and positive strokes). Some have conjectured whether cultural factors were involved, some whether it was a gender issue and some whether it was specific to the profession and the people who are attracted to it.

So, i was therefore very interested to come across this webinar by the highly regarded Zenger Folkman Group in which the presenters share the findings of research they carried out on the subject of feedback. Whilst much of the focus is on differences between age-groups, they also have some interesting things to say regarding gender.

Zenger Folkman Webinar – Feedback

Women in Leadership

I accept, some men are going to curse me for sharing this, but here goes –

Fox Business Interview – Women Leaders

Jack Zenger of Zenger Folkman (behind the FUEL Coaching Model), talks about a recent survey about women in leadership in the USA. He discusses why there are still so few of them, but also where and why they’re being rated higher than their male counterparts.

To the men, I say simply that such data needs to be a wake up call that the ‘cave man’ school of leadership is history and people are looking for something more from us. These are not fixed characteristics and there are plenty of men around showing the way – but we still have a journey ahead. Also, as educators, we have to continue to ask ourselves hard questions about the gender stereotyping that goes on and inbuilt misogyny that;

a) keeps down the numbers of women who achieve leadership roles,
b) reinforce character traits in boys that are no longer as productive when they emerge in to the world of work.

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