Sunday, February 1, 2015

Leadership: Reflecting on Old Musings

Fair warning: This post is a bit of a mess.

As I was perusing some thoughts on leadership I wrote down in Evernote* a few years back in preparation for my current position, I thought it would be interesting to revisit those thoughts for a bit. Do they still hold true for me? Do I still agree with them? How have I added to my knowledge and/or evolved my thinking?

*Side comment: Why Evernote? I don't know. While I'm fine with Evernote, I do the vast majority of my work in Google Drive. They both have what I need for my work: the ability to access my documents anywhere, at any time, from any device. However, for sorting out thoughts and musings on very specific topics, I've found Evernote's mobile app very useful. I like it for tapping out a note, taking a picture of a whiteboard brainstorm, or recording a voice note as I'm traveling. It's great for storing recipes too. Maybe that's worth working out in a further blog post: Why are some apps better than others for certain kinds of thinking and working? Why do I gravitate to Drive for some things, Google Keep for others, and Evernote for yet others?

But I digress. One of the best works I've found about leadership lately is called "The Leadership Challenge" by James Kouzes and Barry Posner. The authors lay out a model of leadership backed by decades of research that breaks leadership in any organization down to 5 essential practices:
  • Model the Way 
  • Inspire Shared Vision
  • Challenge the System
  • Empower Others 
  • Engaging the Heart 
There are hundreds of leadership models out there, but this one speaks to me at the moment.  There's a whole lot more to Kouzes and Posner's work, and I highly recommend their book. The original blog post that turned me on to these guys is available here from Leadership Freak. 

It's interesting for me to look back at these thoughts that I wrote years ago-  without much of a leadership framework in mind - and see if  they match with the what is described in "The Leadership Challenge."

In a pretty stream of consciousness sort of way, I've tried to match my old thoughts with the Leadership Challenge practice listed above. The words in courier are my thoughts from long ago, copied, pasted and sorted into the five practices. For my own reflection later on, I wonder where do I place most of my emphasis? What aspect do I need to think about some more? 

Here goes:

  • You've got to be willing to lead by example. Get dirty- do the work. 
  • You have to be the epitome of the change you want to to see. You have to demonstrate in a learning organization that you're a learner too.
  • You have to be strong, and confident, but not be afraid to be vulnerable and demonstrate that you don't have all the answers- because you don't. 
  • Be present - physically and mentally. 
  • You've got to be competent, say what you mean and mean what you say. 
  • Relentless honesty

  • You start with Sergiovanni's premise of Servant leadership. We are here to serve the students, the community, the teachers and staff. We are not here to build our personal empires. At the same time you have to be able to articulate your own viewpoint and keep the end goal in mind. 
  • You have to relentlessly articulate the vision for the organization, both verbally and through your actions. You have to walk the walk, in other words.
  • You have to see the big picture and keep your eye on the details. 

  • In general, I prefer the "Team of Rivals" approach. In other words, you put together the best team that you can, from as many different perspectives that you can, and hash out the problem. Don't trust lack of discussion or conflict- no "herd thinking!" But ultimately, the buck stops with me. There's nothing wrong with a little bit of Blink Thinking, but I'm not sure how well it holds up in an educational setting. 
  • You've got to be able to synthesize multiple viewpoints.

  • It was that you left a meeting with the predecessor to Britain's Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli thinking that he was definitely the smartest person in Britain. You left a meeting with Disraeli himself thinking that you were the smartest person in Britain. That's the sort of leader I aspire to be: one who empowers his people and makes them believe that they can do anything.
  • You've got to be able to listen, and be open all the time. Ideas come from anywhere, everywhere, and from anyone! (i.e.Pixar) 
  • You've got to be able to spot talent and support it. You have to be a "multiplier", you have to let people do their jobs and follow their passions, and find their particular genius. You have to cultivate viral intelligence.  It's that Jim Collins idea "Good to Great." You have to have the right people on the bus. 

  • Build trust, build relationships: You may have to make some unpopular decisions, but if you can build the trust with your faculty and community that you're going to be upfront and honest about the reasons you're doing what you're doing, you've gone a long way to moving forward with those decisions. 
  • You've got to be able to communicate in multiple modes (speaking, written word) to a variety of types of audiences. 
  • It's absolutely critical to have a sense of humor, that we have got to take our jobs very, very seriously. But we'd better not take our selves too seriously. We're working with teenagers here, and they're crazy (meant in the most positive way possible!). If you can't have fun with that and feed off their energy, you're in the wrong business!

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