Sunday, February 6, 2011

Leadership, collegiality, and change efforts

In my last post, I reported on Dr. Robert Evans’ presentation about teachers moving from congeniality to collegiality.  In that post, I described how educators are very good at the personal piece of our relationships, but not so good at the “business” part.  That “business” part is the arena in which we need to be more open with conflict and are able to constructively disagree with each other about where we are and where we need to go.  In this post, I will examine the implications such a concept has on school leadership.  Dr. Evans’ ideas about these implications make up a portion of his new book, Seven Secrets of the Savvy School Leader: A Guide to Surviving and Thriving.

The increased expectations on teachers over the last 30 years has had a equal effect on the leadership expected by administrators.  Unfortunately, as with all resources, there is an upper limit to the amount of leadership technique that can be packed into any one person.  One way leaders can address these increased demands is to fall back on a set of leadership basics that make leadership doable.  Often these basics rely on the natural authority and influence the formal leadership role provides.

Being in your role provides the opportunity to do exactly what most people want – to lead them (not boss them).  There is, however, a personal cost to being in your role as formal leader.  When you are in your role, it becomes increasingly more difficult for you to be yourself.  It gets even more complicated as you continue to move up “in the ranks.”  As you into higher formal leadership roles, it is less likely for others to see you in any other role than your leadership role.  In addition, your group of peers gets smaller and smaller.  Fewer peers who truly understand your role is important because if you are waiting for others to understand, you are wasting your time – they can’t and won’t.

The complexities of leadership also have an effect on leaders who are attempting to lead change efforts.  Most people will resist change, especially when they didn’t think of the change idea.  The resistance is even more pronounced when the resistors attach some additional meaning (usually conspiratorial) to the change effort.

People will cling to the known life patterns because they are comfortable and make life meaningful.  The more dramatic the change, the deeper the resistance to that change is likely to be.  Initially attitudes towards change will be negative before moving to positive. As the leader of change, you need to understand the loss that the change effort means to others.  In other words, leaders need to be prepared to ask not just “what” and “how” about the change, but also “why?”  The answer to the “why” defines the loss others feel.

On the other hand, the flip side of resistance is commitment.  Leaders who understand the change process can work to build commitment for the change.  Often, these leaders communicate a message similar to this, “Here is where we are.  Here’s why we can’t stay here.  Here is where we need to go.  Here’s how I can help.”  The clarity of this message is essential as people crave perfect clarity.  Leaders need to define what is negotiable, what is not, and own that decision.  Either way, leaders must be proceed with clear communication, not as a heavy handed boss.

Ultimately, leaders who can build trust during a change effort will be more successful.  Trust is earned, not given freely.  Most people would prefer a leader whom they disagree with but is predictable and clear than one whom they like but does not follow through.  Leaders also need to be willing and able to honestly reflect on whether they CAN be the leader needed rather than ARE they the leader needed.  Leaders who understand what their schools do well and work to build on those strengths rather than focus solely on weaknesses are in the better position to be successful – and less taken for granted.    

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