Thursday, October 9, 2014

Leadership PLC - part 1

Some years ago at a previous school I read the Jim Collins book Good to Great and hated it.  It was often referred to by admin as a way of putting people down (there was a lot of talk, for example, about getting people off the bus).  When I heard that our Leadership PLC was going to be discussing the book this year I wasn't very enthusiastic, yet this morning changed all that.  I was working with another teacher and we were discussing the question:  to measure schools going from good to great, what 5 variables would you consider?

This was a difficult question.   I think without a doubt we felt it was important to nurture the right people - which brought us onto a discussion of professional development and the importance of creating opportunities for growth and leadership.  We felt this was particularly true considering that Jim Collins' research showed that great leadership invariably comes from within the company rather than being recruited from outside.  We talked about how it is important to consider recruitment, retention and turnover along with PD (though in international schools with highly mobile educators this can be difficult).

We also talked about our core business and about how important a personalized or differentiated programme is to caters to different learner styles abilities and interests.  Our core business is learning, or perhaps preparing students for the future - but for which future?  For their future at ASB, for their future when they transfer to another school, for their future when they leave and go to college, or for life beyond college.  All these, it seems, could be pulling us in contradictory ways.

Another factor that we thought distinguishes schools that are going from good to great is that everyone is on board with the mission of the school - that everyone has a similar vision of what the best in the world looks like, and that we will not stop until we got there.  We talked about a culture of discipline that did not require a hierarchy, bureaucracy or excessive controls.

We talked about the fact that if you are not the best in the world at your core business then you need to change your core business.  This brought us on to a discussion about what we have to stop doing - what used to be the core business some years ago that we are still holding on to but that may now be unnecessary?  A few of us started to talk about grades and GPAs at this point.

Generally schools are very resistant to change - they settle for goodness rather than greatness, for mediocrity rather than for growth.  We talked about the fact that few other professions would be content with this.  One area we are dissatisfied with as a school and want to change is the whole process of teacher recruitment.  Schools are aware that the services that are offered by large recruitment organizations is poor and the cost of this poor service is high.  This year 35 international schools have decided that enough is enough - they have joined our global recruitment collaborative because they have decided that change needs to happen.

One of the final things we talked about was Level 5 leadership.  Collins' researchers noted that every company that moved from good to great had Level 5 leadership during the pivotal transition years. These leaders are ambitious for the company but display a remarkable sense of personal humility, and they work to set up their successors to be even more successful than they are.  Reflecting on this, and on the school leaders in the various schools where I have worked, it is really clear to see a difference between those Level 4 leaders who are simply egocentric and whose personalities/characters lead to mediocrity, and the Level 5 leaders who are not doing the job for personal gain.  And then I started to reflect on how these mediocre Level 4 leaders select others for leadership positions in their schools - and it is clear that they totally overlook those with the potential to evolve into Level 5 leaders.  In some cases it is even more toxic than that - it's the "tall poppy syndrome" of not wanting to be eclipsed by anyone else.

Here's our final question - why is it difficult for schools to have/find/nurture Level 5 leaders where the success of the school is more important than the success of the leader?  If anyone has any ideas on this, please leave me a comment below.

Photo Credit: somebody_ via Compfight cc

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