Neil Craik-Collins: Uplifing Leadership 25/11/2014

photo “Leadership is about being afraid, but doing it anyway. Only psychopaths are unafraid”

Andy Hargreaves and Alan Boyle wanted to write a leadership book that would sit inauspiciously in an airport shop waiting for a passing businessman to pick it up. The twist would come when he read not only about outstanding business practice, but also about miraculous successes in education. Hargreaves challenged us to reflect upon times in our professional lives when we felt uplifted and what types of things had made us feel that way. ‘Uplifting Leadership’ by Andy Hargreaves, Alan Boyle and Alma Harris is the final product. He also asked us to consider low points and leaders who had left us feeling further from inspiration. The session was interactive, so delegates were asked to think, get up, pair and share. Although this took us immediately out of our comfort zones, the idea was a good one because we were able to meet and share with professionals from across the country.

The research criteria was quite specific. Their research focused upon businesses, sports teams and educational institutes who had risen from the depths of despair and experienced almost miraculous transformational changes. They all created a lot from a little. Most ideas came from back rooms and were scribbled on battered napkins from people who cared passionately about something. All of these establishments had the following in common:

  1. Not one of them wanted to be the top or the best within their profession
  2. Not one of them wanted to race to the top as fast as they could
  3. Not one of them wanted to copy exact replicas of models used in other schools (imprudent transfer)
  4. Not one of them was driven by data above contextual decision making and people
  5. Not one of them wanted to kill the competition
  6. Not one of them implemented a ‘no excuses’ policy. The life needs outside of work were recognised and people were valued for what they could give.

Every leader who introduced an inspirational and challenging vision of future success was laughed at. Every idea was deemed improbable. Every vision came true. In all cases great leadership connected the future with community and the past. However, there were a few words of warning given for when one is considering a significant change project. :

” You need to get enough fuel before you start. Build capacity within the organisation and take the appropriate

level of resources onboard that are going to see you to the final destination. Load up. Don’t burn your people or

your resources out. Take care of them. You think you want the find at your back, but you don’t- you’re like a big 747

with the wind in your face. You can’t fly it by yourself and you need a navigation system to hold you to your course’

Andy Hargreaves suggested that ‘all meaningful change started with discontent’. As leaders we are encouraged to harness and understand resistance. Examples of leaders who sat in the darkest recesses of the staffroom with the most belligerent resistance, just to prove that there was no space where discussion would be unheard, were given. Diverse teams are seen to be the strongest. In one example, the Canadian Government gave £25 million to a Union that were resisting them with the only proviso being that it was used for staff, Learning and leadership development. Essentially they gave money to the enemy and as a result created one of the strongest most impactful initiatives they had ever seen. We heard about how Dyson made dirt visible as a marketing tool and how Singapore totally changed their education system to give teachers more development time, less teaching time and barely any standardised tests- at a time when they had just been praised for running a system that was the polar opposite. We were encouraged to consider our greatest weakness and turn it into our greatest strength. This came under the banner of ‘creativity and counterflow’ where there were five guiding principles:

  1. Taking opportunities that others have missed
  2. Moving towards resistance
  3. Turning the greatest weakness into the greatest triumph
  4. Changing something that is succeeding
  5. Disciplined innovation- trying new things with a few rather than all and at different times. ‘Don’t experiment with ipads with every pupil for the entire year- because that is a wasted year”

An example from Martin Fogarty (The Head Coach of Kilkenny Hurling) was given:

“You can shout and roar from the sidelines if you want to, but it won’t matter if the players aren’t buying in

The players demand that of each other. If there is a new player and he’s not supporting or working, the others

will tell him so’

Hargreaves suggested that excellent organisations are ones where all levels of the hierarchy from the cleaner to the CEO and the classroom to the HT have the same expectations and standards that will enable them to see a future vision of success be achieved. Challenge between colleagues, when required, is what keeps them on track towards their goals. The ‘Holy Grail’ is for colleagues to be pulling and pushing each other and for the relationships and trust within the organisation to be strong enough to withstand the critique. Everything to do with raising attainment and achievement comes back to the notions of collaboration, community and Identity:

“Identity is the path to achievement- If you don’t know who you are as an organisation, you won’t know what to do.

Leadership is the cigarette that is smoke when the change has been consummated”

There was discussion around monitoring and evaluation. It was suggested that in sport organisations use real time data to improve performance. There was a recognition that comes after the fact can’t help pupils to improve outcomes and results or help them to change direction before the iceberg hits. It would be easy therefore to conclude that real time feedback needs to come before assessment.

We were then asked to consider our single most important dream for our home organisation. We were asked how we were going to get better and what the future would feel like when we had achieved what we had set out to do.

The notion of ‘coopetition’ was also introduced. Successful organisations share with their competitors. Nobody wants to watch one team destroy another team week after week. Examples were given in baseball, education and football of situations where teams helped their competition to improve for mutual advantage, a higher purpose, to increase profile and common share in an attempt to stimulate discussion and better practice.

We finished with a discussion around whether we were measuring the correct things. Should  we be measuring wellbeing, innovation, entrepreneurship?

Lots to think about.

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