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Change Leadership: Working Strategically
“Leaders promote and model a strong normative culture of respect, trust, and accountability.” 1 Leadership Strategy I: Empowerment
The process of “Empowerment,” or articulating a vision for the future, is the first step in offsetting the lack of direction. It should be noted that empowerment or vision statement development is not a stand-alone entity created by one for all others to follow. True empowerment is a shared commodity that belongs to all stakeholders. It is important to note here that a vision, once shared, can lead to common aspiration and a sense of commonality among stakeholders. A shared vision leads to common commitment. A shared vision is not an idea; rather, it is a force of impressive power. It may be inspired by an idea, but once it goes further—if it is compelling enough to acquire the support of more than one person—then it is no longer an abstraction. Few forces in human affairs are as empowering as a shared vision. At its simplest level, a shared vision is the answer to the question, “What do we want to create?” Just as personal visions are pictures or images people carry in their heads and hearts, so too are shared visions. Therefore, shared visions create a sense of community that permeates the school and gives purpose and meaning to diverse activities.
1. Attention Through Vision
• A vision is a shared goal/mission statement. • A mission statement articulates: • a view of a realistic, credible, attractive future • a condition that is better than what now exists • a clear sense of the organization’s purpose and direction
A shared vision is not an idea; rather, it is a force of impressive power.
“When leaders begin owning these problems and taking responsibility for student achievement, they model a different and more productive way of approaching problems.” 2
2. Assessing Position Through Ownership
• Trust is the mechanism that makes it possible learning schools to work. • Trust implies accountability, predictability and reliability. • Relentless dedication engages trust. • All innovators face the challenge of overcoming resistance to change. • True leaders must assess the needs of their audience. • The assessing function requires sensitivity to the many needs of the stakeholders and a clear sense of the audience’s position. • The assessing function requires sensitivity to the many needs of the stakeholders and a clear sense of the audience’s position. • The leader is responsible for the set of ethics or norms that govern the behavior of the people in the school setting. Source: Data from Warren Bennis and Burt Nanus, Leaders: Strategies for Taking Charge, p. 82, Copyright 1997, Harper Collins Publishers.
Shared vision is vital for the learning school because it provides the focus and energy for learning. Strategy I of the leadership model therefore means that a learning school cannot exist without a shared vision. Without a focus and commitment to some vision or goal that the stakeholders truly want to achieve, the forces supporting the status quo can overwhelm the forces supporting meaningful change. With shared vision, the stakeholders are more likely to expose their accustomed ways of thinking and redefine them in more cooperative and constructive terms, thereby recognizing personal and organizational shortcomings. Thus, developing a collective vision for the future of the learning school is the first strategy to a systematic design for successful implementation.
Leadership Strategy II: Assessing Positioning through Ownership
Successful school empowerment cannot occur in a learning school without first assessing whether the position of the vision is acceptable. This process systematically evaluates the quality of the vision statement in order to determine how the goals of the program will be developed to support issues of school reform. Assessment of one’s position on the new vision is a process that requires collaboration and the development of trust. Trust is the lubrication that makes it possible for schools to work. Trust implies accountability, predictability, and reliability. Trust is what keeps schools humming—the glue that maintains educational integrity. In traditional settings of school reform, educational leaders do not take time to assess their position on reform issues even when these issues are mandated through state or federal laws. The typical response from educational leaders when asked why they must make these changes is, “It is out of our control” or “This is what the law requires of us.” A second type of response to the question of why we have to change is to use new mandates as an excuse for developing policies that fit self-centered ideas on school reform. In each case, the educational leaders did not assess their position about why the school should change. This traditional approach to positioning limits the ability of others to participate and sets up boundaries that restrict the development of a learning school. The restrictive leadership approach leaves the stakeholders with the feeling that they should stay away from making decisions on their own, and it probably also inhibits them from acting on their own. Using the traditional approach, assessing a
Assessing one’s positioning through ownership is a process in the leadership model that allows for valuable input from all the stakeholders.
Trust is the lubrication that makes it possible for schools to work. Trust implies accountability, predictability, and reliability.
The assessment position through ownership involves two basic acts: gathering information so that decisions will be informed and supportable, and applying criteria to the available information in order to arrive at justifiable decisions. position would be that the leaders decide what needs to be done to improve the school and expect the stakeholders to be loyal to their requests. Unfortunately, the results of this position are low trust, negative feelings and comments about school reform, and lack of commitment to school improvement. This example reiterates two very important reasons for stressing trust through positioning. The first has to do with educational integrity. A learning school can be compared to healthy individuals; in fact, it is analogous to a healthy identity. A school possesses a healthy structure when it has a clear sense of what it is and what it is to do. Therefore, educational integrity involves choosing a direction and staying with it. However, in order for a school to have integrity, it must have an identity, that is, a sense of what it is and what it is to do. The second reason behind the significance of positioning has to do with staying the course, that is, constancy. Effective leadership takes risks; it innovates, challenges, and changes the school’s culture. Innovation—any new idea—will most likely not be accepted at first, no matter how wonderful the idea may be. If everyone embraced the innovation, it might not be a true innovation. Innovation causes resistance to stiffen, defense to set in, opposition to form. It takes repeated attempts and endless demonstrations before innovation can be accepted and internalized by any school. Assessing one’s positioning through ownership is a process in the leadership model that allows for valuable input from all the stakeholders. Assessing the positioning of the school’s vision can provide insightful direction toward the establishment of future goals, can enhance the development of ownership, and can greatly improve the overall effectiveness of the schools program. In this component of the model, practitioners will be taken through a process for developing an assessment plan through assessment climate profiling. The assessment position through ownership involves two basic acts: gathering information so that decisions will be informed and supportable, and applying criteria to the available information in order to arrive at justifiable decisions. The assessment process should be implemented systematically and openly so that others can follow along and so that everyone can learn from the process. Information gained from the process will be transferred to the school’s strengths and weaknesses chart for final analysis and revisions. Once this has been accomplished, the principal will be ready to develop strategies for designing a learning school.
Effective leadership takes risks; it innovates, challenges, and changes the school’s culture. Innovation—any new idea—will most likely not be accepted at first, no matter how wonderful the idea may be. If everyone embraced the innovation, it might not be a true innovation.
The assessment process should be implemented systematically and openly so that others can follow along and so that everyone can learn from the process.
Source: Data from Warren Bennis and Burt Nanus, Leaders: Strategies for Taking Charge, p. 82, Copyright 1997, Harper Collins Publishers.
“To generate the much needed momentum and urgency for change, people need to fully understand the why behind the journey they are beginning.” 3
3. Meaning through Communications
• Communication is the process used to build the actionable consensus that is apparently needed if change is to occur. • Total agreement is impossible because people inevitably distort all communication in light of their own feelings, histories, priorities and experiences. • Seeking to achieve total agreement is likely to be counterproductive because it would take away from that most unique of human traits: the ability to modify an idea to fit with the circumstances as the individual uniquely perceives them. • What is probably needed is agreement in broad terms on a single change goal or target and a deliberate attempt to leave all other qualifying details to be worked out later. • Moreover, what really is needed to form a consensus is simply the illusion of an agreement with an actual change target or gal so diffuse as the be acceptable to all. Source: Data from Warren Bennis and Burt Nanus, Leaders: Strategies for Taking Charge, p. 82, Copyright 1997, Harper Collins Publishers. Learn more about the future of learning through the recreation of 21st Century learning environments by visiting the Digital Sandbox
ENDNOTES (1,2,3, Notations) Tony Wagner and Robert Kegan “Change Leadership: A Practical Guide for Transforming Schools” Jossey Bass 2006
When meaning through communication is achieved in an organization, everyone is guided by a common interpretation
Leadership Strategy III: Meaning through Communication
In many school organizations, intoxicating rhetoric about visions and noble intentions usually abound, but without a strategy for communicating those ideas, nothing will be realized. Achieving success will require more than rhetoric; it will require the capacity to communicate a compelling image of a desired state of affairs, the kind of image that induces enthusiasm and commitment in others. How do learning schools communicate their vision and future goals? How do they then get their stakeholders aligned behind those goals? Both of these questions have the same answer: through the management of meaning, that is, the mastery of communication. True organizational communicators must be able to “concretize” their ideas. They must articulate and define what was previously unsaid. They invent images, metaphors, blueprints, and models that bring their subjects to life. In short, they organize meaning for the members of their organizations. When Meaning through Communication is achieved in an organization, everyone is guided by a common interpretation
because, in this context, the word meaning goes far beyond what is usually meant by communication. It has little to do with facts or knowing how to do things. Facts and knowing have to do with technique and methodology, which are useful but limiting. Concepts like “thinking” are emphatically closer to “meaning” than the concept of “knowing” is. Thinking prepares one for what is to be done or ought to be done. It challenges old conventions by suggesting new directions, new visions. The distinctive role of leadership is, therefore, the quest for “know-why” ahead of “know-how.” Put another way, leaders must first be problem finders (know-why) before they can be problem solvers (know-how). How do leaders know if a discovered problem or a creative idea is valuable? Reasoning and logic are not always the best way to evaluate creative solutions. So how are they recognized? Why do people align behind one solution, direction, or vision and not another? The answers to these questions are a part of the leadership process for developing the learning organization. Within Strategy III lies a communication process for the practitioner who seeks to ensure full collaboration of all stakeholders.
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