Agree to Disagree
by Ken Willers
Once Upon A Time, there were three tailors, who were very dedicated to making clothes. They prided themselves on how well they got along with each other because they agreed never to disagree.
One day a man came in and asked if he could have a pair of pants made for him. The first tailor looked at the man and from sight attempted to guess his size. The second tailor also looked at the man and from sight attempted to guess his size. It didn’t take long before the two tailors soon realized that they both had come to different sizes so, rather then have a disagreement, they agreed to divide the pants in half each making one side. The third tailor, however, took a measuring tape and sized up the man. When he told the other two tailors that both were wrong with their sizes he was immediately fired for he had broken their agreement not to disagree.
A few days later the man returned to pick up his new pants and after he tried them on he found that one leg was too short and the other was too long. The pants were obviously of no use to him and angry by this mistake, he canceled his order, refused to pay for the pants and never did business with them again.
Reflection by Ken Willers
School Leadership for the 21st Century by Ken Willers
The effectiveness of any organization is rooted in leadership. Every organization has an underlying philosophy that governs its decision making process, its mode of operational leadership and its overall effectiveness. What I intend to present here is an overview of a few key elements that will contribute to the effectiveness of education, its organizational structure and its leadership: 1) the culture and climate of an organization; 2) the professional development and empowerment of employees within an organization; and 3) the collaborative and/or participatory decision-making process of an organization
Culture & Climate of an Organization
The culture of an organization is communicated through symbols: typically stories, myths, legends, and rituals that establish, nourish and keep alive the enduring values and beliefs that give meaning to the organization and make clear how individuals become and continue to be part of the saga of the organization as it develops through time. Personal identification with the values of the organization’s culture can provide powerful motivation for the dependable performance.
If the working environment is satisfying, employees view work as natural and acceptable as play. When the climate is open and encouraging people will exercise initiative, self-direction, and self-control on job because the culture of the workplace enables them to commit to the objectives of the organization. The average person, under proper conditions, learns not only to accept responsibility on the job but also to seek it.
The average employee values creativity. A work place climate or culture that fosters creativity allows an employee to use his or her ability to make good decision and to seek opportunities to be creative at work. The main casual factors of organizational effectiveness or ineffectiveness are the organizational climate and the leadership behavior, which significantly affect how subordinates deal with each other in order to produce end results.
Culture and climate of a school is crucial to living the mission of the school. For some schools this may be a challenge because where there is poor leadership there is a deterioration of culture and climate. For organizations to thrive, administrators, teachers, staff, parents and students should not only know, intellectually, but should experience, emotively, the culture and the climate of the school. Effective leaders will see the use of story, metaphor, symbols and images as one way to familiarize a school community with the founding culture, climate, and charism of the school. The use of the weekly newsletter, morning assemblies, parent meetings, faculty gatherings and public addresses provide the administrator with ample opportunities to continue to communicate the culture and the climate of the school.
The entire environment should evoke the culture and the climate of the school. Do the images associated with the school communicate the mission of the school? Does the atmosphere communicate the values of the school’s mission? Do the policies, the budget, and the practices of the school reflect the school’s mission? Only upon reflection with parents, faculty, students and board members can these questions be answered authentically. By creating a climate that encourages participation and by fostering communication that expresses the culture of the school, administrators enable the mission of the school to thrive.
Professional Development & Empowerment
Some employers tend to manipulate followers often by using a veneer of seemingly participative involvement. True empowerment is where workers participate actively in the dynamic ongoing processes of leadership by contributing their knowledge, insights, and ideas to the development of the vision for the workplace. Employees acquire greater personal ownership and thus a greater sense of personal commitment to the values for which the school stands and that shape it vision for the future when they are empowered to contribute to the vision. By their active engagement in the process, and by being personally committed to its outcomes, employees are stimulated to increase their awareness of both the larger mission of the business and the connection of their own daily mundane work to the achievement of that mission.
Schools like any organization have the power to shape views and attitudes of its employees. Increasing attention has been devoted to the possibilities of improving organizations not by changing their structures as a way of inducing more effective organizational behavior, but by training participants in more effective group processes as a way of bringing about desirable changes in organization structure.
Administrators within education should attempt to adopt similar practices for their teachers. Providing leadership training and or professional development opportunities for teachers in a specific area of expertise can empower teachers to engage in institutional advancement that would benefit the entire school community. The challenge facing some schools is an aging population of teachers who have resigned themselves to regurgitate, year after year, what they have taught without any vested interest in what takes place outside their classroom. Administrators, like other employers must use the opportunity for providing professional development in order empower employees to become more productive and invested at the workplace.
Collaborative & Participatory Decision Making
Organizations are facing change at an exceedingly high rate. Change, at this rate, requires organizations to adapt to new solutions. Adaptive solutions require collaboration between many individuals over time in an iterative process. In this approach leadership is a group function. Leaders intentionally seek to influence others, however one must understand that those who lead are necessarily powerful people because power is the basic energy for initiating and sustaining action that translates intention into reality when people try to work collaboratively.
Followers who accept the leaders’ influence and direction by shared agreement, no matter how informally the agreement is arrived, voluntarily grant the power of leaders. Authority is entrusted to a leader when power resides in the followers themselves and cooperation is granted the leader by the follower. The exercise of power is a reciprocal relationship between the power holder and others. The strength of the leader’s power depends on the range of the sources of power drawn on
Leaders engage with followers in seeking to achieve not only the goals of the leader but also significant goals of the followers. Leadership is not something that one does to people, nor is it a manner of behaving toward people: it is working with a through other people to achieve the organization’s goals. In an educational setting, many teachers find helping behavior from principals to be highly rewarding if it is nonjudgmental supportive collaborative and caring in the tradition of self-development. Principals who have fresh exciting ideas or who have a vision of the future and can express their vision coherently and vividly will inspire enthusiasm.
This type of leader, otherwise known as the transformational leader, looks for potential motives in followers, seeks to satisfy higher needs, and engages the full person of the follower. The result of transforming leadership is a relationship of mutual stimulation and elevation that converts followers in to leaders. This type of leadership does not merely obtain the compliance of followers; it evokes their personal commitment as they embrace the goals to be achieved as their own.
The vision that leaders seek to share with followers is a protean thing, continually being revised and annotated by changing values, emerging developments and events, and leaders engage constantly in the dynamic process of stating a vision of things to come.
By definition leadership involves working with and through others, individually and in groups to achieve organizational goals. Study supports the use of collaborative methods in decision-making. The quality of decisions that are made in an organization usually reflect the skill with which the leader has orchestrated these two issues: the individual versus organizational decision-making. Below, I highlight the three processes of decision-making:
AI: leader makes the decision using whatever information is available
AII: Leader secures necessary information from members of the group, then makes the decision.
CI: Leader shares the problem with relevant members of the group on a one-to-one basis getting their ideas and suggestions individually without bringing them together as a group; then the leader makes the decision
CII: Leader shares the problem with members as a group at a meeting, then decides
GII: Leader, acting as chairperson at a meeting of the group, shares the problem with the group and facilitates efforts of the group to reach consensus on a group decision. Leader may give information and express opinion but does not try to sell a particular decision or manipulate the group through covert means.
Arriving at better decisions and enhancing the growth and development of the organization’s participants can be achieved through participative decision-making. Participative decision-making requires the interaction of power and influence from two sources: the power and influence of administrator and the power and influence of others in the organization. The process goes something like this: first permit followers to ask questions after a decision is taken. Then, offer a tentative decision subject to possible change after discussion with followers, before the administrator finalizes the decision. Next present the problem to followers, and make a decision only after discussion with then to get their opinions. And so on until finally the organization has the possibility of making many of its most important decisions in a highly collegial and collaborative way.
The challenge facing most educational settings is that decision-making is sometimes looked upon as a top-down process. However, this does not have to be the case, at the highest levels of participation, the administrator and the other participants can become involved in a more genuine collaborative process of first, mutually agreeing on the definition of the problem itself and second jointly deciding how to deal with it.
By sharing leadership and the decision-making process in this manner the school is better positioned to adapt to change and move toward advancement.
In a future installment I will present how these principles were adopted at a school I administrated for 9 years--and with the participation of the entire community we were able to move the school from near closure to a sustainable future.