Embodying Visionary Leadership – What I learned this week #Leadership 20

This week was another great webinar with the Leadership 2.0 group. Our host this week was Chris Smeaton, providing us with a great session on the leadership dimension, Embodying Visionary leadership. Reflecting on what I learned this week, I was able to come up with three key take always.

Lead by example… Which sometimes means letting go

The idea of leading by example has been a prevailing theme in the Leadership 2.0 series, and with this topic there is no exception. But how does one lead by example within the topic of visionary leadership? As leaders we need to share… we need to share our vision, share the division’s vision and mission, and give our staff voice in how these statements will manifest within the school context. In the end, mission and vision are just words, it is the collective effort if the staff that will cause these to be lived.

At our retreat this year we spent a half day looking at some school data. I wanted the process to be very unstructured because I didn’t want to influence the outcome. The first task was for groups to look at the data and just highlight anything that tweaked their interest. I didn’t want any processing of the data; just identify what seemed interesting. When faced with the data, most groups quickly went into historian mode, explaining and justifying the data. My intent was to use the data as a quick glimpse of the past so we could start planning the future, but I quickly realized the strong bond that we have with our past. History is absolutely essential, but not at the expense of moving forward.

Data collage created at our retreat

Data collage created at our retreat

We did get back on track, and had a good session creating “data collages” finding common trends and themes that will guide our work as a staff this year.  As a leader, it was great to see the mutual similarities between the different groups during the activities. One such common thread was the need to develop a culture of excellence  within our school communities. As a result, each department will be developing an action research project to develop a culture of excellence within their respective departments. By letting go, not only did the staff reach the same general conclusions as myself, the staff created, and now own the direction for our work this year with me.

Be innovative… I Think

I’ll be honest, the term, innovative, drives me nuts more often than not. It is often over used and misunderstood. I often find that being innovative is that endless search for educational  magic bullets. I see innovation less from the perspective of invention, but more from the perspective of implementation.

I don’t always look for new information when I read or search out personal professional development. I know it’s cheesy to read a book and say that it changed my life, but I think I read one this summer that did a pretty good job. This summer I read Mindset by Carol Dweck, and if it didn’t change my life, it definitely changed my perspective. Mindset not only changed how I look at the world around me, but how I interact with it. Dweck talks about the differences between fixed and growth mindsets, and a huge lesson that I took from the book was the idea of approaching everything as a learning opportunity. This was not new information to me, but for some reason, the way the information was presented in the book inspired me to actually start living what I already new. I find myself seeing everything from commercials, to what my son says as my next personal PD opportunity. If you have time, I strongly recommend the read; something I would call an innovative book.

I’m not sure if this counts as innovation, but a definite goal of mine is to strive for simpler solutions and processes within my school. It seems as educators, and as leaders, our day can be easily eaten up by mindlessly chasing our preverbal tails from one task to the next. If I could narrow my leadership philosophy to two things they would be: “better is possible”, and “there’s got to be a simpler way to do something”. As a leader I want my self and my staff to focus on the work in the hours rather than the hours in the work. I’m not sure that’s innovative in principle, but if we could actually live it and find that elusive work/life balance we would be moving somewhere.

Don’t rush the future… but you still need to get there

As leaders, there is an incredible temptation to step on the gas pedal, red-line the engine, and set the cruise control on the school development plan to ludicrous speed. Perhaps the biggest take-away from the webinar this week was when Chris talked about the importance of building relationships, building trust, and then pushing the envelope. This was a very powerful statement. After all, leadership 101 states that you’re only leading if people are willing to follow. I find it difficult to sit in passive mode when all you see is opportunity for change; but we need to realize that we are in a human industry and when in doubt, spend time on trust and relationships. We need to be able to respect and celebrate what’s been done, ensuring we’re doing the best we can now, and then look for ideal opportunities to prepare for the future.

I would like to close by building on the idea of relationship, trust, and pushing the envelope. One of the key aspects of embodying visionary leadership is to set a clear direction. Imagine the idea of building effective relationships, building trust, and with a clear direction set, let the  envelope become a sail to drive school development and change.  I’ll leave it at that, and end with a the some words from one of my favourite poets and philosophers:

“Oh, yesterdays over my shoulder

So I can’t look back for too long

There’s just too much to see waiting in front of me

And I know that I just can’t go wrong”

Jimmy Buffett


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