George Couros lead us through a great chat this week on the Principal Quality Practice dimension: Managing School Operations and Resources. It was interesting to see the spin of the conversation move towards a chat that I found very affirming. As principals, we constantly wrestle with two of our primary roles as managers and leaders. In many way’s its the school principal’s version of the chicken and egg argument; what hat should I wear first, manager or leader?
Through the webinar and associated twitter chatter, it was interesting that it was difficult to have a conversation purely about management as aspects of leadership kept creeping in. It was a relief to hear many school leaders viewing management through the lens of a leader rather than the other way around. To me it comes down to three things: purpose, purpose, purpose.
Managing with Purpose
Managing through the lens of a leader allows us to manage with purpose. As leaders we establish and define the fundamental purposes of our learning community. We then develop relationships, culture, and professional development that supports that purpose. Management becomes another layer in that process. Management tasks such as building timetables, bell schedules, assigning rooms, structures and processes within the school, and even handing out those limited budget dollars need to be completed in alignment with purpose.
“How does ________ fit our purpose?”
The above seems like such a simple question but we often forget to go there with our managerial decisions. In any given day we are inundated with a tremendous number of “great ideas”. Giving the nod to every great can easily fill our already full plates and put us on a path to overwhelming ourselves. I’m not saying that our default answer when faced with a great idea is “no”, but asking questions that force us to align our ideas with the purpose of the school will ensure the work we are doing will continue to move the learning community in the right direction.
Asking questions to clarify purpose behind management decisions gives leaders a concrete touchstone to help with decision making. I find this especially useful when monetary resources are involved. Decisions that involved financial resources used to be based on a starting point of looking to see if there was money in the budget and going from there. Financially this makes sense, but more often than not, we would see spending sprees happen at the end of a school year to ensure we spend the budget.
As I develop myself as a leader and a manager, I try not to focus on budgets per se. Instead, I ask questions around need and purpose. If a staff member presents a proposal with a compelling need coupled with an alignment to the learning goals of the school(purpose); as a manager, I need to make every effort to provide the financial means to make this proposal a reality. Of course we need to be cognizant of the reality of limited and sometimes scarce resources. However in my experience, making decisions based on needs and purpose allows me the ability to provide for those with need and balance the books.
Management and leadership are essential aspects of a successful learning community. You truly can’t have one without the other. But unlike the problem of the chicken and the egg, I do believe that if we put leadership first and manage through the lens of a leader, management not only starts to make sense, but naturally supports the leadership agenda.