I was recently asked what the most important leadership lesson was that I have learned. Usually questions like that are very difficult for me because there are so many answers! If we are paying attention there are lessons that can be learned every day, and all are important! Hopefully we can learn from our work and use those experiences to shape how we approach the next day, week, month or year. However, in an effort to appease my interrogator I came up with one important leadership lesson, and while it may not be the most important it certainly ranks high on my list! That lesson: we don't live in a vacuum and as such shouldn't lead from one either.
Here's the deal folks: school are incredibly complex organizations. The fact is they are far too complex to be left to the leadership whims of any one individual. Want to know a secret? I don't have all the answers! Because of this, I try to empower employees to make decisions at the level of greatest impact. For example, teachers are far closer to instruction than any administrator and have the daily interactions with students to prove it. Because of this, it stands to reason those are the individuals best equipped to make instructional decisions for students. By no means does this suggest leaders take a hands off approach to instructional decision making in the classroom. Quite the contrary! Leaders are highly engaged in these decisions by observing instruction, asking questions, and being otherwise attentive in the the study of strategies employed by schools. Distributing or sharing leadership should never be mistaken for a lack of accountability!
Conferencing with students while reading is a proven strategy to improve this vital skill! #hudsonschools pic.twitter.com/KP4h9kJqPm— Dr. Anthony D. Voss (@AnthonyDVoss) November 13, 2015
Take a look above at this tweet I posted on November 13th. I know that conferencing is a proven strategy--not because I said so, but because our teachers say so. Plus, they have the data to back up that claim. One of our district goals is to improve reading proficiency in our schools. The decision to use conferencing as a strategy to improve reading was developed through a collaborative approach with instructors and teacher leaders. We embrace this collaborative approach because multiple individuals working together on common problems are much more powerful than individuals working alone in isolation. It is only through a culture that fosters this collaboration and teamwork that we are able to impact positive change in student learning outcomes in our schools.
The realization of teacher leadership in our school district has enabled this collaborative relationship to grow organically and in so many positive ways that were unseen at inception. For example, the teamwork approach that now exists between teacher leadership and building principals has become much more robust as a vehicle to strengthen instruction in the classroom. This system of collaboration and shared leadership has enabled building principals to re-frame and refocus their work as instructional leaders in new and exciting ways. The mere fact they now have content experts available to collaborate with has enhanced their leadership skills.
It may surprise many to know that the majority of the work I do and decisions that I make are through collaboration or shared leadership. Truthfully, I have a hard time thinking of a decision that was made in complete isolation without the input or advice of others. Even the dreaded weather calls are made in consultation with others, be those colleagues who are wrestling with the same decision or people who are on the road and can report conditions. All that information and input is used when making those decisions.
Yet people sometimes scoff at the idea of shared leadership and wonder, is it really? This is particularly true when the decision made is contrary to the wishes of those who were involved in the decision. I can understand why this may be, and it is no wonder people don't want to be involved the next time they are asked to help with a decision.
However, as leaders we should be transparent about the role of those involved in the decision making in advance of beginning the process. For example, will the ultimate decision be based on consensus? How about majority rule, where everyone has an equal vote. Or will the decision making be based on an input model where those involved with the decision will offer an opinion and the decision maker will take that input into consideration but ultimately will make the decision.
So my advice, or lesson if you will, is to never go it alone. No one person can have all the answers and it is unrealistic to assume they should. We have good, professional people that we are fortunate to work with daily. They have good ideas, and we would be wise to seek their advice and counsel.