Browsing my Twitter feed the other day this question leaped out:
What if leadership wasn’t a promotion
Leadership happens everyday in every sector, with and without designated roles and titles. As we sail headlong into the 21st century it is timely to reconsider the requirements for leadership today, in a work context characterised by projects, rather than job functions, and roles instead of titles.
Many forward-thinking organisations are steadily moving away from rigid hierarchical structures and are seeking to become more agile. Roles are specialised and people are working in cross-disciplinary teams. The quality of a team’s output is a result of its breadth of talent, evident in the specialised contribution of each team-member and effective leadership harnesses these elements to achieve the desired outcomes. Teams are formed, dismantled and rearranged, depending on the project and need.
The reality is that many organisations are eliminating hierarchies. They have cross-disciplinary teams, with multiple relationships and reporting points. As a result, leadership is a role like many others in an organisation, with its own particular set of skills, contributing to the vision. When leadership is released from hierarchy, people are better able to lead in situations that can leverage strengths, and leaders are freed from being the constant go-to/decision-broker and they become the facilitator of team success.
Can a school dismantle a leadership hierarchy?
The responsibility of the school leader today is to prepare young people for the dynamic world they will enter. The concept of a ‘job for life’ and role-based skill-set is now less relevant. This generation will have a succession of career changes. In this process young people will need to develop a suite of skills and expertise that will help them to make a unique and positive contribution to this world.
Historically, education has responded to the needs of society. The industrial era was a time of unprecedented population growth, with a shift toward machine-based manufacturing. In the post-war period the growing population was experiencing increasing personal income, resulting in increasing consumerism.
At the time people were colloquially referred to as cogs in the machine. They worked hard for a day’s pay. There was little opportunity to contribute ideas or collaborate in the process. People may have worked side-by-side, but each were specifically attending to their own duties. They started work at the whistle, they clocked on and then ended work with the whistle, they clocked off. The industrial era needed a compliant workforce.
School responded by preparing students to work in this culture. Learning was segmented, teachers focussed on their discipline and students were grouped according to their age. In this setting, students needed to be passive recipients of the teaching. Leadership meant authority and hierarchy. Schools valued compliant students.
Fast forward to 2012 when the world of work is constantly changing and leadership is an essential quality within reach of many. The leader is not the one who knows the most, knowledge is accessible. The leader today is an enabler.
Leadership must be both taught and caught. This means developing a deliberate strategy to grow leaders, as well as providing a context where effective leadership is authentically role-modelled.
How can you facilitate a culture of leadership?
- Develop leadership the potential of staff, as well as students
- Help everyone to understand that they are a leader
- Teach leadership
- Role model positive leadership
- Recruit for the capacity and potential, not just expertise and reputation
- Break down silos. Find ways to develop cross-disciplinary teams
- Ensure teams have purpose.
- Dismantle teams once purpose fulfilled, reassemble new teams
- Place value on horizontal movement, not just vertical
- Provide opportunities for those leading teams to also participate as team members
- Reward and exemplify team effort ahead of individual effort
- Consider redefining your school’s leadership structure
What happens when leadership isn’t just seen as a promotion?
- Anyone recognises their leadership potential and people step up when there is need or opportunity.
- Students experience positive role-models
- A culture of leadership becomes part of the school’s DNA
- The capacity of leaders will keep growing
Most significantly, schools will reflect the prevailing workplace culture of the 21st century and students will be better placed to succeed.