How do you lead innovation in schools? Step 1: Unlearn some old stuff & Step 2: Learn some new stuff

School leaders – here’s a quick quiz

  • Are you prepared for disruption, mess and opposing viewpoints?
  • Do you think you can successfully challenge the status quo?
  • Can you throw out conventional approaches to leadership?
  • Will you stick to it for the long haul?

Yes? Then read on.

FullSizeRender (1)Making It Mobile is the SCIL signature workshop for educators coming up in a few weeks, held at our school in Sydney. In the practitioner strand the focus is on “teachers as designers”. Alongside this, I am facilitating a parallel workshop for leaders, but I am troubled. What if these amazing passionate teachers are inspired and are keen to innovate in their schools, only to return to the same-old leadership, where innovation needs to fit in a pre-defined box? These teachers will become discouraged and disillusioned. A new leadership paradigm is essential.

On my drive to work this morning I listened to the TEDx talk by Linda Hill: How to manage for collective creativity (Sept 2014). Linda is the professor of business administration at the Harvard Business School. She opened her talk:

FullSizeRenderI have a confession to make. I’m a business professor whose ambition has been to help people to lead. But recently, I’ve discovered that what many of us think of as great leadership does not work when it comes to leading innovation….
If we want to build organisations [schools] that can innovate time and again, we must unlearn our conventional notions of leadership.

These “conventional notions of leadership” are spelt out in the plethora of leadership literature on our actual or virtual bookshelves published over many decades. They tell us that leadership starts with a vision, it rises and falls on the leader to execute strategy and, as many leaders can testify, it is a lonely and stressful business. The prevailing culture is that “the people” look to “the leader” to tell them what to do.

There seems to be two long held beliefs that need to be challenged:

  1. The absolute leader – knows all and tells all
  2. The lowly minion – has no ideas and does what they are told by the absolute leader

Companies like Pixar and Google understand that successful innovation is not about the solo genius, in the same way leading an innovative school or organisation requires a complementary team-based approach. The innovative school needs an innovative leader who creates the environment where:

  • collaboration is the culture
  • problems are opportunities
  • team is the prevailing structure
  • the talents and passions of ‘the many’ can be unleashed
  • diversity and conflict co-exist
  • there is a village or a community

The journey of innovation has an unknown tomorrow, but it starts today with complex and compelling problems that need an answer. To navigate this future the first thing we must do is embark on that journey of unlearning.

The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who can not read or write, but those who can not unlearn, learn and relearn – Alvin Toffler

@anneknock

Making it Mobile – 2 day workshop
30 April – 1 May
Northern Beaches Christian School, Sydney Australia

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