Leading From the Edge

Many people like to live life in the center, choosing to stay away from the unfamiliar or the extreme. There is something about being in the mainstream, and going with the flow that feels “nice.”  There is a certain comfort afforded with this perspective.  However, what begins to develop over time, especially in organizations, is group think; or worse unquestioned conventional thinking that arises.  It becomes easy to hang out in the middle, not pushing back or making waves.  Questioning is replaced by complacency, an acceptance of business as usual.  In time organizational morale and engagement suffers.

As leaders, our ability to influence growth and change doesn’t happen from the center, but the edge.  Though the edge brings uncertainty, it also has the opportunity to bring clarity when we have a well-defined purpose and established values to lead others forward.  The edge affords a particular vantage point for effective leaders that differentiates them from managers or maintainers.

b2ap3 thumbnail Comfort zone

Vantage Point 1:  People Over Programs

You affect change or culture by impacting people, not programs. We miss when we spend time and money trying to motivate students and teachers through programs. School initiatives come and go, but what will always endure is the relationship potential that walks through our doors daily. Leading from the edge is an uncompromising commitment to develop your top talent.  In the era of high stakes testing and teacher accountability, there is a significant amount of time spent on developing the marginal amount ( 1-5%) of teachers who are in need of improvement.  Leaders should challenge this conventional thinking.

What if we invested the majority of our time in our most effective leaders?  Consider the multiplying effect of influence that result in developing those top people who in turn develop others.  Leading from the edge means-growing people, not bigger programs.  Your number one job as leader is to grow the capacity and skills of your top people.  In turn, as you grow your teacher leaders – student achievement rises as well.

Vantage Point 2:  A Culture of Permission

As leaders, one of the most powerful words we can ever say is “yes.” Our school cultures begin to thrive as leaders give permission and ignite ownership Effective leaders hire well from the beginning, ensuring they have only the best people and BELIEVE the best about their people.  In turn, it is easier to trust teachers to lead initiatives we believe in and can support.  Today’s leaders serve less as supervisor’s and operate more as coach.  Autonomy begins with supporting our people to have not only self-direction but also decision making.  Leading from the edge requires that today’s educational leaders are not managers of people but connectors.  Our job is to help our teams effectively connect, collaborate, and support them with resources necessary to thrive.

In the 21st century, edleaders are rejecting compliance-based systems because they realize how unmotivating it is for themselves and students.  If the goal is for self-efficacy of students and staff then our practice must reflect the rhetoric.  Students and educators alike increasingly want to be a part of a bigger story, to add value.  Leading from the edge means giving up control so that others can thrive, explore, and discover how they can leave an imprint.

Vantage Point 3: Risks Are Rewarded

Our culture does not stand up to celebrate failure.  We give trophies to winners and feel sorry for the loser.  This win/loss mentality is not an indicator of leading from the edge.  We are most effective when we foster a mindset that rewards risk.  As a leader, do you focus more on the problem or solution?  Solution focused leaders identify the issue and develop processes towards a solution.  By asking guiding questions such as –  “What do you need to do next time?  What do you need to do to move this forward?  What do you think we need to do to be successful?” allows an individual/team to feel supported and take next steps.  Great leaders will spend their own capital to support others failing forward on the road to success.

Are you willing to stand on the edge?  Standing on the edge can get windy, even downright frightening at times, but the view is worth it.

Seeker

This is part 1 of three parts in a Curious Collective Series:

Some of my fondest memories involve taking teams of high school students out of the country on summer trips to do acts of compassion, several weeks at a time to 3rd world countries. On one such summer night, a group of my older high school boys decided they wanted to take the younger freshman guys “snipe” hunting. You could just see the excitement in the younger guys, the thought of getting to do something so cool sounding with the older teens and a sense of adventure.

Now, I hope that I am not giving it away when I say that there is no such thing as a “snipe.” Yes, a bit of fun at the expense of some naive boys I will admit. The older teenage boys had asked my permission, I allowed it as it was all in good fun, plus I didn’t want to miss out on the awesome hilarity that would ensue. For like an hour, I stood and watched as this group of brave hearted boys went snipe hunting with flash lights on an unsuspecting beach. The older guys manufactured quite a show, and had those newbies believing they had seen a snipe, only a mere few feet from being within their reach.

Finally, I had to put an end to the shenanigans and reveal to these seekers of sport that there was in fact no snipe to catch. Man, at first they were not happy to put it mildly,  and of course felt they had wasted their time. In the eyes of a 15 year old maybe…but…

It wasn’t a waste…they were doing important work, they were seeking. photo-1441035245556-b476ee501efa

Agreed, they came up empty handed but everyone including our newest explorers had a good laugh and made a forever memory. What those guys experienced is what we to be more as as educational leadersThe Curious Collective. 

When young teachers enter the profession not afraid to go snipe hunting, they often don’t know what they don’t know. They will chase after wild ideas because they are passionate, believing that in the end it will be what is best for kids, a sense of optimism and idealism that mentors often say, “don’t worry – give it a couple of years and you will feel differently.” This should not be so. As teachers become building leaders, or even district office personnel, the sense of wonder and seeking can to often be replaced by compliance, mandates, and a sense of disillusionment. There is another way.

Instead, we need to be a curious collective, not afraid to:

  1. Give permission – to self and others to seek even if the answers don’t seemingly materialize right away. You have individuals and teams of people surrounding you just waiting for you to say, “yes.” Be known as a gracious permission giver and create conditions where “seeking” is not a lost art.
  2. Go explore – As an/the edleader for your campus or team lead the way to seek out adventure and discover new opportunities to create pathways of learning, innovation, and discovery. Seek out individual and team PD, PLC, PLN opportunities that will elevate the journey for both your staff and students. Be curious with your people.
  3. Ask questions – along the way ask the questions that no one currently is willing to ask. Model risk taking and a growth mindset in your meetings with staff, coffee with parents, and sit downs with students.
  4. Celebrate – be intentional about celebrating the process, the journey that your students, teachers, or other edleaders have been on. When we celebrate we are validating the process. 99% of the time authentically celebrating someone doesn’t take any money just some time and relational energy.

photo-1438480478735-3234e63615bbI want to challenge you to be apart of the Curious Collective as we change the conversation and tone of education. Seek and you will find.

-Jeff  | twitter @heffrey