Above leadership: If you think you are above them, they will know that you are not behind them.
It’s a lesson I have watched and experienced many times over in my career. Leaders who hold themselves aloof, who feel entitled to their position, who demonstrate that they are ‘better than’, fail precipitously.
Let me be clear. You do not deserve your position of leadership, you were entrusted with it. You are not entitled to authority, you have to earn it. If you think your extra certifications and degree somehow holds you apart from the staff, you have already lost. You have to realize that everyone you work with could do the same thing. In fact, what might be difficult to conceptualize, is that most of them simply didn’t want to. You are on top of a very climbable mountain.
Don’t get me wrong. Administrators have nothing but respect from me. I commend those people who step out to lead. It is a difficult job and requires the right balance of guidance and collaboration. I have worked with many such leaders and I hope I have been that kind of leader for others.
But being a leader does not make you ‘better than’. In fact, if it weren’t for those teachers in the classroom whose professionalism and passion demands that they be there, right in the thick of learning, you wouldn’t have a job. Most teachers decide that they would prefer to be in the classroom, and that made the path clear for you.
Confronted with another situation like this, I am struck with the decisions that we make, as leaders and as the led. The simple move of including stakeholders is often withheld in the name of expediency or privilege.
I was recently presented with a sudden problem to include a component into my classroom. Eight days left and I had to plan for some substantial changes to the CCAs, Learner Portfolios, and overall course structure. Now, I did this with the help of my students. We looked at the task that we were being asked to do. As a class we used design strategies to come up with a solution that best fit the course and the learning that we were undertaking. Yes, we lost some of the collaboration we were working on and some of the student voice, but in the end we solved the problem together.
The task was hard, but the solution was easy: inclusion.
To be honest, I was furious when I first received the last-minute instructions, not because I was being asked to do something difficult, but because I hadn’t been included in the problem solving. I had been reduced from a colleague to a serf. Because I hadn’t been included, all of my time in the classroom, with the students, and all of my expertise had been dismissed. Even with the best of intentions, the impact was very real.
As a leader, if you want your staff to exhibit collaboration, you have to be willing to show it. If you want your staff to follow difficult decisions, you have to be willing to include them in the process. If you want your staff to trust you, you have to show that you trust them too.
The day of top-down leadership is dead.