Sunday, 27 July 2014

Authentic leadership in education

Authentic leadership for me is about integrity... doing what is right even when no-one is looking, it is about having your ethical antennae up at all times, it is about relationships and it is about people.


To lead authentically in education I think there are two key places the leader needs to focus their energy. Firstly and most importantly is the learner. Trevor Grice, the founder director of Life Education Trust NZ, often quoted that with all decisions we needed to ask ourselves one question "will this make a difference for our children?" It makes decision making a whole lot more simple. If it is going to make a positive difference, especially a significant one, then that would suggest it is a path worth pursuing, if not then don't go there.

The second area of focus needs to be the people you have in your team. In schools these are your teachers and support staff. If you don't have them working as well as they can then the learners suffer.


Now if we want our team to work as well as they can for the learners in our care then we need to be clear about expectations and these need to relate to making positive differences for our learners. I am not talking statistics here necessarily, sometimes we get too focused on numbers and forget the stories and the people that sit behind them. What I am talking about is the range of differences that could occur from fulfilling these expectations, and these may be social, academic, well-being, spiritual, physical etc.

We need to review the expectations regularly and ask ourselves, are they still appropriate? Do they reflect the needs of our learners today and in the future? And don't forget to ask ourselves if the language is appropriate. Once we have agreed on these expectations then we need to reinforce these valued outcomes by living them, promoting them, sharing the good news stories relating to them and whatever else we can to help them stay alive in our community.

I am sure many of you have heard theories around an individual or group usually aiming for the expectations that are held for them, meaning if you don't expect much of me then it is likely that I will not aspire to do much more than you expect. This is a generalisation of course but is interesting when we relate it to the workplace. We need to reflect on whether the expectations we have for individuals meet the wider expectations we have established.

Managing poor performance

If you have an underperforming staff member, and there are staff like that, then first you need to review the expectations you have around that person... do you expect them to fail? If so then it could be that they are living up to your expectations, which aren't particularly high. So you raise the bar.

There are many ways to raise the bar but ultimately we have two outcomes, they either improve or not. Some of this rests with the approach taken and this for me is where authentic leadership really comes in to play. It is suggested that people fail in the workplace for some major reasons; they need more training, this workplace is not the right fit for them or the job itself is just not the right one for them (aside from other circumstantial and motivational reasons of course). As an authentic leader how we have a conversation around expectations is vital, if the outcome is going to be one where the individual is left with their dignity as intact as possible then you need to be really mindful about how you construct this. For me it all hinges on relationships, finding a place and space where it is comfortable for them to have a conversation with you.

To be able to address the underperformance in relation to expectations that make a difference for our learners is important. To listen to the human being you are talking to and hear them is vital. I don't believe for a second this is easy at all, as a leader it can make you feel vulnerable especially when you are dealing with vulnerability in another person at the same time. That being said I don't think it is an excuse to hide behind procedure or process and forget the impact we are making on another human being. In the ideal world the other party leaves feeling heard and comfortable with the decision going forward, if they are in the wrong workplace or wrong profession they have had the opportunity to talk things through and understand it for themselves. If they are in the right place or profession but need to improve, again it has been discussed and they are now able to move forward knowing the expectations and that their leader is behind them in their development... both of these outcomes are positive for all parties and ultimately the learners benefit which is our primary focus.

Of course this isn't always the outcome despite our best efforts. We cannot control how another person will think or feel, we can only offer them the best opportunity to engage in professionally led dialogue for improvement.

Sometimes we will be faced with ethical dilemmas and the decisions we have to make are not going to be easy but we do have opportunities to do things as right as possible, and when given that chance I say go for the authentic leadership path!

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