Monday, May 31, 2010

In the Trenches Part II

I regularly read Bob Sutton's blog called "Work Matters". Bob is a business professor at Stanford and I love what he has to say about leadership and the workplace. He created the following list of twelve things that good bosses believe and bad bosses ignore.
  1. I have a flawed and incomplete understanding of what it feels like to work for me.
  2. My success — and that of my people — depends largely on being the master of obvious and mundane things, not on magical, obscure, or breakthrough ideas or methods.
  3. Having ambitious and well-defined goals is important, but it is useless to think about them much. My job is to focus on the small wins that enable my people to make a little progress every day.
  4. One of the most important, and most difficult, parts of my job is to strike the delicate balance between being too assertive and not assertive enough.
  5. My job is to serve as a human shield, to protect my people from external intrusions, distractions, and idiocy of every stripe — and to avoid imposing my own idiocy on them as well.
  6. I strive to be confident enough to convince people that I am in charge, but humble enough to realize that I am often going to be wrong.
  7. I aim to fight as if I am right, and listen as if I am wrong — and to teach my people to do the same thing.
  8. One of the best tests of my leadership — and my organization — is "what happens after people make a mistake?"
  9. Innovation is crucial to every team and organization. So my job is to encourage my people to generate and test all kinds of new ideas. But it is also my job to help them kill off all the bad ideas we generate, and most of the good ideas, too.
  10. Bad is stronger than good. It is more important to eliminate the negative than to accentuate the positive.
  11. How I do things is as important as what I do.
  12. Because I wield power over others, I am at great risk of acting like an insensitive jerk — and not realizing it.
It is a powerful list because he has a way of clearing through all of the b.s. that is out there about leadership and distilling what we need to do as bosses and leaders in order to be effective.

I especially like number 2 and 3. Education is rife right now with policy theories and debates, especially in regards to what will make the American education system better. I know the policy world does not work this way, but what if we started to focus on supporting and developing school district leaders and school principals who try to do embody the twelve beliefs above. I don't pretend to embody all twelve myself. Anyone who works for me will tell you that I get some a lot better than others. That is why my focus is on number two and three on the list.

To lead my school well, I need embody both of those ideas. What does that mean? It means that I need to refine my instructional leadership and be a better evaluator, supervisor, and frankly, a better teacher. It means that I can have all of the big ideas I want but if I don't try to create the vision with the staff through thousands of small wins in our actions, the big ideas mean nothing.

I have a habit of trying to escape "the trenches" by getting into the world of ideas too much. This mainly happens through books, blogs, and simply thinking about how great things would be if all of the wonderful ideas in my head just simply became reality. Ideas are important, but without action, they are meaningless. Our school is in the early process of trying to change mid course into an Expeditionary Learning School. Everyone in the school has a slightly different idea of what means and some are much more excited about it than others. For a long time, the idea of an Expeditionary Learning School was simply an idea in my head. Now, it ever so slightly is starting to become a reality. But I am now realizing, in the day to day moment, it loses its power as a big huge goal and idea. Where the power resides is in the day to day actions of individuals at our schools who do something just a little more engaging with their students than they did before, and who expect to be a part of decision making and that their feedback is heard, and who create and recreate community each and every day through our morning meetings and circles. At this moment, that is the idea of Expeditionary Learning for me. I am also learning that it is becoming the idea of Expeditionary Learning for a growing number of our staff.

So to get reestablished back into the trenches and do some real work to make this happen, what am I to do? I need to get better at mastering the day to day workings of my school, be a better evaluator, give better feedback, or just simply give some feedback, and I also need to find ways to root out the negative that gets in the way of our best teachers from trying to implement the vision of Expeditionary Learning. I also need to become a better teacher. I need to do my job as boss, and do it very well, but I also need to become a better teacher, or better put, not forget that a large aspect of my job is teacher.

So yes, this "in the trenches" thing does not appear to be going away anywhere. I guess it is just my state of mind in this moment of my life. It is simply my way to validate what I do, and choose to do every work day morning (and many weekend ones as well). The trench work of helping to lead a school and hopefully help to make it just a little bit better every day and every year that I am there. And believe me, there is a lot of hope in that last statement.

Bob Sutton's list has so much meaning to me because he gets it. It is the thousand of little things I do or not do as a leader that makes the difference to the people I work with and the students they touch. I expect there will be more ruminations on Bob's work in the coming weeks if I find time.