Sunday, August 22, 2010

Leadership Thoughts from Netflix

Reading Dan Pink's blog this morning, and then looking at the Netflix slide deck shared on the blog, got me thinking about a question posed to me a month ago in a school leadership class at the University of Virginia that I was visiting as a practioner. A student in the class asked me a classic question, "when trying to turn around low performing schools, what works better, the carrot or the stick?" Since I don't come to visit graduate level classes very often, I stumbled around for a while before answering, "neither". I know, I was not very impressed with that answer either.

So in typical fashion for me, that question has been stewing around for quite a while with the thought of trying to blog about it. It took some thoughts from the leadership at Netflix to get me writing this morning. Here are some choice quotes from the slides:

"The best managers figure out how to get great outcomes by setting the appropriate context, rather than by trying to control their people."

When things go wrong, "ask yourself, what context did you fail to set?"

"When you are tempted to control your people, ask yourself, what context you could set instead. Are you articulating and inspiring enough about goals and strategies?"

And finally, "high performance people will do better work if they understand the context."

I love all of these quotes because I think they get at the ideas that truly define leadership. It is about building culture (I word I do use a lot) communally, and about setting context (I word I don't use but will now) or another way of putting it is it is all about framing things for people.

The thing I also love about the quotes/philosophy of Netflix is that it puts the responsibility to respond and reflect on the leader. If things are not going well, how can I communicate better, is a question I typically ask myself. I am not always sure other leaders in education do the same.

There is a lot of "blame the teachers and principals" in the current education policy world and blogosphere. As a principal in a building, I always cringe when I hear other administrators talk badly about teachers in any sort of way. Teachers, any sort of employee or humans in general, are largely creatures of their context.

In my school division, we are in the midst of pre-service time for teachers. It is THE Time to set up context for the staff.

What contexts have we tried to set up a Greer during this time?
  • Shared and distributed leadership
  • Shared focus on instruction
  • An "all out" effort to reach our community
  • Giving people some time to wrestle with our school improvement goals and strategies
We will see over time this year how successful we are with these contexts. I will be able to see through implementation in the classrooms. I will be able to see through carefully looking at feedback loops from both staff and community. And I will have to keep asking myself the tough questions when things do not go well, like, "where did I go wrong in setting the context?"

Here's to a great school year at Greer and schools everywhere!

No comments:

Post a Comment