During my so-called free -so-called- period, I was having yet another venting conversation with one of my fellow teachers about how we found the leadership ineffective, how our efforts are being undermined, and how the culture in our organization is negative and sometime toxic.
It was another regular day at school, another draining working day between what I and my fellow teachers perceived as useless paperwork, long hours of correction, planning, meetings, and training programs, and ironically enough less actual teaching. During my free -so called- period, I was having yet another venting conversation with one of my fellow teachers about how we found the leadership ineffective, how our efforts are being undermined, and how the culture in our organization is negative and sometime toxic. We exchanged views on how our creativity as teachers is being suppressed by corporate goals and gains beyond the true meaning of education. Later in that day, my colleague broke the news to me that she got promoted to a lead position in the innovation department. I was thrilled. I really believed she could bring in change until she shared with me her future plans when she starts the position and I quote her; " The first thing I would do is to create a “power distance” between me and the rest of the teachers.".
I can't say I was not shocked, and that statement left me disconnected and, in my mind, I was like “here we go again". However, it stopped me to think and I had to research and find answers to questions that popped in my head.
Do we really need titles to do our job to the best?
Do titles give us that formal authority to have people do what we ask them to do?
Is having a formal authority of some kind the only way to manage the people we work with?
Do we need people in the executive team for us to take ultimate responsibility for our work results?
To what extent can leadership nurture and promote creativity?
Can power distance go hand in hand with innovation?
To answer those questions, then a good start would be is to re-define and correct the huge misconception about leadership being about the executive team steer the people they work with and control their outcome. Simply it is not. Leadership is not about you, and the way you are positioned as the Senior leader who wants the mission to be met and looking good on the way.
That is not leadership. Now let me shed some light on an unsound form of leadership that needs to be avoided if we wish to achieve success for our organization. There are signs to indicate that dangerous form of leadership which is either not efficient or could potentially create resentment among the people working under such leadership, which ultimately could destroy the creative drive in the employees’ attitude. Such form of leadership is often referred to as insecure leadership. You might be wondering how such leadership looks like. It starts with lack of communication or showing no transparency in communication. Insecure leaders feel sharing information explicitly with their employees is a form of empowerment. Not just that, it is a challenge they can't face because they are not ready to empower others as they fear losing their own power.
Insecure leaders see people in their organization as working for them and not with them. They are not interested in helping their people grow. Because investing in making people in their organization smarter, better and quicker thinking is an intimidating idea to the insecure leaders.
Insecure leaders would keep a SAFE distance from their employees and create what is known as a "Power distance", because they could be harboring a fear that their own inadequacies will be discovered. Nevertheless, the idea of creating this distance suggests a gap of communication being brought about to keep employees in the dark about their organization realities. Such leadership form could be a product of mistrust in the leaders’ own abilities and by extension doubt in the abilities of the same people they hired to work with them.
Therefore, and to answer the above questions; the equation is simple and resonates clearly in my head. To my fellow educators, I would say leadership is the act of creating a culture of leaders of every single individual who seeks to develop. Leadership is a creative leadership that is all about increasing the capacities of the people who work within your organization and help them to lead and be an authority in their domain.
Leaders are every single one of us who has the power to bring change during times of uncertainty and show true leadership. You don't need a title to succeed in what you do; you just need to demonstrate leadership and take ownership of the results. You don't need formal authority or high rank to lead others, you just need be part of the process and be involved to make a difference. An organization of any kind resembles a big family, and it is not up to one member or a few to lead to accomplish a goal, it's the responsibility of every single one to lead at his/her level.
To link leadership with education, the future of education relies heavily on how we lead the education towards a brighter state. So yes, if developing your teachers’ skills means that they undergo numerous professional development training programs, so be it. And for the same good reasons, I believe that education leaders/executives should receive similar training programs to be more empathetic leaders who understand teachers’ challenges, strength, struggles. Then collaborate to create a culture of positivity based on transparency. Education executives need to start operating under a transformational model of leadership where everyone 's work is appreciated. Where everyone can show leadership. " We all have an 'inner Leader' inside of us longing to break free." (Sharma, 2010). Teachers are the assets and leaders by nature in our education system, with proper guidance and support, you allow them to shine, influence and inspire others. So, you see, the equation is simple; through creative leadership you shape a better future of education.
Mother Tesresa once said: " If everyone would sweep their own doorstep, the whole world will be clean." if you are an authority in your organization, then step down and invest in the people you work with, but only if you trust that you hired them for the unique skills they have. Only if you See the potential in them and nurture it.
Author: Eman Hamshari Innovation for learning lead/ Design Thinking Facilitator.