We lead because we have a passion for our work. But leading in a complex system can get confusing, overwhelming, and discouraging sometimes. Rather than resort to seductively easy ways to manage there are times we can choose to truly lead, capture people's hearts, and reignite passion!
I guest-teach in an intervention class twice a week and my partner always tells the students: "You can choose the behavior, but what you cannot choose is the consequences of that behavior." This absolutely applies to leaders as well. In school improvement, decision-making that results in change is very challenging to execute. Plus, that challenge is compounded by the sheer number of decisions that we must make every day.
Understandably, sometimes we aren't making the most growth-minded choices. After all, we still have to get the work done! Leaders often have to make strategic choices in managing and leading because decisions need to be made, deadlines met, and students placed in classes. At the same time, it is important to know the consequences of those choices. If leaders are hyper-aware of the likely consequences of their decisions, then a fixed-minded choice can be turned in to a growth minded one at a later date, upon reflection, and with a cooler head.
What are fixed- and growth-minded leadership choices?
First, let's consider a scenario that a site leader might face. A department or team at a school is refusing to participate in the site-wide efforts of common curricular pacing guides and is even exhibiting subordinate behavior in the form of walk-outs during staff meetings and site-wide emails challenging this school-wide focus. What's an effective leader to do?
Some choices are decidedly not growth-minded: I see leaders every day making decisions that are punishing, isolating, or which show a serious doubt about their organization's efficacy.
In the Punishing Choice, a leader might exclude the department or individuals. Staff meetings and leadership meetings continue in their absence. Administrators may or may not expect the staff members to meet on their own.
Other ways leaders may punish might look like this:
- Severe disciplining of people
- Excluding or ignoring (like silent treatment)
- Being angry, yelling, making mean faces
The Punishing Choice reflects an over reliance on "carrots and sticks" to manage staff. This technique does not work for long, though it provides an immediate and clear consequence. Over time, this will not create buy-in and is merely a way to rule with fear or intimidation. People who are scared are not motivated, not innovative, and will not take responsible risks to improve and grow.
In the Low Efficacy Choice, the leader might send an administrator to each department or team meeting. Administration might set the agenda for the teams and facilitate the pacing guide work.
Other ways leaders might show they believe that the team has low efficacy are:
- Doing the work for the team
- Making big decisions and writing goals for the team
- Micromanaging and dictating to the team
- Ignoring the value of buy-in
The Low Efficacy Choice reflects a Fixed Mindset, doing the work for a weak team because we doubt they can make a good decision; we doubt that they have the knowledge and skills to perform, and we doubt they can grow.
In the Isolating Choice, the leader might offer stipends and/or release time to individuals who are willing to do the work and have them communicate it and share with the team.
Isolating staff might also look like this:
- The work gets done...by a few people.
- Maintaining "carrots and sticks" becomes problematic. At some point it is difficult or impossible to pay people enough to take on the extra work.
- The likelihood of 'buy-in' from the rest of the team is doubtful.
The Isolating Choice only cultivates a few team members, who will eventually feel put upon and grow tired of being responsible for the whole team. Eventually their motivation is depleted when they feel they are the only keepers of the vision and the work.
Some choices do not cultivate growth, but they may preserve relationships for another day. One example of this is the Neutral Choice. In the Neutral Choice, a leader might ignore the team and press on, focusing on the teams that are on board.
A Neutral response might also look like this:
- The leader strategically parcels out his/her time, focus, and energy ("I am not going to worry about them right now.").
- The school achieves no progress in that area
- The leader may lose the trust of some staff members
- The leader may make the team feel as if they don't matter
- The leader may preserve relationships to address the situation at a later time
The Neutral Choice shows a decision for strategic abandonment - using your energies elsewhere when it looks like a losing battle. This choice offers the most options for the future when a leader is unable to "do it all." However, some staff members might feel unsupported. Either the ignored staff might wish they had gotten a reaction from their leader, or the staff who is on board might be concerned that it isn't fair for some staff to be held accountable and some not.
In the Growth-Minded Choice, a leader would go back to the beginning with the team, getting to the core of 'why' we have this site-wide effort and 'how' the site determined this focus. The leader would ask the staff to reflect together and ask what it would take for them to be able to commit to the work.
A Growth-Minded Choice comes from a belief that those we lead can be motivated to improve and grow their practices. This choice usually involves including many stakeholders in decision-making, over-communicating the vision, mission, and goals, building shared values, and providing specific, targeted, timely feedback.
A Growth-Minded Choice might result in this:
- Validates and addresses staffs fears and barriers
- Communicates the vision explicitly
- Provides support to those who lack knowledge or skills
- Creates an opportunity to share research and information
- Allows everyone access to growth opportunities
- Shares the work load among all staff
The Growth-Minded Choice might take more time out of one's day, more time to get things done, and more time to learn to do. Honestly, though, ALL WE HAVE IS TIME. Unless you are on the brink of retirement, time is actually your friend. Slowing down to make the growth minded choice will surprise you. The truth is that this choice eventually snowballs into true culture change.
My advice: slow down, consider the consequences of our leadership choices, and watch our organizations grow.
You can contact Emily for more growth mindset conversations on Twitter @EmilyADiehl or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org