Lately, I’ve been thinking a great deal about how some leaders exhibit an extraordinary strength in setting the vision, creating ideas, etc. yet struggle greatly with the actual execution of those ideas. Others aren’t the best at creating a vision or coming up with an idea, but given a directive and task to complete and see through, they have a strong ability to execute as directed. I’m left with this intellectual dilemma: Why is that some leaders are good at creating ideas, yet struggle with execution or vice versa?, and How is it that some leaders are great at both?
I’ve seen a great deal of leaders who view themselves as task masters, managers of the work, accountability officers, etc. Their concept of leadership is one that meets the age-old adage, “Someone has to be in charge”. They see their job as one in which they assign tasks, delegate responsibility, and hold others accountable for getting the job done or the execution of those tasks. Others however, conceptualize leadership in a much broader and abstract way. They view themselves as the person who creates conditions to allow others to come up with their best ideas and execute them, to set a vision for what the organization or their department could be, to be forward thinking and innovative, anticipating how to make the organization future-focused and driven by what is to come instead of maintaining what has always been.
As I continue to study great leaders and think about what makes a great leader, I can’t help but think about this tension between project management and innovation in the education realm, specifically, in educational leadership. The value of being a visionary in the business world seems far more acceptable and expected. Those innovators and visionaries who are seeking to anticipate what the future looks like in education and working to design their districts, schools, and classrooms in a way that readies students and staff for what they believe is on the horizon aren’t always received well. What is known as innovation in the business sense becomes a disruption in the education sense. Why is this?
In Clayton Christensen’s book, Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns, he notes: “Motivation is the catalyzing ingredient for every successful innovation. The same is true for learning.” This leads me to ask, what has traditionally served as the motivation for educational leaders and what is the critical ingredient that motivates them now? Is it personalization of learning for every student? Is it having high test scores? Is it being able to quantify efforts by taking on multiple initiatives? I can’t help but wonder if we have somehow dismissed the importance of the need for educational leaders to also be innovative. By calling innovation disruption, we’ve almost perpetuated a rebel mentality. That is, those in education who go against the grain, who push for something different, are often seen as disrupters rather than innovators. They are often victims of being seen as overachievers, not fitting in, or just plain causing trouble.
Here’s what we know all too well. Educational leadership is far more complex than project and task management. It’s more than the ability to delegate and hold others accountable. The future of this field belongs to those who are willing to take incredible risks, to do things differently because they have the potential to be more effective or efficient, to innovate, not disrupt.
Innovators have both skill sets. They bring ideas and a vision to the table along with the ability to execute. They are future focused, yet utilize the best and worst lessons of the past to drive their efforts. What are the implications of this for educational leadership preparation programs? Is there an opportunity to prepare leaders as forward thinkers paired with the traditional management approach and coursework? If we want educational leaders who prepare students to be innovative collaborators who can compete in a knowledge economy and global society, they will need leaders who can do the same.
Until next time-be you, be true, be a hope builder!