Category: Leadership (page 2 of 4)

Collaboration, perception, and context.

a Zed and two Noughts

One thing you can never really know is how people perceive you. This is especially true at a distance with people you’ve never met face-to-face. Whether face-to-face or at a distance, however, each situation depends heavily upon the ‘history’ you share with others. There are only a few people, for example, that I’ve known online since 2004 (when I started teaching) that I haven’t met face-to-face. Context changes things.

As I explained in On the glorious weirdness of connecting with people online (2009) I’m careful about the impression I give to people when meeting them for the first time. This first impression is often the one that lasts, or at least colours all future interactions. It’s been interesting, for example, to see how people I’ve known for years have reacted to my co-kickstarting the Purpos/ed debate (overwhelmingly positive) compared to the reactions of a small minority who have assumed that it’s some sort of Ponzi scheme.

The differing reactions, of course, demonstrate that at least some people think I’ve got form in collaborative and co-operative ventures:

2004 – Set up a Grouper-powered network to help members of the Schoolhistory.co.uk forum share educational resources.

2006 – Demise of Grouper led to establishment of HistoryShareForum.com.

2007 – Inspired by EdTechTalk, started EdTechRoundUp to enable UK-focused weekly discussion and debate of issues relating to educational technology.

2008 – Created elearnr.org to host guides relating to social media and educational technology.

2009 – Started a Twitter hashtag called #movemeon to provide advice for newly-qualified teachers (now collated into a book!). Shared strategy and plans relating to Director of E-Learning position, spurring others to do likewise.

2011 – Co-kickstarted Purpos/ed with Andy Stewart to provide a non-partisan, location-independent platform for discussion and debate about the purpose(s) of education.

I’m not being disingenuous when I say that over-and-above an income that provides for my family I’m not particularly interested in money. It’s a means to an end. What I am interested in is connecting and collaborating with people, attempting to inspire them, and working to make the world a little better than I found it.

Purpos/edThere’s a lot of cynicism, jockeying and false promising in western societies. My aim for Purpos/ed (and any future projects I help establish) is to provide something of an antidote to this world-weariness I see around me. It’s taken me a while, but I’ve finally realised: you don’t have to ask permission to be the change you want to see in the world.

If you feel likewise, and have an interest in education, why not come along to the Purpos/ed Summit for Instigators on 30th April in Sheffield? We’re trying to make the world a better place by debate and discussion leading to action. Why not join us?

Image CC BY-NC-SA Naccarato

The perils of shiny shiny educational technology.

New, free and shiny technologies are like catnip to educators. An almost-tangible frisson of excitement cascades through Twitter, Facebook and subsequently staff rooms and TeachMeets in the hours, days and months following announcements of such products and services.

Puentadura' SAMR model

(click image for explanatory presentation)

But.

  1. Is there a business model behind the technology? (OSS counts!)
  2. Can it be used in a transformative way?

Style is not substance.

I’ve certainly been guilty of using things in the classroom mainly because they look good. And that’s fine, so long as you realise at which end of the hierarchy you’re working. Sometimes you need a bit of the shiny.

Johannes Ahrenfelt in Teaching: The Unthinking Profession nails it:

Teachers want ‘stuff’ they can take away and use tomorrow. While I always show how the theory works in practice, it never seems to have the same impact as CPD with titles like ’10 engaging starters’ or ’7 great discussion tools’… The ‘quick fix’ is just that and somewhere down the line a proper solution needs to be found.

If I had to go back and re-teach 2003-10 again, I’d do so taking into account the sage advice of “more haste, less speed”. It’s the considered and sustainable use of technologies that make a difference.

This post isn’t a dig at teachers; it’s a broadside at senior leaders. They, after all, create the parameters within which teachers operate. If you’re pressured into using technology at the level of substitution it’s effectively akin to using a pen instead of a pencil. Something to merely mention in passing, not something to write home about.

Considered use and reflection upon the use of educational technology can be found. Start at edjournal.co.uk and start asking of each new edtech tool you come across: so what?

Do you remember the first time?

Introduction

A few years ago, someone I know (whom I respect too much to identify) started a new job. This person has a slightly unusual name and, as is often the case in these situations, new colleagues had seen their name before meeting them. Understandably, the first colleague who spoke to them pronounced the name incorrectly. This was a decisive moment.

Ever since that time the person has been called by a mispronounced name – and not just by the first colleague, but by most of those on the team. Why? Because that first person introduced them to the rest of their colleagues, mispronouncing it, and so on. They were not corrected. The error became progressively more difficult to rectify, until they just learned to live with it.

How sad.

It’s important to set your stall out from the start: instead of easing into something, you should be looking to hit the ground running and make a difference from Day One. Preparation is key. Just as good teachers know that it’s the connections between learning activities that are often most important, so with any new situation it’s not only how you act but how you react that matters.

This, of course, is especially important to new leaders. Your first actions and communications set the tone for the rest of your time as leader in that organization. Get them right first time.

Image CC BY-NC Larah McElroy

Use is not strategy.

Using social media doesn’t make you a guru. Having attended a school doesn’t qualify you to speak on education policy. Working in an organisation doesn’t make you a business leader.

Strategy, not of the crystal-ball-gazing or guessing variety, but of the values-based, focused, considered type, is what separates good from great.

Too many bricks, not enough mortar.

bricks

A couple of years ago I was going to set up my own business. I got my website sorted out, business cards printed, but then… nothing happened. I’d concentrated on style over substance.

It’s not bricks that hold a house together, it’s the mortar.* Otherwise, it’s a pile of bricks. There seems to be an assumption that if you’re given a bunch of money or are part of a new organization, then you need to create something from scratch. Instead of focusing on connecting people and adding value, there’s thrashing about creating a new community, a new website, new artefacts. Let’s create more bricks!

Right now, more than ever, it’s mortar time. It’s time to stick the bricks together to build something.

Get busy!

Image CC BY-NC-SA lovestruck.

* Granted, there’s lots of examples of dry stone walls in Northumberland (where I live). But that takes a lot of organization, co-ordination and centralised re-shaping of existing organizations. Work with me… :-p

5 characteristics of successful organisations

I tried recently to count the number of organisations of which I’ve been part over the years. I attempted to list everything from junior football teams through to my current employers. I began to lose count.

We’re part of many organisations in both our working and personal lives. I began to wonder how many of the organisations to which I’ve belonged would be considered successful. This then led me to consider what I meant by ‘success’…

What follows is a list of five characteristics I believe to be common to every successful organisation.

By ‘successful’ I mean demonstrably achieved what the organisation was set up to do. For a swimming club that’s teaching people to swim, being successful in galas, and training-up lifeguards. For schools it’s not only achieving good value-added but striking an achievable work-life balance for staff and preparing young people for the wider world.

Each of the following is additive: an organisation needs to get the first one sorted before moving onto the next. Skipping straight to 5 is a waste of time if 1-4 aren’t in place!

1. Story

Every successful organisation needs a story. Often this is the mission statement based on the founders’ wishes. An independent school often has a strong story and a proud history which is often reflected both in the events calendar and positions within the staff and student body. A business that sells a product might have a story on how the company was founded or the ‘lightbulb moment’ – such as the Dyson story that’s printed on the side of all Dyson vacuum cleaner boxes.

The story not only lends the organisation legitimacy, but gives its members a common shared interest and direction in which to point. It sets the parameters, the tone. Sometimes the story is summed up in the organisation’s slogan, such as Google’s ‘Don’t be evil’ and Nike’s ‘Just Do It’.

More than anything, the story tells the world why the organisation exists. And that’s an important thing to communicate, especially in these testing times.

2. Call to action

Every organisation needs a story, a mission, a raison d’être. But it also needs a call to action – a reason why people should care – or, perhaps more importantly, a reason why people should join in.

A church, for example, is unlikely to get new members by providing bland, inoffensive services that allow people to forget the main messages soon afterwards. Public bodies such as the National Health Service need to not only go through the motions to improve the nation’s health but capture the public’s imagination and give them a reason to change their habits.

The call to action is difficult, especially if it requires demonstrable change in lifestyle or belief system. And, of course, the most successful organisations are the ones that maximise (and capitalise) upon these changes.

3. Growth mindsets

It’s fully possible to have a successful organisation without charismatic leaders. But I’ve yet to come across a successful organisation without leaders who have growth mindsets. Carol Dweck’s work has revolutionised not only my approach to education and business, but interactions with my son:

According to Dweck, individuals can be placed on a continuum according to their implicit views of where ability comes from. Some believe their success is based on innate ability; these are said to have a “fixed” theory of intelligence. Others, who believe their success is based on hard work and learning, are said to have a “growth” or an “incremental” theory of intelligence… Fixed-mindset individuals dread failure because it is a negative statement on their basic abilities, while growth mindset individuals don’t mind failure as much because they realize their performance can be improved. Dweck argues that the growth mindset will allow a person to live a less stressful and more successful life. (Wikipedia)

I’m fortunate enough to be surrounded by people with growth mindsets most of the time – at home, at work and online. However, I was recently in a position where I was surrounded by people with fixed mindsets. It was soul-destroying. 🙁

Seek out a growth mindset for yourself and foster it in others for your organisation to be successful and to flourish!

4. Commitment

Once the story, call to action and charismatic leader are in place, commitment should be a fairly easy win for an organisation. Give staff a reason to work their socks off and give all they can to the organisation and the organisation will reap dividends.

The example often cited is Google. Having recently been to their London headquarters I saw some of what has been written in action. I saw happy, motivated staff working past 9pm on a weekday night, the legendary free food, micro-kitchens and off-the-wall accessories. I didn’t ‘see’ the 20% time that Google staff are given to work on their own projects, but it’s a well-known fact that many of their most innovative offerings were borne from this.

As a leader, I’d much rather have one person giving 100% than two people giving 50%. Not only because it’s cheaper, but it creates a palpable ‘buzz’ around the place. It energises other people. Create a culture of commitment and people not only thrive but flourish.

5. Workflows

You can have the story sorted, a call to action prepared, the leaders with growth mindsets in place, and committed staff, but still fail to have a successful organisation. Why? Friction.

Friction occurs where there are bottlenecks, frustrations and indecisiveness. These almost always are the result of poor workflows. A workflow is merely a way of doing something. I can remember one school at which I work, a high-achieving specialist school. I remember being surprised at the number of flow charts in the staff room, up on the walls in classrooms and reproduced in the staff handbook. At first, this felt quite constraining. “Is this the only way we’re allowed to do things around here?”, I thought.

But then it dawned on me that effective workflows freed up people in that school to be creative, to focus on more important things, such as learning, their life outside school and adding value to the lives of young people. In other words, it allowed staff to achieve the mission of the school and be part of a successful organisation.

Workflows are crucial to the running of any organisation. At our most recent planning meeting, we mapped our current and future workflows. It was an interesting and enlightening experience. I can honestly say we’re becoming more efficient, more aware and, yes, more successful as a result.

Conclusion

The above constitutes my overview of what I believe organisations – both educational and otherwise – need to work on to become successful. I’d be very interested to hear whether you agree. What would you add? What would you remove? What would you change? 🙂

Image CC BY Taro Taylor

Why I’m not the Wizard of Oz

I’ve learned many important things in my life, but 2 broad truisms in particular are pertinent to this post:

  1. The more confident and able a person is in a given area, the more they’re willing to share.
  2. People learn at least as much from the process as they do from the end result.

So what’s the Wizard of Oz got to do with this?

  • The Wizard tried to look more scary and powerful than he actually was.
  • Behind the scenes tends to be fairly straightforward, given some pointers.
  • Working in isolation on something (or to maintain something) big is often unsustainable.

This is why I like to share both my outputs and the thinking behind them – as well as the half-finished, sometimes muddled, resources created along the way!

To that end I’m delighted to introduce http://onthehorizon.pbworks.com, a space I’m trialling on behalf of JISC Advance. You can find some of stuff I’m able to share as part of the mobile and wireless review I’m doing for JISC. 🙂

Leadership by Design.

It is perhaps a statement of the obvious, but worth emphasizing, that the forms or structures of the immediate world we inhabit are overwhelmingly the outcome of human design. They are not inevitable or immutable and are open to examination and discussion. (p.5)

I’m reading John Heskett’s excellent Design: A Very Short Introduction at the moment. As regular readers will know, I’m very interested in infographics and visualizations; with a background in Philosophy and History I’m also interested in design at a more fundamental and basic level.

As with all well-explained and written books, the author ruminates on things that range across various disciplines. From the opening quotation, Heskett continues:

Whether executed well or badly (on whatever basis this is judged,) designs are not determined by technological processes, social structures, or economic systems, or any other objective source. They result from the decisions and choices of human beings. (p.5)

There’s actually some leadership lessons in there, with more throughout the book. For example, Heskett explains how the French initially became renowned for design:

In the early seventeenth century, the French monarchy used privileged status and luxurious facilities to attract the finest craftsmen to Paris in order to establish international dominance in the production and trade of luxury goods. Laws were introduced to promote exports and restrict imports. (p.16, my emphasis)

Heskett later explains how it’s difficult to be innovative and creative in large organizations because of the levels of bureaucracy involved:

Tacit, subjective approaches may be appropriate for small-scale products… In contrast with large-scale products involving complex questions of technology and the organization of interactions on many levels, personal intuition is unlikely to be capable of handling all necessary aspects. In such projects, rational, structured methodologies can ensure the full dimensions of projects are understood as a platform for creative solutions on the level of detailed execution.

Heskett gives the example of the well-known (and expensive) Aeron chair by Herman Miller. This not only involves creative flair, but technical and ergonomic research and synthesis beyond the level of the individual.

I’ve not finished Design: A Very Short Introduction yet, but (as with the others in the series) at £5 it’s an absolute steal. To summarize, the 3 leadership lessons I’ve learned from it already:

  1. Almost everything is the product of deliberate human interaction, thought and planning.
  2. Rewarding and/or legislating for behaviours and outputs you want is a fast track to success.
  3. Bureaucracy is a necessary evil in large organizations – but you can use it to your advantage through agile processes and effective project management.

I’ll post again when I’ve finished if there’s anything else that strikes me. Recommended! 😀

#newleaders is #movemeon for… guess who?

I know I usually post about design and infographics on Saturdays, but this is a time-delimited thing that I need to get people involved with ASAP!

Remember #movemeon, the crowdsourced book with tips for teachers that was such a success last year? Well, there’s a new one for leaders, being headed-up by @tombarrett and @stuartridout. The aim is similar – to create a book that collects wisdom for leaders new to their position.

You can contribute simply by including the hashtag #newleaders in a tweet. They are collated at:

http://twapperkeeper.com/hashtag/newleaders

Leadership by smiling.

Smiling

Image BY-NC-SA .margotta. @ Flickr

It’s obvious, clichéd, and can be annoying, but as the saying goes ‘smile and the world smiles with you.’ It’s especially important for leaders to be upbeat and positive as they set the tone for the rest of their organization. Like it or not, you get a lot of your cues from your line manager. If they’re apprehensive about the organization’s future, this will transfer itself to you. Likewise, you should think carefully about the body language and words that you use with those whom you lead. 😀

Smiling is powerful. It disarms situations and produces an almost primal reaction in other people. In other words, smiling is infectious. Thos visiting your organization notice this and it makes them happy. They then think good things about your organization and talk in such terms to others. This leads to your organization having a good reputation.

The other powerful thing about smiling a lot is the power that not smiling then gives. The simple act of stopping smiling, even for a minute or two, lends gravitas and import to a situation. This works as well in the classroom as it does in the boardroom.

Finally, others are drawn to those who smile, making it easier to (as Seth Godin would put it) form your ‘tribe’. It’s easier to influence people – rather than instruct people – when they feel positive around you.

So smile! Be known and come across as a happy, (somewhat) carefree person who can be serious when it matters. Much better that than be known as a miserable workaholic whom it’s best to avoid… 🙂

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