Leading the why through the how

Working in two separate schools this week led me to pondering how leaders find a balance between the “why” and the “how”.  It is great to have a vision but the real challenge is often bringing the vision into fruition.

Earlier in the week I was working with a senior leadership team around their approach to appraisal. This is a school who feel comfortable with their rationale and processes but want to focus on improving what they currently do and build teaching as inquiry into appraisal across the school.

We spent some time discussing the big ideas of appraisal, especially a focus on teachers leading their appraisal process and seeing it through an evaluative lens. Once happy with the why of good quality appraisal we moved onto the how. Interestingly this is what teachers had sought clarification around. Those who wanted this clarity didn’t express a desire to know the why but we’re feeling a tad anxious about the appraisal process in light of some big changes going on in the school.

At this point, I suggested that we use Simon Sinek’s Golden circles. I love these as a visual, structured brainstorm to be really sure that the vision is robust (the why), key principles guide the process (the how), and that the practices (the what) enable the vision to be enacted. 

  
I love this quote from Sinek’s Ted talk (viewed over 26 million times)

“Leaders hold a position of power or authority, but those who lead inspire us. Whether they’re individuals or organizations, we follow those who lead, not because we have to, but because we want to. We follow those who lead, not for them, but for ourselves. And it’s those who start with “why” that have the ability to inspire those around them or find others who inspire them.”

Each member of SLT worked on theirs alone at first and then we shared to clarify a shared vision. Both the principal and the DPs commented that this approach was really useful to test the why. There was a little confusion between the what and the how (or the how and the what) but we nutted these out together while discussing and sharing.

Once the why was agreed upon, and tested (albeit in a small way) it allowed the opportunity to take it to the HODs and continue to develop the how and what.

In another school later on in the week. I was involved in a discussion with some teachers. We were talking about the nature of the PLD contract, how it may be personalised for them, and what was “on top” for them in their practice. Overwhelmingly it was enacting the vision of the school – how to bring the why to life and see the future direction of the school play out.

Having the why is only the start. I have the pleasure of going to many schools through my work as an educational consultant. As I wait in school receptions, I peruse the walls of the public space. What is the mission statement, the vision for the school, the motto (in English, Latin, or Maori)? Is it visible? Who is the vision/motto coverings? Who may be left out? I always use this information as an anchor to place the work that I do with schools. 

The harder part of leading is connecting the why and how. We can be inspired by someone, their ideas, the vision that they have for the direction of an organisation but if there insufficient support for people to go on that journey with the leaders, is it too pie in the sky? Maybe this tension is the real challenge of leadership – how you might support others to share the why and build the how together. 

Further exploration:

https://www.startwithwhy.com

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