New Behavior, New Leadership
I will admit up front that I am a big fan of the late business and management guru Peter Drucker. His ideas on decentralization of organizations and his concept of “knowledge workers” first touted in the 1950s and more relevant than ever today are just two among hundreds of ideas I have not only learned by reading and listening to this thoughtful and knowledgeable leader, but also implemented in my work for many years. Of the hundreds of quotes that one can find about this great leadership expert, one of my favorites is this one:
If you want something new, you will have to stop doing something old.
This simple, almost tongue-in-cheek idea, which is classic Drucker (my other favorite quote is “culture eats change for breakfast”) has vast implications for the business of education. Education finds itself on somewhat of a fulcrum. Looking backward has no effect and provides no insight into what the future holds. Much is being written about the need for another great revolution in education, much like the one that occurred during the industrial period. At that point in our society, we needed to re-imagine education, and we did. We now need people with the same tenacity and vision to do that again.
It is no surprise then that we are “back to the future” with regard for the need to rethink how we successfully educate children. I wholeheartedly agree that our industrial curriculum and basic agrarian calendar are no longer the best vehicles in which to deliver a sound education to America’s youngsters. With that said, though, I am struck by all of the educators discussing, tweeting and chatting about the need for innovation, but seem to tinker around the edges almost leery of making the changes necessary to truly catapult education into an acceptable new orbit. As much as educators discuss the need for change, more often than not, the culture pulls them back to what is known and with what they are comfortable.
Just about everyone agrees there is too much testing and that we should inspire more creativity in our classrooms. We should rely on a model of formative and personalized assessment rather than summative assessment, and on and on. How about re-imagining assessment and creating something that simply doesn’t exist at the moment? Crazy? Maybe. But as the late Steve Jobs said: “the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.” I admire those who discuss these items, I just wish we could punch a hole in the shroud that encircles what we do, how we are defined and who we seem to be, or at the very least, how we seem to be perceived.
E-learning, flipped classrooms, one-to-one computing programs and blended learning environments are new ideas, but I suspect will stall miserably and could have the same shelf life as the hundreds of new ideas and initiatives before them. If leaders do not embrace a true entrepreneurial spirit, I fear that these ideas, all good ones by the way, will fall victim to the scourge that is the organizational culture of traditional education which in my mind, is a cycle of doom.
For example, flipped classrooms are an intriguing idea that changes how learning occurs. However, lets expand this idea and couple it with the notion of no Carnegie units, no seat time and no credits. How about the acquisition of competencies only? Really, what is a credit? As a matter of fact, what is a diploma? Suddenly, ideas like flipped classrooms and blended environments take on a new life. In order for this to truly make the change we all seem to desire, it will take ingenuity and remarkable leadership for these 21st Century ideas to take permanent root and truly re-imagine education.
Ideation. Discovery. Ingenuity. Invention.
These may or may not be words contained in the daily lexicon of educational leaders. In conversations with those very same leaders, their days seem more focused on survival than on the process of discovery toward innovation. The stress of mandates, mostly unfunded, from federal, state and local agencies dominates processes in schools, some of which mirror the archaic nature of the industrial curriculum designed over one hundred years ago. A glut of testing, re-testing and one-size-fits-all accountability systems add to the burden of the modern educational leader. It seems that creativity in educational leadership if not already dead, is clearly on life support. Or is it?
Sprinkled amongst educational leaders are those who at the heart and core of their being are true entrepreneurs. They tend to leave most others in the dust with their ability to significantly change organizations and their proven success to lead and guide a large number of people in a seemingly impossible endeavor. Leaders willing to re-imagine the possibilities that exist for schools and districts and as a result re-design systems are far more likely to lead organizations that thrive and move far beyond traditional structures and expected outcomes.
These leaders are both innovative and intuitive and are unconstrained by a past littered with the fear of the consequences for diverting from accepted practice. Rather, they exhibit courage to make whatever changes are necessary to ensure remarkable success. Entrepreneurial leaders relish ambiguity, welcome chaos and by their very nature and excitement for the endless possibilities of the future, ignite a passion in all who work around them. They are rule-breakers, forward thinkers and head cheerleaders for ideas that others seem unimaginable. Most importantly though, entrepreneurial leaders have the courage to embrace failure and all the political trappings that go with it. Entrepreneurial leaders are courageous.
Staring Down the Nemesis
Entrepreneurs at their very core know few boundaries and thrive in an arena of ever-evolving chaos. They understand the processes and systems involved in radical turn-it-upside-down change to engage in continuous forward momentum while their more traditional counterparts live in fear of loosely coupled systems falling apart. Not unlike the Nobel Prize-winning work of Chemist Ilya Prigogine, entrepreneurial leaders understand that systems respond to disorder by reorganizing themselves at higher levels. There is no such beast as the TTWADI syndrome (That’s the way we’ve always done it) in the world of an entrepreneur, only the chaos of endless possibility that can be imagined and re-imagined countless ways in countless designs. The unknown is not a nemesis to be feared but an ally to be valued. A true entrepreneurial leader does not see themself in a position, but rather, understands that leadership is a behavior.
To behave like an entrepreneur is to collect ideas, inspire those around you to try, fail, and try again, and be immune from discourse and rhetoric that seems to consume our days. Education is an entrepreneurial venture or perhaps needs to be. Let’s start treating it as such.