Friday, May 13, 2011

Servant Leadership instead of Leading the Servile

I am, how shall I say, fairly close to this situation.  It seems we read about this kind of thing a lot.  At least a couple of districts nearby are having issues of similar sorts in which people are unhappy with the administration.  I believe this stems from a failure of leadership, which derives from the fact that leaders too often think they're drivers, instead of servants.

What we need is more servant leadership.  In education we are always talking about stakeholders--the individuals who have roles, responsibilities and needs, to be met or undertaken in and through the organization.  In the case of schools, the first stakeholders are the students (and, by proxy, their parents).  Everything we do is supposed to be in service to the goals and needs of those families.  

Now, of course, teachers and administrators have a certain set of 'needs,' too, but the only one that really seems relevant is the need to have reasonable working conditions and expectations.  

But all too often, especially with new administrations, it seems like folks think they have something more at stake.  As if they have a bigger stake than they do.  A new superintendent, say, comes in with a lot of big ideas about the best way to do things, and wants to make things work well on his/her watch, to either validate the wisdom of his/her leadership, or show worthiness for even greater leadership responsibility, or both.

The needs of the primary stakeholders may or may not be well-served by this reordering of an administration's priorities, and you might end up with an inversion of the right orientation to the organization's work.

Think of the very opposite of a new administration 'brining in all its own new people,' as so many seem to do.  Why couldn't an administration say to parents, "You chair the committee, along with teachers (the next up the line from students and parents), to pick the new principal.  It's my job as administrator to serve that new principal (by providing guidance, help, support, resources, etc.) succeed in service to you.  Since I am to be his/her servant-leader, I can work with whomever you pick."

I am not saying you'll get a better principal, necessarily, but I do wonder why we assume such a route is to be rejected out of hand, and instead continue to accept that trusting oneself is somehow superior to and more reliable than working with others in a trustworthy way.

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