New Rule: Be a Peach, Not a Coconut
William Sommers, PhD
There has been a tremendous amount of books and research about leadership. Theory X, Theory Y, Theory Z and everything in between. There are kick butt leaders, spiritual leaders, open leaders, clear leaders, etc. The motivational research by Harlow, Deci, Pink and others indicate knowledge workers (educators specifically) do not do well under the command and control behaviors.
There are times we need command and control e.g. a crisis, budget, legal issues but the most effective style for learning is a collaborator. As Michael Ayers, former 3M leadership trainer said, ‘command and control focused on a job description and the contract.’ Of course, we need contracts, etc. in order to function well and define appropriate boundaries. To focus on learners and performers we need to focus on learning outcomes and the relationships that support the best thinking. Think about it, did you learn better from someone you feared and were afraid to answer when a question was asked? Or, did you learn better from someone you liked or respected and piqued your curiosity?
Over the years I have noticed two styles of leadership emerging. One is the coconut. In schools and district, driven by test scores, being college ready, and content dependent, there is more command and control. We get strong management like a coconut. Hard exterior, a little hairy, some good things just under the surface but a hollow inside. Top down management has meant kissing up and kicking down. Many of the best teachers and some administrators I know have either closed their doors and do great things for kids or become a callous responding reactor.
Consider an alternative leadership model, the Peach. Fuzzy exterior with lots of diversity in schools for kids, colleagues, and community. Succulent, fragrant fruit just under the surface, and a hard center of core values. There is flexibility, but the strong values drive learning. As Stan Slap (2010), Bury My Heart in Conference Room B, writes, values drive behavior. Stan asked two questions; 1) what are your values? And 2) how did you get that value? By asking people how they got their values, amazing amounts of information about a person’s history are shared and understanding of each other excels. People relate on a human level, not just as a job title. I have used this activity with many people I coach and with principals in a PLC.
A further resource on values is Principles by Ray Dalio (2017). Dalio states that radical transparency and radical open-mindedness are a foundation for building a culture of high integrity and trust. We have seen from both sides where information is protected, (not shared) and the results when information is open. The Gallup organization has several questions to identify good places to work. Having access to the information needed to do your job is one of the twelve questions they ask. Gallup several years ago also said that people do not leave organizations but leave managers. I call that “well, duh” research. If you have options, you can leave or search for another position.
Consider most people and organizational problems are fuzzy. Charles Kettering said, and I paraphrase, a problem well defined is half solved. Leaders of today and the future will require asking more and better questions to make sure they solve the right problem. Mitroff (1997) wrote a book called Smart Thinking for Crazy Times. He posits that many times we don’t solve the right problem, therefore, wasting time and resources. One of the causes of this is called Attribution Error. Remember, correlation is not necessarily mean causality.
The fruit is really having a wide repertoire of problem identification, problem-solving strategies, and proper accountability measures that are relative to the issue at hand. Acquiring conflict management strategies, collaboration skills, and creativity are critical in developing leadership skills to lead educators and students to be better able to deal with a future that we really don’t know nor do we understand YET.