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Monday, May 20, 2013

McDonald's For Lunch

Michael Fullan says that effective leaders rely less on a strategy and more on being strategic.  Strategy is  usually a program or a plan that people need to follow in order to achieve the desired change.  There are many reasons why this approach fails:

  • It is a one size fits all and every school is unique with a different set of strengths and a different culture.
  • It can imply that what happened or is happening is somehow deficient.  It can be veiled criticism implying blame.
  • It usually does the thinking for people who like to think of themselves as good thinkers.
  • It comes ready made and people like to being involved in the making of things.
  • It becomes an easy target for people to block or passively resist.
  • It is usually a solution to a problem and not connected to reaching for a goal or principle.
Being strategic means taking into the account the change process and recognizing why people are often resistant to change.  It means looking at what is already working in a school and the strengths that are unique to that school and then finding a way to build on the positive.  It means tying all proposed changes to the core mission of the school, tapping into the original moral purpose of people.  It means letting the people involved with the change be active in determining the plan of action.  

One of the hardest things a leader has to do is leading without controlling.  Too often people in leadership positions think that because they are the leaders  they are in charge and that they know more than the people they lead.  Leaders don't know more but they have the responsibility to tap into and mobilize the collected knowledge and skills of the people they lead.  To do this they need to be strategic: knowing what will connect with the hearts and minds of the people they lead and creating the right conditions for people to work together to shape the type of school they want and need to have.  

Here is an example of being strategic: proposing McDonald's for lunch.  This might sound strange but my son shared an article he read about change and it mentioned this phenomenon.  Imagine a group of people sitting around trying to determine where they should go for lunch.  No one wants to step forward and make a suggestion for fear of being shot down, criticized or thought of as being too assertive.  Someone throws out the idea of going to McDonald's.  Suddenly the silent group become united in saying that McDonald's wasn't the greatest idea.  People go from being out on a limb (vulnerable) to being in a one up position of coming up with an idea that might not be the greatest but at least it is greater than the McDonald's idea.  After a while several people throw out ideas and finally the best one emerges very often without one person being able to claim credit.  The group just needed to get kick started and once the process got going the best solution emerged from the discussion.

Whoever threw out the McDonald's idea needed to be pretty secure.  The person who threw out that idea was being strategic.  The person knew the group probably had some good ideas but were reluctant to go first and risk criticism.  A good leader is not concerned with getting credit. I doubt people would point to the person who suggested McDonald's as being the one who ultimately was responsible to going to a good place for lunch.  That person was a leader who sacrificed his/her ego for the greater good.

A good leader knows what conditions are needed for people to become leaders themselves.  A good leader has a great deal of trust in the people in the organization.  A good leader gets the ball rolling in the right direction and believes that ultimately change must be owned by the people who need to change. 
Don't forget that the people there already were hungry and lunch was a common goal for all of them.  If a leader suggested McDonald's for lunch and it wasn't lunch time and no one was hungry the whole idea wouldn't work.  A leader has to "read" the group and determine what they are ready to hear and know what their needs are.  Trying to convince people to eat when they aren't hungry just doesn't work-never has and never will.  I wish our policy makers at least knew that little piece of common sense when it came to getting people to change.

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