in Ways of Working

My Way or the Highway?

In a recent episode of the Design and Play podcast, Dean Pearman and Steve Brophy spoke about the importance of sticking to their core beliefs and values. This means moving on when conflicted. Although this stance is to be applauded, I was left wondering if it were a luxury to actually be able to move on at will? It also had me wondering if perpetuating such a message is missing a trick?

I remember being told by a boss once ‘if you don’t like it here then you can leave’. I respect that, it was his choice and in the end I did leave. My concern though was not necessarily the location, but rather the leadership, the ‘my way or the highway’ mindset.

Maybe I am idealistic or just naive, but a leader cannot directly do the work of change and learning. Instead, they create the conditions for others to prosper. For some, this is putting ticks and balances in place to make sure that everyone is performing. For others it involves the distribution of leadership, development and collective capacity building.

I am always reminded of the story of Geelong Grammar’s adoption of Positive Psychology. It did not involve a few sessions with staff and students, rather it involved all members of school, including those working in administration and maintenance. This was about creating an environment where everyone can flourish.

Another similar program is Leading Teams. At the heart of this is an organisation leading change from the ground on up. This is not because someone above said so, but rather because it was a trademark agreed upon by the people on the ground. This involves trust. I remember Ray McLean recounting early stories of failure required to achieve collective success. However, too often such goal setting sessions become token, ticked off as something done, with people towing the party line, rather than sharing what they truly believe. Here I am reminded of David Culberhouse’s discussion of ‘positive deviance’, where the focus is on identifying the bright spots within an organisation and using their stories and strategies to help drive change.

Don’t get me wrong, everyone leaves in the end. However, wouldn’t it be better if such decisions happened to further opportunity, rather than fix our values? For in the end, it takes a village and surely that involves compromise. As always, comments welcome.


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Aaron Davis

I am an Australian educator supporting the integration of technology and innovation. I have an interest in how collectively we can work to creating a better tomorrow.

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My Way or the Highway? by Aaron Davis is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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  1. Aaron,
    For years, I was the consummate \”yes man\”, grinding away at whatever task leadership deemed a priority at the time. Then, the Internet opened my eyes. There were new perspectives, different ways of doing things, and fresh approaches to problem solving. Bosses need to understand there is greater access to information and expertise than ever before. This makes it easier to challenge the voice of authority. Today, meaningful change occurs through crowd-sourcing.
    Have a good day,
    Bob

    • It is strange sensation Bob when other voices surreptitiously infiltrate our schools. New people have always brought in new ideas, but when it happens day in and day out, it create a strange dynamic. Social media has only amplified this. It really underwrites the mantra it’s been this way and it always will.

  2. Hey mate, great post. Speaking from personal experience, the key is not lose your sense of yourself. When I stepped into my leadership role, I largely felt out of my depth. Trying to find my way meant I lost my way in some areas and for me, my values are everything. Through development, I learnt to be stronger and stand up for what I believe in. Being able to move is a luxury but is the opposite, not being true to yourself a greater crime? I know that I won’t let that happen again. I appreciate the diversity and it is because of this that I move past my own biases to develop greater understanding. I will however not tolerate the ‘my way or the highway’ approach. Personal beliefs about leadership are that they are meant to inspire and empower, not be about control and power. Sadly that is not the case in every school.

    • Thanks for the comment Steve. I think the challenge is that life is full of compromise. \
      I agree with your last point, definitely not the case in every school. Fair call.

  3. Sometimes the compromise is worth it, other times it’s better to leave and see what new opportunities arise…..maybe this is why I ended up where I am! As always, Aaron, I enjoyed your newsletter – still finding it relevant even from my (current, beautiful, tropical) location. Keep up the great work!

    • I guess in the end it is a personal choice Sue. As with much of life, these things are never simple.

      Glad you find the newsletter relevant. Although it involves a lot about education, I think that it is also about perspective and provocation. A reminder that there are others in different contexts, some even floating around on a boat in the middle of the Great Barrier Reef.