Reading @imsporticus’s blog inspired me to write about something that has become increasingly apparent in discussions with colleagues this year and is a potential issue in school leadership and links to the Adidas Standard 9 about being open-minded and look forward toward the future.
Like @imsporticus, I have read and studied a great deal on the topic of leadership, both in school contexts and professional sport. I am an absolute believer in the 'aggregation of marginal gains' approach of David Brailsford and Team Sky and the constant need to reflect and ask 'how can we do it better?' I constantly test the theory and the practice in what I see and am driven by the question of how can we/I do it better for the young people we serve?
I first became consciously aware of the term 'cognitive dissonance' when it was discussed in Matthew Syed's Black Box Thinking. He describes cognitive dissonance as: 'where we spin the evidence to fit our beliefs rather than adapting our beliefs to fit the evidence'. So does this happen in school leadership? Do we, with the best of intentions, damage the very things we are trying to build at the expense of making an evidence base fit our own beliefs? Do we risk un-inspiring and demotivating leaders of the future by being cognitively dissonant, bending evidence to match our beliefs?
@imsporticus describes disillusionment when he recognised the disconnect between the rhetoric and the day to day leadership behaviours of leaders he had observed. Integrity, authenticity, trust, courage, are all admirable qualities of leaders and very easy to recite at interview but are much harder to embody, day in and day out. These differences can become chasms and very obvious when they are missing. They are very damaging for aspirant leaders, especially those that read widely or follow leaders on the twittersphere!
The danger is that when you are leading, everyone is watching.
So unless your behaviours match, there is a disconnect or dissonance. Don't get me wrong, I am not suggesting that leaders don't make mistakes, far from it. Good leaders, acknowledge, celebrate and reflect on them and move on, secure in the knowledge that their 'why', their values and moral compass will see them through. When there is dissonance, it can be very hard to have a leadership voice, which in the case of @Ieshasmall's introverted leaders becomes even more of a challenge.
So, I am suggesting that there is a need to reflect and test the leadership you observe in others against the theory or the evidence. These become important reflections that will help shape and define the leader you want to be, Much is learnt from observing 'how not to' as well as observing 'how to'. These become key components in building the leader you wish to be and can be tested against the theory that you read. I have lived a career by the phrase, ‘you are only as good as you last conversation’ – especially with your Headteacher but as leaders you are only as good as your last actions. If these uphold the values and are rooted in your ‘why’ then there will be a match and no dissonance or disconnect.
@imsporticus noted, the catastrophic damage done by dissonant, narcissistic, selfish leaders to those in their care. This, sandwiched with a desire to ‘bend facts to beliefs dissonantly’ damages the raw potential and desire to lead that we see in our aspirant leaders. Dialogue and opportunity are lost due to the change in culture; openness and challenge shrivel until we become fearful and just nod in agreement. Aspirant leaders will take their cues from the leadership behaviours of others and we then stagnate.
Leadership rhetoric is very easy but others will find you out if your values and behaviours don't match.
So, all leaders need to be open minded and look forward to the future, ensuring their rhetoric, values and behaviours match. Evidence is evidence and is a powerful tool. Failure is rich in opportunities to learn, which can be harnessed to do some good. Don’t bend it to suit your beliefs as there is a risk that the small bits, the nuances that make up working in a school are lost.
More importantly, the trust and belief of those who aspire to be like you, who are watching your every move, testing you against great leaders in their minds compared to the theory they are reading are lost or damaged.
My message for @imsporticus, keep ensuring that you ‘do the best you can for your colleagues and the children in your care’ - that is the 'why we do it'; keep questioning ‘how can you do it better?’ because at the end of the day, that is all that matters!