Innovation Leadership – so what’s that?

Starting on the 1st August I will take up my position as Director of Innovation Leadership with Drummond International. But what does a Director of Innovation Leadership actually do?

Firstly, it’s important to place the role within the overall values and principles espoused by Norman Drummond throughout his long career.

At risk of simplifying Norman’s work it is fundamentally aimed at helping leaders to establish – for themselves –  a powerful and meaningful connection between their ‘heart’ and their ‘head’ in order to underpin their leadership behaviours, at both a personal and professional level, thereby leading to a more rewarding, effective and meaningful life.

Norman’s work is driven by a deep optimism in the human spirit, as demonstrated through one of his favourite quotations:

“The task of leadership is not to put greatness into humanity, but to elicit it, for the greatness is already there.” John Buchan

With apologies to John Buchan our work in relation to innovation adopts a similar values based and optimistic perspective and could be paraphrased as follows:

“The task of leadership is not to put innovation into humanity, but to elicit it, for the capacity to innovate  is already there.”

Innovation Leadership has three elements which can be considered separately or in a more integrated manner depending on the requirements:

  1. Supporting Leaders to Innovate
  2. Creating space for Innovation
  3. Generating Innovation

Supporting Leaders to Innovate is geared towards helping Leaders to become more innovative themselves and to counter the barriers, fears and limiting cultures which may have reduced their confidence and capacity to innovate in their personal and professional lives.

Creating Space for Innovation focuses upon innovation within an organisation and assists the leaders, their teams and other members of the community to create the environment which encourages others to innovate, supports and enables the collaborative innovation process; and finally, develops ways in which to translate innovation into habitual and improved practice.

Generating Innovation is where the Innovation Leadership process is used as a catalyst to assist organisations or teams which are ‘stuck’ in order to generate new ideas which can then be translated into effective solutions to long-term, or intractable problems.





Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself – George Bernard Shaw

So the die is cast. I’ve submitted my resignation and started the countdown to a new career which will start on 1st August 2013.

I have accepted an invitation to join Drummond International as Director of Innovation Leadership. The opportunity to work with Norman Drummond and the rest of the team at DI is one which was impossible to turn down.

Norman’s work is founded upon three profound questions:

  1. Who are you?
  2. Why are you living and working in the way that you are?
  3. What might you yet become and do with your life?

The answer to why I’m taking this next step is centred somewhere in my own response to these questions.

 Who am I?

I am fundamentally a teacher. I’ve come to realise that I gain the greatest satisfaction from working directly with people and helping them to develop their knowledge, skills, confidence or whatever the purpose of that interaction might be – not in a didactic or instructional manner but through engaging them and encouraging them to see and maximise their own potential.

Why am I living and working and working in the way that I am?

As my career has progressed I’ve gradually moved further and further away from that direct connection with people. My roles have become increasingly corporate, strategic and my responsibilities diverse. It’s interesting to reflect on my original motivation for seeking positions of responsibility was linked to my desire to change the system. By taking on management roles I’ve been lucky to have had the opportunity to influence policy and practice at a local and national level in a way which would have been impossible had I simply remained as a teacher. Nevertheless, this journey has taken me away from the very things which give me the greatest satisfaction – hence the need to refocus my career on the things which matter most to me.

What might I yet become and do with the rest of my life?

This is an exciting question for someone of my years. Rather than considering the notion of winding down towards the end of a career – this is a question which liberates the spirit to consider the future in a positive and fulfilling manner. It opens doors on opportunities, and challenges you to consider the skills and abilities you have and whether these could be put to better use in other ways.

I actually reckon my skill set is quite narrow and is connected to my ability to inspire, encourage, and develop others. What I want to do with the rest of my life is use these skills to their absolute maximum.

I suppose I unwittingly touched upon this in my most recent article on Leadership Legacy where I described the impact my father made upon other people. If this sounds selfish and self indulgent then I stand guilty but I suppose I’d like to spend the next 15 years of my life making a similar personal and positive impact on people’s lives.

My new role will also give me the opportunity to concentrate upon my connected passions of education, innovation and leadership. I hope to be able to research, reflect and write about these areas with a view to making a positive contribution to these fields of study and practice, and use my accumulated knowledge and related life experiences to make a corresponding contribution to society.

My other new career goal is to establish The Scottish Leadership Trust, a not- for-profit organisation that will promote and integrate values-based leadership within and across Scotland’s public, private and voluntary sectors.

The objectives of the Scottish Leadership Trust will be:

  1. To champion the importance of values-based leadership development for the future well-being of Scottish society.
  2. To share and promote leadership expertise across the public, private and voluntary sectors.
  3. To provide a national forum for promoting cross-sector leadership development.
  4. To promote a vision of leadership that is jargon free, inspirational, enabling of innovation, and supportive of our national aspirations.
  5. To reinvest any profits into voluntary sector leadership development programmes and advice.

This project is very much a long-term ambition but it would be my dream to be involved in the Scottish Leadership Trust in fifteen years time – when I’m seventy years old – although I should add (as my grandmother used to say when looking forward in time) – “If I’m spared”.

Leadership Legacy

One of the recurring pleasures I have in life is coming into contact with people who knew my late father.  He had been a family doctor for over 40 years and had selflessly ministered to the needs of a close-knit community throughout that time.

Having a relatively unusual surname people ask me whether or not he was any relation and inevitably, upon hearing that he was my father, launch into telling me stories about how he had helped them – and usually their family. The stories of impact are even stronger from those who worked with him – especially young doctors who came into contact with him as trainees.  It often transpires that he has had a seminal impact upon those individuals who used him as a role model and exemplar upon which they based their own future behavior.

Now the point of this story is to explore what it is to be a leader.  I use the leader here in its more general sense, as I would describe anyone who has a role in supporting and shaping a community as a leader, in his own terms, my father was a leader in his community, just as would be a teacher, or minister, or a sports coach, etc.

As I read leadership programmes and courses it strikes me that my father hadn’t been trained in any of the theory or mechanics of leadership – yet he had developed an intuitive understanding of how to engage with individuals that inspired confidence, interest and self-belief.

It was while trying to think about the characteristics of high quality leadership that I came to the conclusion that it can only really be measured in terms of legacy – and not short-term legacy on an organisation, but on long-term legacy on the life and behaviour of individuals.

So what are those characteristics that mark out the person that leave such a legacy? As regular readers of this column are aware I like the number seven – so in order to arbitrarily limit this list I’ll stick to what I reckon are the seven features of long-term leadership legacy.

The first of these is ‘passion’, a passion for what they do, and a level of enthusiasm that rubs off on all those around them to the extent that we are infected by that same passion.

The second characteristic of leadership legacy is ‘truth’. People often use the description authentic leadership – but put more simply we are naturally drawn to people who have an inner sense of being ‘true’ to themselves first and foremost – and through that sense we are more inclined to place our trust.

The third, is ‘knowledge’, I’m not talking here of people who can absorb every fact about their chosen area and regurgitate it at will – but about people who have a depth of understanding about their area of work and who carry that knowledge very lightly and allow it to be demonstrated through what they do – rather than what they say.

Fourthly, those who leave a lasting leadership legacy are driven by a sense of ‘duty’ and service which transcends self-interest – in fact it can occasionally become self-harming – but it’s exactly that element of self sacrifice which makes such people so appealing in a world where we come to think that there is an ‘angle’ on everyone’s behaviour.

The fifth feature is an ‘interest’ in other people – once again not through what the person can get out of that relationship but simply the pleasure to be gained through seeing them developing their own passions and abilities.  We talk of mentoring and coaching but ultimately it’s a matter of simple human relationships where one person passes on something of deep worth to another person – and in so doing gains enough from that unsophisticated transaction.

The penultimate feature of leadership legacy is perhaps a little surprising but in my experience those who leave the greatest legacy have a ‘flaw’ – not a huge destructive handicap – but something which reminds us all that they are human beings just like us, capable of the same mistakes and errors, but which put them just within the reach of our imagination enough to encourage us to strive to be like them.

Finally, there’s something about these people that is difficult to put your finger on – Professor Rev. Norman Drummond would describe it as being connected to their ‘spirit’ – a connection between their head and their heart that transforms their behaviour from disconnected actions into a purposeful life.

Looking back on the death of my own father I wrote a poem that same evening and one of the verses read:

Your family extended to a community

And we sought refuge in your knowledge

In your vitality and wisdom.

Protected against our fear of suffering

We passed our worries on

And you absorbed them

Putting them in a black bag

Within your soul.

It’s this notion of ‘soul’ – or essence, if you will,  – that inspires confidence amongst those around such a person to the extent that in challenging times we know things will “turn out to be alright”.

I suppose that if any of us who have leadership roles should have any ambition about our legacy it should be that – sometime, long after we are gone – that someone meets one of our children and tells them that we left something behind in them that still lives on.

Obliquity – valuing an indirect approach to educational improvement

Sir Harry Burns, Scotland’s Chief Medical Officer, argues that the promotion of health has for too long been based upon a deficit model. That is, we tend to focus on identifying the problems and causes of ill health. In turn this leads to the identification of outcomes all directed towards a particular deficit, e.g. reduce the number of people who smoke; reduce alcohol intake; or increase exercise levels.  The system is comfortable with these discrete outcomes and develops strategies and activities aimed at achieving these outcomes.

Yet the evidence clearly shows that such a deficit led model has not led to any substantial impact upon those most vulnerable to ill health, i.e. the poorest in our society.  Sir Harry recommends that in order to promote good health we need to focus on what creates health (salutogenesis) rather than the traditional view of preventing illness.

In order to achieve that goal people need to be able to understand their lives, manage this day to day, and see themselves and life as worthwhile. People who feel they have little control over life experience more stress. This chronic stress mechanism in the body risks seriously damaging health and quality of life.

In turn this has led the Chief Medical Officer to propose that we fundamentally shift public health policy towards seeing the assets within people as individuals and in groups within communities, and that we support people to work together and take control of their own lives.

Such a conclusion challenges those of us in public service who have been conditioned over the years to focus upon a simplistic notion between cause and effect, e.g. reduce smoking levels by implementing a smoking reduction strategy; or (in our world of education) improve literacy levels by introducing a new reading scheme. This approach appeals to our managerialist tendencies and enables us to set targets, allocate budgets and evaluate success, thereby fulfilling our obligation within the professional management hierarchy.

Yet Sir Harry Burns is not alone in challenging this managerialist approach, with its simplistic assumptions regarding cause and effect, and suggesting that a more holistic and seemingly incidental approach can allow us to achieve our goals more effectively.

The concept of ‘obliquity’ (the state or condition of being oblique) was first proposed by another famous Scottish medical figure in the form of the Nobel Prize winner Sir James Black, which he defined as follows:

“In business as in science, it seems that you are often most successful in achieving something when you are trying to do something else. I think of it as the principle of ‘obliquity’.”

Obliquity has been further developed by Scottish economist John Kay, who argues that often the best way of achieving our goals, especially those which are particularly complex, is to do so indirectly.

“Strange as it may seem, overcoming geographic obstacles, winning decisive battles or meeting global business targets are the type of goals often best achieved when pursued indirectly. This is the idea of Obliquity. Oblique approaches are most effective in difficult terrain, or where outcomes depend on interactions with other people.” John Kay 2004

The paradox presented by Kay is that if you want to go in one direction that the best route might often be to go in another. The irony of Kay’s work is that the managerialist aspirations of those of us involved in public service delivery leads us to mirror what we think to be the effectiveness of the rationalist commercial approach. We set outcomes, we attempt to control parameters, we measure and evaluate, but above all we get locked into doing things the way we have done them in the past and expect different outcomes just because we have planned them better. It was Einstein wasn’t it who was attributed to have described this as insanity i.e. “….doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results.”

Yet what we tend to miss is that the world which we inhabit is complex and imperfectly understood. Any analysis of our plans would support such a conclusion given the extent of our certainty that we can succeed where others have failed.

So what has all this got to do with our own complex business of education? Well from a personal perspective the concept of ‘obliquity’ strikes a chord in my intuitive understanding of how the world works.

For education is an iterative process which benefits from an open minded and adaptive approach which values problem solving and creativity.  As soon as we begin to believe that we can make a predictable connection between an action and outcome then we are almost destined to fail. “Results are what we expect, consequences are what we get”  Robert McNamara

Consider the traditional approach to improving the educational outcomes for the lowest attaining 20% of students in our schools – an intractable problem for Scottish education. Typically we would identify the students, plan a range of actions targeted at their deficits, and sit back expecting positive results – and then be surprised when no substantive change takes place.

An oblique approach to the problem would not tackle this directly but would amongst other things address the culture of the school, teachers’ values, and the value placed on education in our most disadvantaged communities.

Yet such an approach would take courageous leadership from a school leader, particularly in a professional environment that places undue value on sophisticated plans and confident ‘direct’ action.

The Teacher – David Shanks

I had reason to speak about a former colleague recently and was reminded just how exceptional he was by a student who had been taught by him many years ago.

David Shanks taught classics at Selkirk HIgh School for many years where the numbers of students taking Latin and Greek (and succeeding) surpassed the numbers in most of the prestigious independent schools in Scotland.

David was a genius in the classroom – although he would be very unhappy with me for using such a description.

I tried to capture the essence of the man in this poem which I wrote from a child’s perspective.

The Teacher


A Christmas Fable of Promises and Gold

Once upon a time, in a land far away, there lived a king and his four sons.  The king had come to power through a promise he had made with the elves and fairies of the kingdom to look after their needs and wishes in exchange for him ruling the kingdom.

For many years the kingdom was successful and as his sons became older he gave each of them a task. The first prince was responsible for ensuring that there was sufficient food and firewood. The second prince was responsible for collecting taxes. The third prince was responsible for castles and weapons. The fourth prince was to look after the needs of the elves and fairies.

For many years the system worked well and the king, the princes and the people in the kingdom enjoyed happy lives. But one day the gold which was kept in the biggest castle was stolen and the kingdom was thrown into chaos.

The king called his four sons to a meeting and explained that their reserves were very low and they would all have to reduce their expenditure if the kingdom was to survive. He set each of the sons off to consider their plans and commanded that they return the next day with proposals.

The first prince decided that he would plant cheaper crops, reduce the amount of food given to each member of the kingdom, and increase the cost of food.

The second prince decided to increase income tax, put up taxes on hovels, and reduce the donations made to court beggars.

The third prince decided that they could sell off one of their castles to another kingdom, reduce the size of cannons on the castle walls, and stop the building of a new castle which had been planned for many years.

The fourth prince was stuck. He looked at his job and could think of lots of ways that he could reduce his costs.  For example, he could stop giving each elf a gold coin every day; or he could stop allowing fairies to replace their wings on a weekly basis; he could even take the drastic step of telling the elves and fairies that would no longer have a room of their own in their fairy castle.

But each time he pondered an option he came up against the promise that had been made by his father, the king, to the elves and fairies.

The next day the king called his sons to his court table and asked them to set out their plans.  Each of the first three princes explained in great detail how they would manage their reductions.

On completing the presentations, which had been well received by their father, they turned to the fourth prince.  He began by reminding the others of the promises their father had made to the elves and fairies on his becoming king.  As he continued he could see that his brothers were becoming angrier and angrier as it became obvious that he was saying that there was no way that he could reduce his expenditures if he was to keep the promise their father had made.

The other princes demanded that their brother go away and return the next day with a proper plan for reducing his costs in the same way in which they had done to the approval of their father.

That night the prince had a sleepless night for he had explored every possible avenue to reduce the money spent on the elves and fairies but he kept coming up against the promises his father had made to the elves and fairies on his crowning as king.

The next day they gathered again in the great hall and they waited patiently for their brother to match their proposals.  As he slowly got to his feet he stuttered that he did have a plan.  That plan was to stop giving each elf a gold coin every day and give them instead a silver coin.  He had calculated that this would save the same as his brothers and that it would allow the kingdom to survive.

His brothers were elated – they knew that their brother had been holding back on them and that if they pushed hard enough he would come up with a plan like this.

However, the king was a wise man and did not share his sons’ euphoria. He asked the fourth prince if he had discussed this plan with the elves and fairies.  The prince explained that he had but that they had not accepted the change in the conditions of the promise.  The other princes did not think that was important – surely the elves and fairies understood that if savings were not made that the kingdom would fail and that none of their conditions of the promise would be met in the future.

The king sat quietly and contemplated the dilemma. As he sat the other princes shouted and demanded that the condition be changed.  Eventually the king spoke.  He explained that the promise made to the elves and fairies was one from which there could be no withdrawing. He instructed the princes that the ‘problem’ and the ‘promises’ belonged to each of them equally and that they must work together to solve their challenge.

A year later the kingdom had survived its trial, for the four princes had come to recognise that the problem could not be resolved by working in isolation, or by ignoring commitments they had made to others, but only by working together in sharing the problems each of them faced in an equal manner. And they all lived happily ever after.

Meeting the needs of our customers

I recently had the pleasure of spending some time with a chief executive of a major UK service company.  In terms of the bottom line there can be few people I’ve ever encountered who adopt a more concentrated and determined focus on making the business ‘hit it’s numbers’. However, as we spoke it became obvious that in order to ‘hit the numbers’ the organisation places service quality and customer experience at the heart of making the business work.

What fascinated – and surprised me – was that I had more in common with this leader of British industry than I might have expected.  There is a tendency amongst those of us who work in the public sector to imagine that we somehow inhabit the higher moral ground than those who are simply motivated by filthy lucre.  Yet time after time, this person challenged my perceptions by continually reflecting upon how the managers and staff in the organisation place the needs of customers at the forefront of their practice.  So much so that the chief executive often ‘cold calls’ on outlets and tests the customer orientation of the team.

The logic behind such practice is very clear – if customers don’t enjoy or appreciate the service they are given then the chances of them spending their money again with that particular service company is very unlikely. In turn the chief executive then asked me whether or not I thought schools were accountable the same manner.  Of course, private schools have a paying relationship with the customer – where custom can be withdrawn – but no such transactional relationship exists in the state sector.

It made me think again about the nature of the relationship between schools and parents in the state sector.  If a parent can’t pay for private education, and cannot move their child to another school due to lack of transport, or the fact that another school is unavailable how does the customer influence the quality of the provision?  Quite simply the only route open to them is to complain if the quality is not to their satisfaction.  Yet in terms of my friend’s company such a limited form of customer feedback would be far too late based upon the fact that many people don’t complain they just take their business elsewhere.

So one could argue that state schools are relatively closed environments in terms of customer accountability. Where else in a citizen’s life – other in than the health service – are a customer’s options so limited? Think of our internet providers; supermarkets; car manufacturers; restaurants; banks; etc. – the common feature is that we  – where, if so inclined, can take our business elsewhere.

But surely a school is accountable through its local education authority and through that to the local council with locally elected members, and finally through inspection bodies such as Education Scotland and the Care Inspectorate? Surely that is enough? Once again its worthwhile thinking of private sector examples – most of which have similar accountabilities through shareholders, boards, and audit processes – in addition to the accountability to the customer.  Yet none of them would think that such ‘outward facing’ accountability takes precedence over the needs and preferences of the customer.

It’s at this point in this line of logic that most of us involved in Scottish education come to an abrupt halt – because the next step takes us into unthinkable territory – i.e. some form of direct accountability to the customer. Our first problem lies in the notion of education having ‘customers’ –  it’s an area I’ve explored on numerous occasions and without fail it stimulates intense antagonism from educationalists who see any notion of education being ‘productised’ as a step too far.

However, my fear in the current financial environment is that a local authority’s capacity to act as the prime agency to which schools are accountable is under huge pressure.  Yet we know that headteachers would prefer to retain the status quo in terms of line management accountability – and that there is no certainly appetite for parental governance. So here we are at an impasse – which may not become completely obvious for another couple of years.

On hearing this the chief executive asked whether or not there was any opportunity for the management to opt out – in commercial terms the concept would be akin to a ‘management buy out’ I explained that we have explored such models before but that there had been no appetite from parents for self-management.  But that wasn’t what the chief executive had in mind –  “customers don’t opt out – but managers can” was the response.  And so we explored the notion of how a management team in a school might negotiate a  ‘management buy-out’ from the local authority. The biggest shift in such a model would be that the school would have to set up a board of governance – with a very clear and unambiguous focus on meeting the needs of its customers.

I tried to explain that there were huge obstacles in even contemplating such an idea but the chief executive warmed to the challenge and put it to me that surely the system must provide space for its best managers to operate in a more directly accountable manner with their customers.

We decided to leave it there but the idea has remained with me ever since – gnawing away at my imagination at how such a seemingly crazy idea might actually work.


Steve Munby recently spoke at our East Lothian Learning Festival and told a story about when he swapped roles with a teacher when he was Director of Education for Knowlsley Council, in Merseyside.  The idea appealed to me and I rashly offered a job swap on Twitter – never imagining that anyone would take up the offer.

You can imagine my dismay when my bluff was called and Pam Currie a Depute Headteacher from Law Primary School asked me if I’d like to come and teach her Primary One class of 25 five year olds. Hoist by my own petard I had no option but to agree and so we arranged for me to come to the school last Friday to teach for the morning.

We met the week before and Pam ran through the programme of work that I would be expected to cover: PE, Music, Numeracy, and Storytime.  As we chatted about the Autumn theme that the class are working on I suggested that the PE class could be a dance lesson using actual leaves, and that the numeracy lesson could make use of the same leaves in an outdoor context.

During the week prior to my visit my most important task was to collect enough dried leaves of sufficient variety to provide a stimulus for the lesson.

Now I hadn’t taught a dance lesson for something approaching 17 years – and hadn’t taught a primary class for closer to 30 years – but I suppose teaching is a bit like riding a bike.  It felt great to get back into the classroom and connecting with young people again. The kids responded brilliantly to the leaves and as I tipped the sack out onto the floor they loved the sounds, smells and colours.  We experimented with holding different leaves and letting them fall to the ground – and then trying it again with a different kind of leaf. Then we explored how we might copy the movement of the falling leaf with our own bodies.

Then we looked at how leaves are affected by the wind. Using a fan heater we blew a light breeze towards a pile of leaves and looked at how they rustled – a child came up with a great Scottish word when he said the leaves were “shoogling”. We then tried to copy the rustling leaves while I gently shook a tambourine.

The third stage was to ask the children to blow their own leaf as hard as the could across the floor. Once again we copied that movement with our bodies.

The final stage was to look at how leaves formed piles, where the leaves lay one on top of another in different shapes.  This was the riskiest part of the lesson where children could have been jumping on top of each other but they handled the task superbly and moved into the piles in a very convincing and safe manner.

The last part of the lesson was to put all of these movements together into a final performance.  I think the lesson was recorded so I’d hope to put a link here to youtube whenever it’s put up.

I’d gone into the jobswap with the intention of having fun – and without a doubt that key criterion was satisfied throughout the whole day. But what did I learn?

Firstly, teaching is an exhausting business.  The teacher is constantly having to be attentive – there are no points when you can switch off and let the children get on with things while you do your own work. This is reinforced when the range of needs is as varied as it was in my class.

Secondly, lesson preparation is crucial to engaging the children in the learning process – I’d put a fair bit of work into planning for the morning – but what must it be like planning for an entire week?

Thirdly, the school staff work as a team.  The staged assessment meeting I attended at 8.30, where six teachers talked about a single child’s needs, was hugely impressive and reassuring. The morning break showed that team spirit in a different way where pink cakes were on offer in aid of Breast Cancer Awareness and every member of staff wore pink.

Fourthly, I saw 100 children engaged in a break-time aerobics session being led by P7 pupils – a wonderful example of children being supported and encouraged to do it for themselves!

Fifthly, I saw teachers who cared about learning; who cared about young people; and who cared about each other.  A humbling and inspirational experience which will stay with me for a long time.

Law Primary School – thank you.




Seven Sides of Educational Leadership – a father and son thing

As Groucho Marx once quipped, “Those are my principles, and if you don’t like them… well, I have others.”

Such are the number of available leadership models in education that we could change Groucho’s words to read,

“Those are my educational leadership principles, and if you don’t like them…. well, I have others.”

Professor John McBeath (2003) captured this proliferation perfectly when he coined the phrase “The alphabet soup of leadership” and went on to list twenty-one different terms and interpretations on educational leadership, from heroic to charismatic; from authoritarian to transactional; and from distributed to invitational.  Since McBeath’s paper that list has continued to grow in size and complexity enough to confuse even the most devoted student of educational leadership.

My own preferred definition of educational leadership is as follows:

Educational leadership is the aptitude to achieve high quality educational outcomes for all learners through the efforts of others.

The advantage of using such a stripped down, unsophisticated and utilitarian definition is that it does not lean towards any particular leadership approach or style, and in so doing enables the observer to consider those matters in isolation.

However, it strikes me that one of the fundamental flaws in all of the various models presented in McBeath’s article is that is presumes that a leader only adopts a singular perspective, and the associated conditioned behavioural response to any educational challenge – regardless of their dissimilarities.

Yet over my thirty year career in educational leadership I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s actually much more refined than that, and that outstanding leaders actually consider problems from a variety of a perspectives and adapt their behaviour accordingly.

In that regard I attempted to identify these various perspectives and link them together into a coherent framework with which to represent the complexity of the educational leadership decision making process. I called this model the ‘Seven Sides of Educational Leadership’ and have been peddling the idea for a number of years to anyone prepared to listen.

The model is composed of seven lenses, or perspectives, through which leadership challenges can be viewed and considered.

In very broad terms these lenses are as follows:

The sculptor adopts a creative approach towards problem solving where personal insight and subjective judgment are used to produce innovative ideas. :

The scientist adopts an objective perspective and uses knowledge; data and experimentation to better understand and improve their world.

The Builder operates to a plan,  follows rules and regulations to clear timelines and has a very tight grip on budgets and resources.

The Gardener works for deferred reward and recognises the importance of regular maintenance, weeding and appreciates the importance of environmental conditions for growth.

The parent promotes values, offers unconditional support, and is prepared to relinquish control at an appropriate time.

The conductor has the big picture and seeks to get the best from specialists in their own fields by coordinating their work to produce an outstanding performance.

The villager is a networker, who understands the importance of giving and taking, communication and relationship building skills.

However, as is often the case, it took another person to take an idea and actually build it into something more concrete and worthwhile – in my case that person happened to be my eldest son.

One of the joys of  advancing years is when you begin to discuss your work with your own children.  Living in a farming community where so many parents and their children work together it’s not so unusual for generations to share the same passions but much less common for those in professions such as my own. Yet over the last six months my son and I have discovered a common professional interest that has had a profound influence upon my thinking.

His particular area of expertise is in the field of Behavioural Finance and through a remarkable coincidence our professional interests have aligned, particularly when he introduced me to the notion of Decision Making Frameworks.

The conversation went something like this: Son “Dad, you know that seven side thing your always on about”-  Me: “Yes”  – Son: “Well, I think it’s really a decision making framework”.

Emerging from these discussions and from the domains of behavioural finance, systems thinking and leadership experience the framework seeks to provide the leader with a variety of integrated perspectives – and in so doing reflects more accurately the practice of exceptional leaders.

By allowing the leader to consciously view such challenges from different perspectives it frees them from their default opinion, which is often an intuitive and automatic response to a situation. Daniel Kahneman, the Nobel Laureate in economics described this as the difference between thinking ‘fast’ and ‘slow’, where ‘slow’ thinking is conscious, rational and rule based.  By applying a ‘Leadership Decision Framework’ the leader can begin to develop a slower and more rational approach to leadership problems while at the same time providing them with the building blocks with which to identify and implement powerful solutions.

As the leader applies and learns the framework, which is assisted by its use of symbolic and memorable metaphors, it has the potential to fundamentally change their own leadership behaviour by influencing what they previously done at an automatic and reactive level.

All I can say is that the framework has had a profound effect upon my own behaviour as I’ve begun to internalise the model and consciously apply it in my day-to-day work as a public service leader.