Why is sharing so hard?

Why is sharing so hard?

As you read the title your mind might immediately jump to the struggles that kids often have when it comes to the concepts of sharing. Trust me, I immediately think about daily life at my house with two daughters who are in the messy pre-teen and teenage years where territory is staked out and clothing items are perceived to be ruined if a sibling dares to wear an item “owned” by the other.  However, I would like to think about sharing in a different realm, Leadership.

“Just tell us what to do.” That phrase caught my attention in a recent KASB Leadership for Tomorrow class discussion and spurred the initial thoughts related to this blog. A board member was sharing frustration with the challenges associated with changes they were implementing in their district. The frustration came with a group of teachers who had lamented they wanted clarity from the building and district administrators on the changes being implemented. They had approached the board and stated, “just tell us what to do.”

It made me think; when has anything that we have simply been told to do in our lives ever really led to a long-term change?  For example, raising kids, simply telling them to get better grades, get more sleep, share clothes with their sister or eat healthier typically does not result in any true long-term change.  Getting individuals to share in the ownership and ultimately the leadership with the changes increases the likelihood of a successful change.  Changes in schools experience the same fate as changes in other areas of our lives if there is a lack of ownership and sharing of leadership.

Why is the sharing leadership necessary in the improvement of our schools?

Sharing in the ownership and leadership of the changes necessary to improve our schools is critical to overcoming the complex challenges associated with these changes.   The sharing of leadership throughout a system results in a deeper understanding of the complex challenges that make changes difficult. Change theorist Ron Heifetz points out this deeper understanding occurs as voices and leadership “from below” are heard and or sought out. These voices and leadership throughout the system provide different perspectives related to the change itself and the barriers to a successful change. Consider how perspectives differ depending on roles within a school system; a seat at board table has a completely different perspective than a teacher in a kindergarten classroom, or a recent graduate. Sharing leadership and considering these different perspectives helps to generate ideas or solutions that connect more closely to the challenges that people living the change are facing.  The sharing of leadership results in an outcome that is more likely to be sustained because the solutions developed are done so by individuals executing the solution and/or benefiting from the solution. Changing a school system is complex; embracing different perspectives as we share leadership brings a broad range of ideas and experiences together to provide a path forward that is unique to that school system’s challenges.

What does shared leadership look like?

Individuals in the formal leadership positions must remain flexible in their approach. Listening to the concerns or dissatisfaction from different groups within the school system, while also sharing concerns and dissatisfaction is key. Some individuals can see the issues immediately, others need to discover the areas for improvement through data and discussions, while others need to see a vision for higher performing schools. These actions are examples of sharing leadership as systems work to change.  Leaders must create dissatisfaction with the current reality and paint the picture of a brighter future through actions and processes designed to share leadership.

A starting point for determining actions and processes to share leadership comes from an awareness of different perspectives individuals possess as they are impacted by the changes. This becomes complex, considering all the perspectives people have throughout a school system as they look at their current reality.  Consider the following examples; A teacher can view a “new” change as just another initiative. That same teacher may feel they were successful with the way they had always done things. A parent of a successful student views the change as potentially jeopardizing their student’s current success.  Additionally, for students that have traditionally struggled in a school system, the change can represent yet another barrier to their success if they do not receive the necessary support.   Sharing leadership related to the change requires an understanding and acknowledgment of these different perspectives if the leaders are going to design appropriate actions and processes.

In the McREL Balanced Leadership work the following graphic is used to illustrate how sharing leadership requires flexibility from leaders. 

Thinking about the perspectives identified earlier from teachers, parents, students; some individuals need the actions found on one end of the balancing beam, others need the actions on the other end, while others need a combination of both ends. Think about what flexibility is needed from different leadership roles as you work to improve your schools.

As we try to continually improve our schools, don’t underestimate the power of sharing leadership.  KASB Leadership Services staff are always willing to work with boards and/or leadership teams to develop strategies and processes for creating a culture of shared leadership.