Co-Principals in the News
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Change At The Top: The New Leadership
It's the deal breaker for most of us in our workplaces. Yet examples of it are all over the shop. So, what is great leadership today? Bruce Munro takes a look.
She had been in her job five years when she quit. It was a good job; likeable workmates, reasonable pay and excellent prospects.
But her boss, although not outright nasty, was demanding, gave only negative feedback, and always had one eye on employee productivity and the other on any opportunity to kiss-up to the company owner.
In the end, she didn’t so much leave the company as leave the manager. It is a story repeated endlessly throughout New Zealand and around the globe.
A Gallup survey finds the most common reason workers give for leaving their job is ‘‘to get away from their manager’’. For many of us, our work is the most obvious way we experience or exercise leadership. But in myriad less obvious, yet equally important ways, we are interacting with or dishing out good, bad or indifferent leadership all the time.
Parenting. That’s leadership; even if your toddler or your teenager begs to differ.
School teaching. Boy, do we see the difference depending on how skilfully that is done.
Retail and services. When you make that unhappy phone call, your day can be irreparably ruined or significantly salvaged, depending on how well the insurance company’s call centre team manager is marshalling the staff.
In the field of sports, whether coaching the local under-8 football team or yelling at the TV during a close-fought international test match, leadership can leave a mark that will last a lifetime, or at least until the next win.
And although Government can feel remote, we actually feel the effects of political leadership — whether it be Winston negotiating a super-duper Gold Card or Donald hovering a hawkish finger over the big red button — in acutely tangible ways.
But even if leadership is all around us, how do we know when we have tripped over a good example of it? Trump or Ghandi? Bill or Jacinda? Hart or Tindall? Hansen or Cheika?
"Leadership" is used to cover a multitude of sins; some best practice, some best not practised at all.
And most of it is only semi-incompetent. That is just the way it is, right?
Not if you believe Kristan Mouat and Peter Hills, New Zealand’s only school co-principals.
Mouat and Hills officially became joint heads of Dunedin’s Logan Park High School in September, although they had been giving it a test drive for about 10 weeks prior. They liked how it handled, as did their staff, students and the board of trustees.
Mouat has come through from her office across the hallway in the school’s admin block to Hills’ office to talk about the changing shape of leadership.
Shared leadership, they both say, is undoubtedly the way of the future.
"Leadership today, is much more collaborative, consultative and distributed,’’ Mouat says.‘‘I think there’s the recognition that one person isn’t the authority on everything."
Hills says the evidence in favour of shared leadership has been there for a while although chatter about it has been around for much longer.
"It’s not a new thing, but it’s a newly practised thing," Hills explains.
"There’s been a lot of talk about distributed models of leadership, but ... it’s remained with one person sitting at the top of the pyramid.‘‘Overseas it’s a growing trend ... that is well supported by evidence."
Similar things are said by two Steves; New Zealand Rugby boss Steve Tew and University of Otago business school head Prof Steven Grover.
Tew is talking by phone from the United States where he is on a week’s leave between World Rugby meetings in England and receiving a prestigious Spanish sporting award on behalf of the All Blacks this weekend.
"I think leadership is something that is shared and not all about one person with a particular philosophy or attributes," Tew, whose leadership has been cited for New Zealand Rugby’s string of international successes, says.
"You need to build leadership across the organisation. You have to create an environment where people at all levels believe they have a leadership role to take."
Shared leadership is important, he says.
"If you get too reliant on key individuals and then they are not available or begin to perform less well, you get left exposed."
He thinks it is one of the things the All Blacks have been good at in recent years.
"We saw that with the development of Kieran [Read] over a long period of time under Richie [McCaw]. So that when he got the opportunities and it was necessary for him to step forward, he could."
Prof Grover teaches leadership to MBA students, many of whom are mid-career business executives. He is at the end of another busy day, but readily agrees to take a few questions on leadership.
We are in the era of post-heroic leadership, Prof Grover says.
No longer do we look for "the one" to lead us all.
That’s been progressively debunked during the past three decades, he says.
Today, leadership, when done well, is shared around, almost irrespective of who has the title "boss".
"At one point you might be leading or guiding a group. At other times you might be sitting back and following along because someone else is the expert or the one with the idea at that time."
Prof Grover says relationship is now seen as the leadership linchpin.
"When you think about it, leadership is always about a relationship you have with someone who is doing something for you.
"Leadership is produced by people interacting.
"People now expect more relationship-oriented leadership."
MMP is a classic case in point.
"It’s all about being able to build and then maintain a coalition ... It’s about maintaining those relationships."
A less top-of-the-totem-pole approach to leadership has personal and organisational benefits, Mouat and Hills say.
"They call us yin and yang," Hills says.
"Kristan tends to be more curriculum and the heartbeat of the school.
"I’m probably more infrastructure and ..."
"... finance and innovation ..." Mouat adds.
"... yes, looking ahead, strategic," he finishes with.
It is not that they work in silos, but that shared leadership allows them to work to their strengths and share the load.
Synergies from different perspectives and pooled wisdom — including that of teachers, pupils and parents — flow in the school’s favour.
And "the principal" is twice as likely to be available.
"All too often, the door is shut because the principal is under siege from everywhere," Hills says.
"Parents, particularly, want to speak to ‘the boss’. So, here, you have two chances. The same with staff ... You’re accessible, approachable, far more transparent and far more accountable."
The benefits are personal too.
"We both work hard and we work long hours, but we also recognise that balance and health and happiness are important too," Mouat says.
Prof Grover says organisations that succeed are those that are dynamic and flexible, encouraging shared leadership in order to get more creative decisions.
So, if flatter is better, is leadership even needed?
Yes, they all say.
"We still like having bosses giving us some direction, telling us where to go and what to do," Prof Grover says.
"We’re quite happy with that as long as it’s quite reasonable.
"If we think we are going to a better place, that things will improve, then we are quite willing to jump on board and do that."
Leaders are also needed in emergency situations. When decisions need to be made in a hurry, someone has to say "We will rehash this later, but right now this is what we are going to do".
But, Prof Grover admits, there is a problem when those wearing the big hat are not fit for the job.
"That then requires so much effort from the people on the step below to push them in the right direction.
"Sometimes it might work, sometimes it might not work. Probably not."
Prof Grover does not say, but he could well be thinking of his birth-country, the United States.
Last week, Bob Corker, a senator in President Donald Trump’s own Republican Party, described the White House as an "adult day care centre".
Trump had launched one of his infamous tweet attacks, accusing the retiring Corker of "not having the guts" to stand for re-election.
In response, Corker used most of his 148 characters to tweet, "It’s a shame the White House has become an adult day care center. Someone obviously missed their shift this morning".
A few days earlier, Trump had signalled he would not re-certify a deal between Iran and six major powers, including the US, that limits Teheran’s nuclear weapons programme. That decision had been against the advice of Trump’s own senior advisers.
Among their number is Rex Tillerson, the US Secretary of State, who reportedly called Trump an "[expletive] moron".
Corker, who had been instrumental in getting the deal signed, said he hoped the president’s advisers would not resign because they were "valuable to the national security of our nation" and were keeping the country "from chaos".
Dystopian realities aside, honest, competent, forward-thinking and inspiring leadership can play a valuable role.
Organisations have to have some people who are more accountable for how things are going, Tew says.
"If you can create an environment where people understand what the organisation stands for, what it is trying to achieve, what their role within it is, how we are going to measure success or otherwise, and people can stand up and take an active part in it, then in my view that is part and parcel of what leadership is."
"Vision" is one of those words that grates on Hills, but he is not giving up on it entirely.
"It’s one person’s view on some things that they might have an opinion about," he says.
"Education is such an amorphous, changing beast that I would be reluctant to say I had a vision for where the school should go.
"But I have faith that the wisdom of what I call the tribal council — all our staff and others involved, including our students — that collectively they will have a far better definition of where we want to go."
Mouat says that as co-principals they want many things for those in their charge.
"We want to continue to innovate and provide opportunities for young people to reach their potential," she says.
"While making school a happy, enjoyable place to be.
"And we want our young people to think about how they can do something that makes things better for all of us."
"It’s all those things," Hills says. "And somehow we try to bottle it and produce the Logan Park way."
In the end, who is a leader?
Potentially, all of us.
Most spheres of life still have formal hierarchies with "bosses" and "bosses’ bosses".
But, says Prof Grover, "leadership is more about getting a group of people to do something".
"That’s true leadership. And you don’t have to be in a formal leadership position to do that."
A GOOD MANAGER
• Has a clear vision and communicates it to staff.
• Commits to the cause.
• Believes in his/her staff and gives them resources and authority to do their job.
• Provides honest feedback and asks for constructive suggestions.
• Is vulnerable, honest, considerate and fair, which builds authentic relationships.
• Does everything he/she can to help the team be successful, knowing his/her own success will flow from it.]
A BAD MANAGER
• Doesn't provide long-term direction for the team.
• Makes it about his/her own ego.
• Micro-manages the team because he/she is fearful they will stuff it up.
• Rarely gives feedback and doesn't want to hear criticism.
• Lacks emotional intelligence and personal values, creates superficial compliance.
• Is driven by a desire to make themselves appear successful.
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