Many people like to live life in the center, choosing to stay away from the unfamiliar or the extreme. There is something about being in the mainstream, and going with the flow that feels "nice.” There is a certain comfort afforded with this perspective. However, what begins to develop over time, especially in organizations, is group think; or worse unquestioned conventional thinking that arises. It becomes easy to hang out in the middle, not pushing back or making waves. Questioning is replaced by complacency, an acceptance of business as usual. In time organizational morale and engagement suffers.
As leaders, our ability to influence growth and change doesn't happen from the center, but the edge. Though the edge brings uncertainty, it also has the opportunity to bring clarity when we have a well-defined purpose and established values to lead others forward. The edge affords a particular vantage point for effective leaders that differentiates them from managers or maintainers.
Vantage Point 1: People Over Programs
You affect change or culture by impacting people, not programs. We miss when we spend time and money trying to motivate students and teachers through programs. School initiatives come and go, but what will always endure is the relationship potential that walks through our doors daily. Leading from the edge is an uncompromising commitment to develop your top talent. In the era of high stakes testing and teacher accountability, there is a significant amount of time spent on developing the marginal amount ( 1-5%) of teachers who are in need of improvement. Leaders should challenge this conventional thinking.
What if we invested the majority of our time in our most effective leaders? Consider the multiplying effect of influence that result in developing those top people who in turn develop others. Leading from the edge means-growing people, not bigger programs. Your number one job as leader is to grow the capacity and skills of your top people. In turn, as you grow your teacher leaders - student achievement rises as well.
Vantage Point 2: A Culture of Permission
As leaders, one of the most powerful words we can ever say is “yes." Our school cultures begin to thrive as leaders give permission and ignite ownership. Effective leaders hire well from the beginning, ensuring they have only the best people and BELIEVE the best about their people. In turn, it is easier to trust teachers to lead initiatives we believe in and can support. Today's leaders serve less as supervisor's and operate more as coach. Autonomy begins with supporting our people to have not only self-direction but also decision making. Leading from the edge requires that today's educational leaders are not managers of people but connectors. Our job is to help our teams effectively connect, collaborate, and support them with resources necessary to thrive.
In the 21st century, edleaders are rejecting compliance-based systems because they realize how unmotivating it is for themselves and students. If the goal is for self-efficacy of students and staff then our practice must reflect the rhetoric. Students and educators alike increasingly want to be a part of a bigger story, to add value. Leading from the edge means giving up control so that others can thrive, explore, and discover how they can leave an imprint.
Vantage Point 3: Risks Are Rewarded
Our culture does not stand up to celebrate failure. We give trophies to winners and feel sorry for the loser. This win/loss mentality is not an indicator of leading from the edge. We are most effective when we foster a mindset that rewards risk. As a leader, do you focus more on the problem or solution? Solution focused leaders identify the issue and develop processes towards a solution. By asking guiding questions such as - "What do you need to do next time? What do you need to do to move this forward? What do you think you need to do to be successful?" allows an individual/team to feel supported and take next steps. Great leaders will spend their own capital to support others failing forward on the road to success.
Are you willing to stand on the edge? Standing on the edge can get windy, even downright frightening at times, but the view is worth it.