School Leaders Lead Collaboratively

There are huge advantages for school leaders to lead collaboratively, today. It is the only way to empower followers to not only be part of the process of moving forward, but it offers a possibility of hearing thoughts and ideas that might not necessarily arise from a gathering of a few—of the suggestions of one. The key is to get many interested and vested in the process. In that way, more will feel what they say and think is important and that they can positively help by sharing what they know.

Is anyone listening?

We’ve all had the experience of trying to offer suggestions, but sadly discovered that no one was listening. That feeling of not being a part is not only a morale destroyer, but it also can turn people quiet. Silence is a formidable roadblock.  This is not what educators do with students, but it is what school leaders often do with adults. Simply remembering a classroom-brainstorming lesson could be of some help. In brainstorming, every suggestion is important, because you never know which will be the ones chosen for elaboration, or blending later. All participants feel good about participating, and in the long run feel part of whatever solutions stand strong at the end. It is far better to be open to a larger array of ideas than to a few. If the many are not taken under consideration, think of what could be missed.

A common leadership mistake

The mistake many leaders make is not asking for advice, or new suggestions and ideas, on a regular basis from those outside a smaller inner circle. Some leaders don’t ask advice at all, and some don’t even consider anything outside their own thinking. This leaves only the narrowest views for solving problems or seeking solutions. School leaders should utilize the experiences gained by those, who have been thinking, working, and acquiring knowledge. Leaders cannot afford to close any doors to experience.

It is understandable, too, that there are school leaders, who aren’t very good communicators, and don’t know how to ask for advice. That adds to the difficulty of moving forward, because to others, everything will seem dictated rather than collaborative. In order to move forward with any group, there must be an openness associated with being a part of the process in some way. Leaders, who don’t allow followers in on the process of solutions, can never hope to appear leading.

The fear of openness

For a school leader, there is a bit of fear involved in openness—and allowing others in on helping to guide direction. Shouldn’t every leader know everything? Well, to be truthful, whether one thinks he/she should know everything, the reality is that no one can. Leaders lead of course. That is a talent but has nothing to do with knowing all the answers. It does have a lot to do with seeking out those solutions, and catching them in the widest net, and then sifting them to make the best decisions. Leaders, who lead without a collaborative effort, stand a slim chance of succeeding. They can travel down endless, unsuccessful paths. This is true in education, business, or any career endeavor. Think to the classroom. Students, if allowed to do so, can work as individuals, but discover their value to the whole group is important as well. There is nothing better than to participate and contribute positively to the greater effort.

Leaders and adults sometimes forget the importance of teams, as well as how to use them. We’ve all been part of committees with the best intentions at the start, but then we were devastated when it became clear that the work and ideas developed hadn’t been part of the decision process at all. In those cases, the feeling that leaders seem to know before starting what the end product would be is a difficult thing for committee members to take. It makes filling new committee spots more difficult, too. “They already know the outcome, so why should I waste my time?” How do school leaders give positive and productive voice to followers?

Here’s a way to begin.

Here’s a sure-fire way for a school leader to invite suggestions and ideas, and gain a collaborative leading edge. On a regularly scheduled basis, share a problem or two to be solved, or ask staff for a few that might need to be solved. Then ask for staff and colleagues to share 3 to 5 new ideas for solving them. That may be done, initially, in only a few sentences, collected in e-mail or online submission format. Follow-up later by asking for more specifics on those that may spark real possibilities.

Beyond finding new, creative solutions, leaders may find that many followers can generate 5 or more new ideas for every question posed. That certainly is a wealth of knowledge that shouldn’t be overlooked. The outcome could be a district think tank of sorts, where followers feel their suggestions are important, and that those suggestions proudly support school leaders and district goals. For that to happen leaders to be more open to asking for help from those they hope to lead. Teaming for a successful direction is possible.

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