During our MA we were set the task of creating a sample leadership theory. Obviously it would take many years and even more research to create an actual theory but this was my attempt at one.
My favourite poem is If by Rudyard Kipling and while researching I came across a TED talk by Simon Sinek (18 mins) and that led me to his book Start with Why. Here is my leadership theory based on a hybrid of the two.
Shorter Sinek clip here
Why? What if….Leadership Philosophy
The aim of the paper is to outline and clarify a leadership philosophy ‘Why? What if’. This philosophy draws its inspiration from the poem If by Rudyard Kipling, the work of Simon Sinek in his book Start with Why with an undertone of Robert K. Greenleaf’s The Power of Servant Leadership. This leadership philosophy is understandably short due to the demands of this paper. The theory will be outlined followed by explanatory notes. This philosophy of leadership is specifically for post primary schools.
Theory Start with why: Sinek writes an anecdote in the introduction to his book about the Wright brother’s success in creating a flying machine. The pair succeeded because they began at why. Their belief in changing the face of the world with their creation led to its success, as teachers, leaders and mentors there must be the same seed of why. To educate is to inspire so a teacher in this theory must discover and show their why. Students and fellow staff will follow if they can experience what you believe in. For Kipling, his infamous poem speaks of a list of what may be necessary to be a man and make your life one that is fulfilled. The line which we will begin with is: “If you can dream—and not make dreams your master; If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim…” For the purpose of this theory we will take this as his why. So as a teacher, what is your why? Why do you what you do? Why do you teach? Once a teacher discovers this one can move on to the How and What, what do you do to fulfil your why and how. This is a process of inspiration, passion and purpose. When you discover ‘your why’ you will influence others to discover their why and become leaders. They will be attracted to what you believe and follow you.
In relation to Greenleaf this may equate to his idea of ‘vision’ although it may be more attainable. This form of leadership is a hybrid of Lewin’s democratic and Laissez faire leader. It is also a philosophy of balance. As a teacher there is always a question as to who looks after the teacher. Kipling’s poem comes into play here with lines such as:
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools.
In school, as in other professions, there are times of darkness but in these times one should look to their why in order to inspire and lead them to the light.
Characteristics: Passion: Every teacher needs to have the passion for their ‘why’. They need to have passion for what they do and how they do it. This passion is what makes you get out of bed in the morning. This will become infectious.
Organisation and team work: Sinet speaks of the Wright brothers and their faithful and loyal team, none of whom had college degrees but create an airplane, together. A school under this leadership needs to be organised and a team, each person in the institute has an important role. It is not an autocratic leadership but one of reliance and organisation. It moves from a democratic leadership towards a lasses faire with the growth of the leadership. This team work and organisation creates a positive atmosphere in which ones loyalty and honesty can prevail.
Conceptualization and foresight: linked closely to Greenleaf’s theory, in which Principals and management look to the future and development to maintain their ‘why’. There is a desire for perspective, understanding and intuition. This is a characteristic which will take hard work and time to acquire.
Balance: “If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue, Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch” There must be an atmosphere of unity and balance in striving for fulfilment. All under this leadership should be treated as adults and equals. The principal must maintain balance between office and school duties, teachers must maintain balance between content and learning or behaviour and reward and the students must maintain balance between School and everyday life and well being. This balance will add to the positive atmosphere and aid activity and experiential learning.
Consistency: Leading consistently is a vital aspect in the everyday running of a school. Everyone under this leadership has the right to expect, and be expected to, uphold this consistency. It should be maintained and improved on regularly. Students also need consistency to understand the safety and value of school.
Most theories are just opinions or ideas that on paper seem fruitful but often unattainable; this leads us to the balance aspect of the theory. In Sinek’s book he speaks of ‘why-types’ and ‘how-types’ using Walt and Roy Disney as an example. ‘Why-types’ are the visionaries, the ones with imagination. Often they are optimists who believe that all the things they imagine can be accomplished. ‘How-types’ live in the here and now. They are the realists and are practical. Roy was Walt’s older brother who ran the company, it was Roy who founded the Buena Vista Distribution Company and created the merchandising business that transformed Disney into a household name. This may be desirable trait for a principal, vice principal duo, a good cop bad cop combination. One to look forward and one to look at what is happening now.
The initial inspiration for this leadership theory came from listening to If. It creates a shiver down ones spine when each word is listened to. With that came the question of leadership, what if leadership could have the same result? Furthermore, what if everyone under this leadership listened to each other as attentively and carefully as one who listened to this poem. Listening is a key aspect of any project but an extremely important aspect in a leadership theory.
Sinek states, “Charisma has nothing to do with energy; it comes from a clarity of ‘why’. It comes from absolute conviction in an ideal bigger than oneself. If those within this leadership can take this on understanding of what their why may be this leads to clarity and the creation of a charismatic person and community. Drawbacks are inevitable in any practical use of this theory, or any other theory. To get every staff member to understand their own individual why will be difficult but the results if this is accomplished are untold.
This theory would expect the school or institution to repair or recreate itself from the inside out. Beginning with what they believe in most and finishing with the product (education) they expect to communicate. They will be asked to inspire through their own beliefs by discovering their ‘why’ and imparting this passion, purpose and knowledge on to those whom they teach and interact with. This infectious nature will create leaders of those students who will inspire other with their ‘why’. If they can fill every unforgiving minute with sixty seconds’ worth of distance run, theirs is the Earth and everything that’s in it.
Sources: Start with Why Simon Sinek
Poetry foundation if Rudyard kipling http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/175772