I have written many posts about collaboration, flattened hierarchy, and the learning organization, but I got to thinking this week about another component of my leadership style that fits in with these concepts. The ease of use of the Mac and integrated nature of the applications. When we developed the SWELL (Smart Worldwide Effective Learning Lab) at Lebanon High School we switched to an all Mac operating platform. We were able to get the Apple folks to let us demo a set of MacBook Pros to see if they were what we needed. My idea was to combine project-based learning with modern tools like the Mac to help students develop the high-level thinking and skills they would need in today’s world.
I remember when the Apple representative was setting up the demo machines he made a couple of comments that would forever change my view on technology and leadership. He said: “With a Mac what used to take three or four steps with a pc will only take a single step with the Mac!” And he asked: “Do you want to teach how to use the computer or be project-based?” Of course I did not want to teach computers and the thought of a single step process was incredible!
Since this post is not really about technology it will suffice for me just to say that he was right and I could concentrate on teaching content, not computer applications. I wanted to measure learning chiefly by the quality of work the students create.
Because the Mac is so easy to use, even students new to computers were able to create projects that demonstrated their learning. And because using the iLife and iWork suites is so intuitive — with skills transferring easily across applications — students were able to showcase their projects in professional Keynote, Pages, and iWeb presentations that integrated text, video, and sound; in sophisticated movies edited in iMovie and Final Cut Pro; and in engaging podcasts and soundtracks created using GarageBand. The fact that steps are eliminated because of the integration of programs made it all very easy for the students to learn.
It’s just like an environment where employees are empowered to create, collaborate, and do their jobs. They are able to showcase their abilities without the barriers of hierarchy. As a leader I prefer to organize the world in a lateral fashion, seeing people on an equal plane. This enables an integration of everyone just like that of the applications of the MacBook Pro. I believe in a lateral playing field where everyone leads from where they. This enables everyone to do their jobs effectively without added steps of approval, but with the collaboration of others. Just like when I drag a picture directly from iPhoto into Pages. Both are independent programs with different roles and responsibilities, but integrate easily when needed.
The flat organization supervises employees less while promoting their increased involvement in the decision-making process; Just like the MacBook Pro needs less computer application knowledge and allows the user to be creative. It also removes excess layers of managements improves the coordination and speed of communication between employees; Just like the Mac platform involves fewer steps, fewer levels of management encourage an easier decision-making process among employees.
So, next time you sit down to the computer think about your leadership style. Do you want your computer empowered to carry out many tasks in the least amount of steps or do you want lots of hoops to jump through. Use this lens to think about how to empower those you lead to be the most effective.
This morning during my personal growth time I was on twitter studying the #leadership tweets. I came across a tweet of the Italian Proverb: “After the game, the king and the pawn go into the same box.” Thanks @robertshemin for tweeting the proverb. I promptly retweeted and began thinking about how powerful the imagery of this was for a guy like me who firmly believes in a flattened hierarchy, leading from where you are, and the fact that it is not about me.
I must admit I know how to play chess, but I am not an avid player. Nor do I have any desire to become an avid player. In fact I really kind of find it a boring game, but that is beside the fact! I do know enough to know in a chess game, the king is the most valuable piece, pawn the least. That being said, i have played enough chess to know that if you do not have the pawns moving into the proper positions you cannot win. But once the game is over, both the king and pawns return to same box from which they were taken out.
So the first lesson I learn from this is confirmation on what I already believed to be true – successful organizations flatten the hierarchy. As Jim Collins stated in Good To Great, “When you have disciplined people you do not need hierarchy.”
Another lesson I draw from this proverb is that, in the end, all our achievements and rank should not be overvalued, since in the end, we all – go back in the same box. Even though we all hold different ranks, titles, and roles; in the end we are all the same. Therefore, I should never take advantage of my rank in terms of hierarchy at the expense of another, nor should I allow myself to be taken advantage of or undervalued by someone of higher stature. Because, as you have heard me say in many blog posts, I believe everyone has the responsibility to lead from where they are – regardless of hierarchy.
So as you start this last work week before Christmas, remember that every piece in your organization’s chess game is crucial to it’s success and at the end of the game they all go back in the same box!
I have always been a believer that we must lead from where we are. Everyone has a teachable point of view from which to contribute leadership to any opportunity. As a teacher, I always believed it was my responsibility to provide leadership for the school. For the last nine years of my teaching career I was blessed to have administrators who took my role as a teacher leader seriously. In turn, I took the role of providing street level situational awareness seriously.
Now, as a principal I realize that sometimes leading means following someone else’s lead and having others follow you down that path by supporting their efforts. It is about being in the middle of it, not directing, not dictating, and not doing it all. It is about creating leverage points, catapulting initiatives ahead and building people up in what they do and how they do it. It is about bringing people, actions, values, direction, and results all together to move forward! We must all get in the middle of the action when necessary to challenge, nudge, celebrate, and spur on teams and initiatives. It is not ceremonial lip service; it is real conversations, genuine acts.
One of my favorite things to say when making decisions in a collaborative environment is, “Tell me why I’m wrong?” And, if I am I want to know it! If we are to develop a functional learning organization it must be about facilitating open and honest discussions, putting reality on the table and actively working through it. We must all be about getting candid advice, absorbing it, and then acting on it. It is not malicious or spiteful, but it is spirited and critical to get the best information and counsel possible. I always want to know what our staff is thinking. They all come with tremendous teachable points of view.
Giving others the ability to lead from where they are is about giving people the freedom to innovate, create, and make things happen, aligned with the organization’s strategy, goals, objectives, and values. Along with the freedom to perform is the accountability to do the right things. It is not wishy-washy accountability; it is real, measurable accountability.
I strive to walk the talk by allowing our staff the ability to lead from within. I believe in having conversations with others – team members and mentors – to gain their perspectives, insights, and knowledge.
There is always room to grow and improve. The important thing is that we take the responsibility of leadership seriously. We must also remember to take this leadership role seriously no matter where we are in the organization. If you do, others will believe in you…that is the first step to creating the leadership rainbow others will follow to the pot of gold, which is a successful organization!