Jim's Reflections The Main Ingredient of Success by lindash


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									Jim’s Reflections                                                                                      June 2009 - No. 4

                                          The Main Ingredient of Success
Reflection No. 3 focussed on some ingredients of successful Christian School Culture; a review of some of the key
findings of my research into one successful school. This Reflection looks at the main finding of my study which I
contend has a much wider application than merely schools; hence I propose that it is the main ingredient of success
for any venture.
This main ingredient of success has inspired the thinking behind my tagline; people, potential, purpose and progress.
Therefore I aim to demonstrate how these four words capture the quintessential ingredient of success. I contend that
the main ingredient is leadership, and in the specific example of my research, the school principal’s leadership.

      People. Values, moral integrity and care for people.

This trait is illustrated by leadership that puts people first by consistently demonstrating high moral integrity in all
dealings with parents, staff and students. My research demonstrated that the leader’s personal values and beliefs
produced actions that directly inform his support for the individual. People want and need consistency. People want
and need support. A quote from one of the school’s leadership team neatly sums this up:
I’ve been very impressed with his (the principal’s) consultative style, he shows an obvious degree of humility in the
sense that he does value the staff, he values the students and really sees that personal integrity is important. I think
that there is no one that could rightly dispute any of those traits in him. I think that a lot of that, in addition to his
wisdom, has helped shape the College over a long period of time.
In my study the principal’s moral integrity was one of the first things discussed in surveys, interviewed and focus
groups as a defining reason for the school’s success. The people with whom I spoke in the community scored
remarkably highly on the school morale scale reflecting that the leadership really did put people first. My own feeling is
that leadership can be so focussed on the dollar that their people can slip into second place and become apparently
expendable while starting a negative spiral of plummeting morale. The challenge is to the get the balance right and
never undervalue people.

      Potential. Distributing leadership while building community.
The principal, in my study, recognised that over time, his leadership style had changed. He recognised the intrinsic
value of inclusive decision making, letting others share in the ownership of the decisions and allowing them to discover
their own potential as leaders. I contend that unless the leader genuinely delegates with authority, the size and impact
of the community venture will be limited by the leader’s own personal capacity. The exciting stage for any origination is
to see the limits removed as others grow into their leadership.
A very tangible example of distributed leadership was the intentional, budgeted release of each head of department to
visit other schools when it was their turn to plan for a new facility. This way they were able to match the best design to
their precise needs, much better known by the staff closest to the action.
This was a demonstration of a principle heighted in the literature by Day and Naylor (2004) that saw successful
principals place great emphasis on building teaching and learning communities. They called this building internal
capital through collectivity. These communities endeavoured to champion teamwork, networking, risk-taking and
continual professional development. Successful head teachers were key to building a heightened sense of ownership,
purpose and morale among their staff.
On the student front, my research in a successful school demonstrated that those students that should be getting very
good results, actually did get them. There was an open enrolment in terms of the intellectual capacity of the
applicants which produced the full range of results but the school certainly appeared to achieve the best possible
outcomes for all types. I am sure it’s every school’s desire to see their children reach their full potential but this school
certainly seemed to achieve this as measured by their customer satisfaction.

      Purpose. Vision and a predilection for change.

Everyone thrives on having compelling and challenging, but achievable, goals. Gurr et al. noted successful school
leaders were expert at redesigning their schools and this feature was central to their leadership (2003). It has been
recognised that educational leaders can help by identifying and articulating their school’s vision for school
improvement (Leithwood & Riehl 2003). Then they direct structural changes to establish positive conditions for

   Jim’s Reflections - No. 4                                                                                   June 2009
   Twelves Consulting Pty Ltd, Glenwood, New South Wales, Australia
   Email: jim@jimtwelves.com.au Web: www.jimtwelves.com.au                                                        Page 1
teaching and learning through modification of the nature of tasks, the organisation of time and space, routine
operations and the development of material resources to enhance the learning environment for students and teachers.

Everyone does not necessarily like change. Change can inflict pain in an unknown environment. Nevertheless, unless
organizations continually change they go backwards. I believe that it is the measure of a great leader to be able to
navigate change while maintaining their people focus and stretching their community to reach out for their full potential.
This is the challenge. All too often passionate, dynamic leaders with energy and fresh ideas can leave a trail of human
destruction in their wake and those who are high in mercy and empathy never move off first base. Can a leader be
found that combines all these qualities? They will be genuinely successful in the long term.

      Progress. Reflective leaders who learn while contributing to others’ achievement.

During the Principal’s career as leader of the school in my study, he navigated the community through their vision for a
school of 300, then a school of 600 and finally their vision for 1000 students. Some criticized him for being too
focussed on growth and the task at hand, but many more appreciated his attention to detail and the harmony he
demonstrated between the values that underpinned the school and the practical needs of the rapidly growing
One of the senior staff member’s descriptions explains this well:
He’s had a huge impact on the development of the College and I’d have to say that working under him and with him
has been a privilege because it’s really helped me to grow and in turn sow back into the school and I think a lot of
people could easily underestimate how difficult the role of a principal can be.
It’s very hard to quantify what a principal does and very hard I think to appreciate how difficult the most senior role in
the school is….the buck stopping with that person etc. I think that he takes a lot of it in his stride he takes it very
well…he’s prepared to admit when he doesn’t know about a particular area and needs the advice of others.
What a terrific testimonial! I think this quotation captures so much; the leader’s pivotal role while actively developing
their staff; the intangible elements of leadership that you can only recognise when they are absent and the leader’s
humility and teachable spirit as he himself grew in the role.
The Principal was continually reflecting on his own leadership and repeatedly making modifications to his style. From
the first stages of my study, he was passionately interested in my conclusions. He made as much time available to
me as I needed, both for the formal interviews, which always ran over, and the informal meetings when we discussed
the rationale for a survey or we analysed the results together.

I believe the main ingredient for success is leadership. I argue that the main characteristics of successful leadership
are their people focus; their ability to perceive and develop potential; their predilection to articulate the common
purpose for the community and their perseverance to achieve progress.

Can successful leadership be taught or is it simply innate in those who have it?
Can leadership skills be caught while working closely with great leaders?
Are some of these four leadership traits more critical than others and if so how would you rank them?
Perhaps these and other questions will be the subject of further reflections or you might like to post some reflections of
your own. You are welcome.

Day, C. & Naylor, P. (2004). Making a Difference in Schools and Their Communities: Themes of Successful
Headship. Report of a Research Project Funded by NCSL, NAHT and SHA, The University of Nottingham, School of
Education. Viewed 4 March 2005, www.nottingham.ac.uk/education/centres

Gurr, D., Drysdale, L., Di Natale, E., Ford, P., Hardy, R. & Swann, R. (2003). Successful School Leadership in
Victoria: Three Case Studies. Leading and Managing, Vol. 9, No. 1, pp 18-37.

Leithwood, K. & Riehl, C. (2003). What Do We Already Know About Successful School Leadership? AERA Division,
A Task Force on Developing Research in Educational Leadership, The Center for Educational Policy Analysis (CEPA).

   Jim’s Reflections - No. 4                                                                                 June 2009
   Twelves Consulting Pty Ltd, Glenwood, New South Wales, Australia
   Email: jim@jimtwelves.com.au Web: www.jimtwelves.com.au                                                      Page 2

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