Leading by Slowing Down

Society today places a very high premium on “getting things done.” We like to “see results” and tend to be very happy with “quick turnarounds.” We like our leaders to “deliver” and try to fill our teams and departments with “can do” people. Empowered by our various devices that are all about “immediacy” it’s hard not to get swept up in the rush. We run the risk of appearing “wishy washy,” “indecisive,” “lackadaisical,” or “aloof.” Fortunately there’s a competing narrative out there that, while countercultural, is supported by a growing body of research.

If educational leaders really want to guide schools through meaningful change and growth we need to slow down.

Before we can intervene and alter the status quo we have to really understand it. Before we can get to answers we need to dwell a bit with our questions. We need to remain curious. Before we jump to solutions we need to make sure we understand the nature of the challenge or problem at hand. We need to remain curious so that we can correctly diagnose what’s going on. The first step in our diagnosis is determining whether the presenting problem can be solved with existing knowledge and resources or whether new learning is required. In order to make a correct diagnosis we need not only to dwell with our curiosity, but we need to leave the “dance floor” and get up on the “balcony” to get a different view of what’s going on.

For those who are familiar with the concept of “Adaptive Leadership” developed by Ron Heifetz and others, this should sound familiar. Familiar or not, here’s Heifetz providing an overview of adaptive leadership. If, as an educational leader, you find yourself dissatisfied with the narrative that says that leading is about immediacy, radical intervention, and proving worth through a list of accomplishments, adaptive leadership is a solid counter narrative.

In an adaptive leadership mindset we don’t abandon interventions and results, instead we ground them in the kind of analytical thinking that, when we dig a little deeper, we all want from our leaders.

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