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Ask yourself the smart questions

Want the smart answers to a smart start to schooling?
Ask yourself the smart questions.

At the time of writing, school leaders in Queensland state schools are being challenged at least as much, and arguably more, than at any time in history. When we review the ever-changing context in which you and your team are operating the list is long and potentially daunting.

The environmental context alone has been extreme with cyclones and flooding causing massive destruction of property and loss of life. Many school communities have almost unbelievably sad stories of tragedy unique to their students, staff and parents.

At a state and federal level the political climate is volatile and uncertain. The core business of teaching and learning with the full implementation of the national curriculum is uncharted waters. The scrutiny of education by the media is relentless. Sensitive and emotional negotiations with all industrial unions are ongoing.

The list could go on and fill the page and by the time this article goes to print it will no doubt be even longer and potentially more challenging.

The business of school leadership has always been, and always will be, challenging and uncertain. So are there any ‘smart’ answers for school leaders?

‘Smart’ answers require the ‘smart’ questions. And while there are no doubt many specific questions that are just right for your particular context I invite you to consider the following three.

1. How do I lead and manage myself so that I can best lead others and my organisation?

Perhaps part of the answer is that smart leaders know that they need to look after themselves in order to be able to look after others. Maybe they understand the distinction between power and influence, that they only have control over their own thoughts, feelings and actions; that leadership is an inside job – it starts from within. Smart leaders continually look for opportunity in chaos and celebrate what is right rather than concentrate only on what is wrong. They accept reality and take affirmative action to change the things that can be changed, while having pragmatism about the things that (at least for now) cannot. These are the leaders who can never really fail. For the leader with this mindset there is no failure, only feedback. For them there are no wrong decisions or wrong actions, only decisions or actions that move them towards or away from their personal and professional goals.

Are these smart answers?

2. How do I lead and manage others to lead and manage themselves in service of each other and the organisation?

Smart leaders know that without relational trust there is weak communication, low clarity of purpose, few common goals and in turn mediocre results. They know that in a school community often the relationship itself is the outcome. They value the innateness of everyone (both child and adult) by virtue of their humanness and embrace the opportunity to champion dignity and respect for all. Perhaps they actively set out to establish trust with others and relentlessly restore it when it is lost. Maybe they know that the so-called ‘soft’ skills are hard to do and they do not fear the fierce conversations. Or at least they feel the fear and have the conversation anyway. Certainly they walk their talk and lead with integrity so that they trust and respect themselves.

Are these smart answers?

3. How do I lead my organisation in these challenging and uncertain times?

Perhaps smart leaders know that leadership is more than a property of persons or positions and that it is the force that binds people together and drives change.

Maybe they agree with L. Michael Hall who asserts in Unleashing Leadership (2009) that:

it is not about ego, status, title, authority, it is about making a difference, about creating value, about solving problems, about fulfilling visions. The new leadership is about building community, about facilitating and enabling the best in others, and about a purposeful difference that will last for a legacy so that everyone rallies in the feeling that they are doing something bigger than oneself.

They know that to be the very best example of this leadership is the pathway to their own, to others’ and to their organisation’s success.

Are these smart answers?

Smart leaders work out their own answers to these questions so that they know what they stand for and what they won’t stand for. And they stand up for it every day.

There is nothing smarter than that.

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