Principles of the organisation

Dr Mark Dowley January 23rd, 2020 · 4min

Organisational principles, values and beliefs form the heart of how people work together.

We each have assumptions about how best to run an organisation and most of these are subject to false consensus bias — where people have a surprising tendency to overestimate how much other people agree with their own beliefs, behaviors, attitudes, and values.

Schools are a beautiful place, full of a diverse group of teachers and students. Under one roof we have artists, athletes, authors, engineers, biologists, linguists and some who just love working with young people. Naturally, they can see the world through different lenses and it’s important for leaders to recognise this.

A key principle of leadership is the concept that leadership is really about service and stewardship. In Stewardship — choosing service over self-interest, author Peter Block argues that stewardship is accountability without control or compliance. The role of a steward is to support the people in the organisation to become healthier, wiser, more autonomous and develop mastery in their profession. It is the understanding that our roles in schools are only temporary and for the organisation to succeed we need to focus on relationships, reciprocity and participation first.

Not all leaders share this perspective. A counter example is Robert Greene’s book 48 laws for power. It consists of knowledge ‘gems’ including: Law #16, ‘Crush your enemies totally,’ Law #7, ‘Let others do the work but always take the credit’ and Law #17 ‘Keep others suspended in terror by cultivating an air of unpredictability.’ While extreme, this book has examples of people who have led this way and there is a whole spectrum (or matrix) of leadership styles and strategies we can choose from. The next section will discuss three principles that can help guide leadership decisions about staff development.

1. Love your employees (Michael Fullan — The six secrets of change)

This is not just about caring for employees, it is about what works to get results. One way to love your employees is to create conditions for them to succeed. This includes clear structures and systems to help them find purpose, develop mastery as well as building connectedness and autonomy. The aim is to help individuals meet their own goals, while simultaneously meeting the goals the organisation.

Canada is an excellent example of taking a ‘love your employees’ approach to teaching. After poor PISA results, policies were enacted that were ‘based on a strong commitment to respect the teaching profession and invest in teachers’ development’. From these policies, Canada had steady growth in literacy in numeracy results over the next four years and the percentage of new teachers leaving the professional declined. Loving and investing in your employees and connecting them to their greater purpose is the bedrock of success.

2. Personal Mastery (Peter Senge — The fifth discipline)

People with a high level of personal mastery are always learning, they never ‘arrive’. In teaching this means being masters in the practices that are known to make a difference. Some schools have a playbook (Jim Knight), or principles of instruction (Rosenshine) that form the strategies teachers aim to master.

To support mastery, the most important job of any manager is to teach workers to become more effective (Liker and Meier, 2007). Learning on the job, day after day, is the work and working with colleagues, be it coaches, managers or mentors is an effective way of building our own personal mastery.

Loving your employees creates the climate to develop mastery. People will not function well if they fear for their jobs or are angry with the organisation. As a group, we need to suspend judgement or blame and focus on supporting each other to develop mastery in our profession.

3. Systems Thinking and Systems Learning (Peter Senge & Michael Fullan)

All systems are perfectly designed to achieve the exact results they are currently getting. An unfortunate reality is that organisations (including schools) oscillate between highs and lows depending on the leaders in the organisation (Hargraves & Fink). The best organisations (eg. Toyota) maintain consistent high performances regardless of leaders.

A key factor in ongoing organisational success is to create systems and distributed leadership that will continue to learn as the organisation progresses. It also includes understanding our context in the local community, the nation and as part of the global system of education that will continue to evolve.

Practically, this means systems of learning including professional reading, instructional coaching, leadership coaching and workshops need to work together to support improvements. All members of the organisation need to provide feedback about and the effectiveness of the system and the leaders responsible for them.

A learning organisation is a group of people working together collectively to enhance their capacities to create results they really care about (Peter Senge). As a collective, if we love our employees, strive for personal mastery and deeply consider the systems that produce our current results, we can then give our organisation the best chance of providing the best educational experience for our boys and our community.

Many books mention these three principles. For more information on these three principles I recommend:

1. Love your employees

a. The six secrets of change (Michael Fullan)

b. Stewardship (Peter Block)

c. The enthusiastic employee — How companies profit from giving employees what they want (David Sirota)

2. Personal Mastery

a. The instructional playbook (Jim Knight)

b. Drive (Daniel Pink)

c. Range (Daniel Epstein)

3. System thinking

a. The fifth discipline (Peter Senge)

b. Unmistakable impact (Jim Knight)

c. Leadership on the line (Heifetz & Linsky)

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