In my first year as Assistant Principal, I had an argument with one of the teachers on best practice. I did not know her well, but I was very bothered by the situation and it had an impact on my ego. I was mortified that she would challenge me so quickly. Over the next two years, she would often challenge many ideas that had been presented by the admin team, but as I got to know her, I understood that she was always focused on what was best for kids. With new ideas, we would go to her and ask her thoughts, and she would often disagree. We would then rework some of our ideas, present it again to her, and she would like that we both listened to her input while also willing to take action because of it. She had a lot of influence with staff because she was a great teacher, but also because she always spoke her mind. When I was hired as a Principal in the district, I took her with me and she became my Assistant Principal. I knew she would never leave me to do something that she thought was wrong and would challenge me when I needed to be challenged. That is how I wanted my team to be.
As a leader, it is imperative that you focus on the “best ideas”, not “your ideas”. Sometimes they can be the same thing, but if you have a group around you that only agrees and is worried about challenging ideas, we often make the wrong decisions for kids.
Here is a quote from Harvard Business Review on “groupthink”:
Let’s be honest: for the most part, we gravitate toward people who hold a lot of the same beliefs that we do. It’s human nature. But for anyone in a leadership position, this basic human urge can also be your kryptonite. If you surround yourself with too many like-minded colleagues, that is, you can create a culture of group think. That’s not good. Just take a look back at U.S. history. Lyndon Johnson’s escalation of military action in Vietnam, John F. Kennedy’s invasion of Cuba — many historians have argued that these mistakes were fuelled by too many team members refusing to voice their opposition. So every leader should take this advice to heart: never shy away from opposition; welcome it — better yet, encourage it, then encourage it some more.
When is it the right time to go against consensus though? With school needing to change, sometimes a majority of staff could want to stay in the same mindset and practice that could also be hurting the future of our students.
I encourage you to blog or comment on the following:
How do you create a culture where “pushback” is encouraged?
How do you know when to stick with the minority over the majority?
How do you create a team that will give you honest feedback?
Have a great week!