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Posts Tagged ‘leadership

I enjoyed this reflective piece by someone who was invited to deliver a keynote speech on a topic he had no expertise in. One of his best sound bites was this:

…thought leadership is for cults. The really clear thinkers should simply provoke better reflections in others.

I enjoyed a good chuckle reading that!

The backstory was the author had gamed the trawling system that looked for people with claimed expertise and large followings.

I had two reactions.

First, I wish I had thought of doing that, but with statements of truth and actual expertise. Then again, maybe not. I have weaned myself off public speaking engagements where I am supposed to be the sage of the stage.

Second, I recalled being introduced as a “thought leader” at an event some years ago. The person who did so was being polite, but I took the opportunity immediately after the introduction to say that I preferred action to thought.

I had little idea then what “thought leadership” was. But this much I know now — it is an ego-feeding label befitting a cult leader.

I sigh not with relief but with disappointment. Why? I see bad history repeating itself.

When schools or universities do not change their efforts to provide better learning experiences in the COVID-19 era, I sigh because I know we can do better. And I mean better experiences with online learning, not just equivalent-to-classroom experiences.

I am talking about redesigned and better facilitated experiences for students that go beyond engagement to empowerment. See the second column of the tweet below for what these might look like.

These better experiences work face-to-face or online, but are particularly important online given this is a prime opportunity for individualisation, more flexible timelines, and independent work.

How do I know that we can do better? We are supposed to have been preparing with sanctioned e-learning days in schools and institutes of higher learning (IHLs). We have had years to prepare by tinkering, making mistakes, and emerging stronger.

Instead it took a worldwide disaster to slam the brakes on most processes. Then when told to go, most schools and IHLs struggled to restart. When they did, they did the equivalent of abandoning their cars, donning spacesuits, and piloting cardboard rockets.

That is my way of saying that most resorted to emergency remote teaching, mislabelled that as online learning, and wished only to return to old ways of doing things.

Why? There are many factors, but this reluctance to change ultimately boils down to a lack of leadership and unimaginative administration. If leaders see no other way, they will propose journeys that take old paths. Administrative bodies gladly reinforce these ruts because fixed pathways are easy.

The problem with that mindset is the practice that results. Educators are not challenged to facilitate learning, and students are not nurtured to learning more independently, reflectively, and contextually.

I sigh because I saw all this when I was within the system and now again when I am outside it. But I do not sigh as long or as deep because I do see almost imperceptible changes. These are like plants that somehow find footholds on buildings.

COVID-19 is creating conditions e-learning. Initially this looks like emergency learning. With good planning and management, this might become everyone, everytime, and everywhere learning.

To get there, I would ask the same questions I used to ask: What are we doing differently? Why is this difference better? How do we know this is better? How do we sustain our efforts?

Now I sigh sadly because I know there will be leaders and administrators who will not choose to ask such questions. I hope to sigh with relief because a few enlightened ones realise they need to gain a foothold in a landscape reshaped by the coronavirus.

At the end of the Marvel’s latest movie, T’Challa, king of Wakanda AKA the¬†Black Panther, declared:

The wise build bridges. The foolish build barriers.

He said this to world leaders as he opened up his country’s borders and vowed to share its knowledge with the rest of the world. Life sometimes imitates art and we can only hope that more leaders do this in today’s political climate.

If leaders by position do not do this, then leaders by reputation can. Leaders in education can create and share their wisdoms and resources openly and freely for the good of all.

I participated in a Pokémon Go exclusive raid of the Mewtwo boss yesterday. I did not plan on leading the charge, but that is what happened.

It was my first exclusive raid, but after reading in forums, chatting with a few Mewtwo veterans, and watching YouTube videos of the social gatherings from such raids, I was looking forward to it.

My ExRaid Pass to the Mewtwo battle.

I arrived early at the raid venue and it was already crowded. I asked people if they were already grouped by team colours ‚ÄĒ this maximises the number of Pok√© balls you receive to catch Mewtwo ‚ÄĒ but most people milled about.

I was not about to leave such an important catch to chance, so I asked teams to form and people started self-organising. As I busied myself with making sure that there were enough people per group, I also took the advice of two veterans.

One player told me that we did not need to form teams of 20; about 10 players per team would do. So we divided large groups into smaller ones and checked the numbers. Another veteran reminded me that the quality of the player mattered ‚ÄĒ level 20+ players needed to be put in groups with high level (35+) players for maximum effect. So we checked again.

My battle party for Mewtwo.

I took the precaution of reminding everyone in my group to bring the optimal Pokémon to the fight (Dark types like Tyranitar) and not engage in selfish behaviours like using a Blissey (very tanky but offers little damage). I told everyone how we would use the private group function to exclude spoofers and cheaters.

I had to do some people management when one member of my team walked away for a smoke, another was distracted with multiple accounts, and yet another panicked with his choice of battlers. Then I offered words of encouragement before we started.

Thankfully, my group’s battle went smoothly and we beat our Mewtwo with about half the time to spare. Only my first three Tyranitars were spent from the battle.

Everyone in our group managed to catch their own Mewtwo after that. I managed to catch a 91% IV Mewtwo with ideal move sets. Now I have to decide whether or not to use Rare Candy and stardust to power it up for other battles.

Screenshot of my Pokémon Go app's journal showing evidence of the Mewtwo raid and capture.

My 91%IV Mewtwo with ideal move sets.

Our partner group of 10 players had more high level players and they completed the battle about 20 seconds before we did. Unfortunately, two members of that group could not catch their Mewtwos despite the team and damage bonus of Poké balls.

As a result of the extra work, I forgot to activate a Lucky Egg (to double the XP from the catch and get the New Catch bonus) and a Star Piece (to get 50% more Pokémon stardust). I also forgot to activate the video recording function on my iPhone.

If I get the opportunity to do this again, I would:

  • Try to get a team of solo account players (they are more focused)
  • Ensure an even mix of low and high level players in each group
  • Remind players to set up battle parties in their phones prior to fighting Mewtwo
  • Remind everyone to activate Lucky Eggs and Star Pieces if they wished
  • Screen capture the process

I am glad that I did my homework on battling and catching Mewtwo from game sites, forums, and online videos. The emergent social leadership was something that just had to be done, but I was inspired by stories in social media.

Emergent leadership is not just about one person and the start of a journey. After I started the fire, the groups were self-sustaining because at least one member was experienced or had done their homework. After the group-based battle and individual attempts at catching, there was also the need to congratulate those that got their Mewtwo and console those whose quarry fled.

A few strangers thanked me for organising the group. One person even shook my hand and said he hoped to see me again at another battle. I am just thankful the group listened and offered timely advice.

There are some nasty or selfish people in Pokémon Go, but this experience showed me that there are nice ones too. And even the not-so-nice ones put their unpleasantness aside in pursuit of a shared goal.

There is formal leadership by that comes with position and authority. There is also informal leadership is a result of reputation and autonomy.

Call me crazy, but I think that Kid President would make a better leader than many of the world’s current leaders. But by leader I mean the informal kind.

This is Kid President’s most recent video.

Video source

Even though the video was not about leadership, Kid President demonstrated qualities that leaders in education should possess or develop. For example:

  • asking questions instead of insisting on giving answers
  • embracing diversity
  • showing empathy
  • approaching the unknown with humility
  • dealing with the uncomfortable or difficult
  • willing to try and learning from making mistakes
  • dancing (optional)

I bring this up because earlier this week I facilitated conversations and thinking among potential change agents of an organisation. One participant remarked that he was not a leader. I took the opportunity to mention the difference between a formal and informal leader.

We need and we have informal leaders in most work environments. We need not wait for official leaders to initiate change because those moves are too late or disconnected from reality.

Informal leaders lead by example and galvanise people around them to do the same. They are models and influencers. They are always learning and sharing. They earn respect from the ground and people follow their example.

A good leader in education is an informal leader or, if a formal leader, knows who the informal leaders are and knows how to mobilise them.

Mention systemic or organisational change in schools and you will invariably hear a few phrases like taking baby steps, involving stakeholders, and creating buy-in.

These and other practices are critical to making change that is actually worthwhile and effective. However, the change processes often have unspoken assumptions. For example, I unpacked what is wrong with taking baby steps.

Today, I focus on buy-in.

Creating buy-in among stakeholders of change is important because if they are not aware of the need or do not believe in the change, the effort is doomed from the start.

However, it is not enough to simply create buy-in. Buy-in is a state of mind. It is about understanding what the change is, projecting possibilities, and deciding to be associated with it.

The message to buy into can sometimes remain someone else’s property. Stakeholders may understand the rationale for change, but still think “This is not really our problem or that is your solution!”

Buy-in is a state of mind. Ownership is a state of being.

What is missing is ownership. Ownership is a state of being. It is a sense of belonging.

Creating this type of ownership is less traditionally top-down and more socially bottom-up. Depending on the structure of organisation, ownership can also be generated middle-up-and-down by an empowered group that deeply understands both ends.

Creating buy-in tends to be associated with the process of communicating change. It typically involves engaging stakeholders at the early phase of change efforts.

However, ownership is about articulating change. It is not only about connecting with stakeholders, but also moving them and empowering them to take action. Creating ownership is a continuous, multi-phase process.

Buy-in is a state of mind. Ownership is a state of being. It is far more important and effective to create ownership of change.

In the context of educational leadership, do you agree that “Culture is like a tree. It takes years to grow, yet it can be chopped down in minutes”?

I see the point, but I have also observed something different.

The tweet presupposes that culture is good. There can also be withholding, “always done this way”, or otherwise negative culture. Such a tree-shaped culture needs to be cut down because we do not need a tree standing in the way progressive change.

Changes in leadership are sometimes carried out to prevent group think and inertia. However, the entrenched school culture not only persists, it can sometimes shape the new leader.

Some gurus advise that leaders not mould organisations to be like them. But if these leaders are adept to change and forward-thinking, isn’t the point to reshape or even cut down the tree?

I love conducting workshops for organisations that embrace change and take steps to move forward. Sometimes, however, it feels like hit-and-runs as I pollinate one flower after another.

Other times I am invited to return a few times to repollinate. This might happen because I inform participants and any leaders that might be present that change efforts are multi-pronged. While there are key leverage points (like staff professional development), systemic change requires systemic effort.

At least one group took my advice to get their leaders and administrators in on the flipped learning movement. The rationale for doing this was simple: How could they support what they could not relate to?

Last Friday, I conducted a workshop that was specially arranged for leaders, managers, and administrators of the organisation. There were educators and dual-role folks, of course, but it was a rose by a different name.

Working with such a group can be challenging especially if members do not have a strong educational background. But I was pleasantly surprised by how much they took away from the session (see screen capture below of some of their takeaways).

My workshop was designed to provide flipped classroom and flipped learning experiences, deconstruct the experiences, and rise above to catch important concepts that bubbled to the surface. The leaders did not miss several important messages on change afforded by flipping:

  • Experience the change; do not just hear about it
  • Provide support or do not get in the way
  • Shape policies in terms of appraisal, student evaluation of teaching, workload, reward mechanisms
  • Build community, do not just make policy

While it is wonderful to see a few organisations take the lead, it is just as terrifying to see how many more moonwalk. They make forward motion but actually walk backward. This was cool and impressive for Michael Jackson; it is not for educational institutes.

Video source

To keep my own morale up, I will avoid the latter group like Venus Fly Traps. Here is to more flipping good flowers!

LEADERSHIP is being slow to take the credit and quick to take the blame.
This was a principle that I would operate by when I was in positions of leadership. It was also the operating principle I held my team leaders to.

I remembered this because of something that happened in #edsg last week.

When Singapore was awarded a UNESCO prize for promoting open source Physics resources, I thought that the Ministry of Education in its official press release did not give credit to one person in particular.

Incidentally, UNESCO made the announcement on 13 Jan 2016, but MOE’s statement was released on the 15th.

Behind the scenes, one person championed and modelled open educational resources. The official press release made it sound like an institutional effort. Like most good ideas or innovations, it was not. Such green shoots are seeded and nurtured by individuals or small teams.

The organisation was quick to take the credit. History will show that it is slow to take the blame. This is the opposite of good leadership.

In the spirit of openness, I found a similar quote:


And this is the original CC-licensed photo with which I created the image quote.

It has been a week since the passing of Singapore’s founding father, Mr Lee Kuan Yew.

I highlight several education-focused tweets from ST’s coverage of the special parliamentary session on 26 Mar 2015. Then I highlight a practice that school leaders can learn from.

From Ms Sim Ann:

From Ms Chia Yong Yong:

From Christopher de Souza:

Good leadership is effective change while you are in power.

Great leadership is effecting change by empowering. This means leaving behind a legacy in the form of good people who continue good work.

There is no big secret to doing something like this.

I took a leaf from Mr Lee’s book when I was Head of the Centre for e-Learning by having weekly lunches with my teams [1] [2].

Succession planning is something leaders talk about. I wonder how many actually do something concrete about it. Having discussions over a meal is not difficult to do.

I recycle a quote I heard while at a conference in Riyadh a few years ago: If you want to talk, let’s take a walk. If you want to eat, let’s take a seat.

People learn more when they are relaxed and informal. A lunch can be littered with lightness and laughter. Leaders could leverage on that. They might learn something about their staff and/or leave an indelible mark on them over time.


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