It’s been one of those weeks where I have had the opportunity, for various reasons, to reflect on both my own values and those values that I would like our school community to represent. In doing so, I have become even more evangelical about the ways of working which we promote and hold in high esteem from everyone involved with us: optimism, determination, thoughtfulness, clarity. I am now even more convinced that these really are the values which reflect us best.
Lencioni summarises nicely in The Advantage the importance of values which are authentic to the organisation, and he distinguishes between core values, aspirational values, accidental values and permission to play values. He talks about the numerous organisations which have respect, integrity, excellence, and aspiration amongst others as their core values – his claim is that these values can in fact be destructive. Empty values statements can create cynical employees and undermine everything the organisation is trying to achieve. His alternative? To follow the process below so that an organisation’s values actually mean something.
Step 1: Understand the different types of values. Lencioni defines them as below:
These are the principles / the ways of working which guide all of an organisation’s actions – these are evident in every aspect of the organisation and are sacrosanct.
Permission To Play Values:
These are the minimum behavioural and social standards required of anyone within the organisation. These don’t tend to vary much across organisations, particularly those in the same sector, so by definition they don’t really help distinguish an organisation’s particular flavour. These can often be confused with core values.
These are values which the organisation needs to succeed in the future but which they currently lack.
These arise spontaneously without being deliberately cultivated by the organisation’s leadership. They usually reflect the common interests of personalities of the organisation’s employees.
Step 2: Be unapologetically authenticc.
Step 3: Own the process.
Step 4: Ensure the values are lived – weave them into every aspect of the organisation.
The process we went through in determining our core values was interesting as at the start, we were in fact describing what Lencioni defines as permission to play values. Of course we want to act with honesty, of course we want to operate respectfully, of course we want our community to be aspirational, but what really helped us was Lencioni’s question in relation to what constitutes a core value – do we do it better and with more deliberate focus than 99% of other similar organisations? If the answer is yes, it’s a core value.
What was also interesting about the process was that ultimately as the leader of the school (and whilst I am also evangelical about team work), the values had to be authentic to me – I had to make the final decision. I am lucky to work for a trust which absolutely understands leadership in its broadest sense, and the input from the commercial world is one which I welcome – the majority of my reading and inspiration on leadership comes from outside of education. Sometimes in education, distributive leadership is talked about so much that we forget that leaders are the leader of an organisation for a reason – this is not about hero heads, but if the leader can’t make the difference, then why are they there? Leading change and establishing a culture has to, in my view, come from the leader of the organisation. And that’s why the four values had to be authentic to me.
This week, I have been comforted by the fact that my senior team, our systems and processes, and the way we work with everyone in our community, really does support the fact that our four core values are core values, and not in fact permission to play values. I have also reflected this week on how interrelated my four ways of working / core values are – this perhaps reflects the fact that one of the things I have always wanted to achieve in whatever role I have undertaken, is cohesion.
I am by nature an optimistic person and one of my favourite quotations is from Einstein: “You have to learn the rules of the game. And then, you have to play better than anyone else.” Schools exist in the educational landscape we have – there is no point arguing or fighting against this – it is what it is. I do not however believe that this makes me powerless. I don’t buy that this means we have to operate our school in a particular way, I don’t buy that this means I have to compromise my values or my beliefs in education. I make it work within the system we operate in. It is possible.
I am also by nature a determined person. I value hard work highly, and I will always find a solution or be committed to making a difference – no matter whether it is for a student, a staff member, a parent or the community which our school serves. And it is a mixture of this optimism and determination which works for our school.
It is this value which has been most in my mind this week. One of the things I admire most, in fact require, in terms of both working and personal relationships is the acceptance of responsibility. This cannot happen without self-awareness and reflection. My first response to anything is what was my part in this? How did I contribute? What did I do well? What do I need to do differently? What have I learned from this? It is impossible to take responsibility without the ability to think about these questions. This is not to say that anything that happens (good or bad) is solely down to me. What it does mean is that my first instinct is to look to myself and my part within it. And as the leader of an organisation, it is my role to share this and accept my part to play without feeling the need to blame others or manipulate the situation to detract attention away from myself. And again, it is here that I am lucky to work within a trust who challenge my own thinking and help ensure I remain outward looking too. I am encouraged to also think how I might also include awareness of external influences and the responsibility of others so that thoughtfulness is both an internal and external reflection.
All of the above three values result in my fourth core value – clarity. With an optimism that I can change things, the determination to follow it through, and the thoughtfulness in relation to what needs to happen and how we move forward for the best interests of our community, my final value is clarity. Clarity of agreed action, clarity of support, clarity of communication.
Authentic leadership – being true to my core values. What are yours?