It was in one of those reports about that group fondly referred to as “The Youff” where they said that as a sixteen year old nowadays: “If you’re not online you don’t exist.” That is, if you’ve not got an online presence, a Bebo page, a MySpace account or a humble blog then don’t even attempt to pretend that you have anything worthwhile to say.
One of my favorite authors is Peter Drucker. I literally have a stack of books on my desk at the moment, and I keep coming back to two of Drucker’s books, The Effective Executive and Managing for Results. I’m not sure why, but my hands want to pick these two books up and hold them until my eyes read them. I suppose it’s because Drucker’s ideas are so easy to grasp and, in some cases, out of date…allowing me a slight superiority over the author. Foolish since time makes all men fools. Yet, I am captivated by the 4 walls of freedom that bound reality.
1) The executive’s time tends to belong to everybody else. This was a hard reality for me to accept when I first became an administrator 7 years ago. I was a lowly grant coordinator working with 235 teachers earning a master’s degee in C&I with IT specialization–entirely online–and over 120 administrators going through the program. My time was constrained by having to maintain contact with all of them. However, I came to love the opportunity to serve as a conduit for information, emotional support, and the organizer for the various grant related activities. But for those first few months, my time was not my own. I was plugged in 24 hours a day, and I wanted to make sure that I was there for everyone. I remember many a night staying up late working to check emails, answer questions…because questions teachers asked didn’t show up until after they ate dinner, put their kids to bed. It was exhilirating to be a hub of information, ideas, and support. In many ways, it was the most thrilling moment of my career…hard, tough, but exhilirating.
As a director, I spend my time in meetings, on the phone, or chained to my desk working on some mundane aspect of administrivia. But again, my time is not my own in the way I’d come to expect as a coordinator, or even, as a technology specialist. As a specialist, I had enormous freedom to develop workshops and content, implement it, reflect and revise, then try again. What tremendous opportunities for learning exist…everything has an application. In administration, I find myself working to accomplish goals through other people. Instead of being the tool, I am the tool-wielder. My tools are the wonderfully talented people that are on my team. I am fortunate to have them, but again, if I husband my time, I am denying them. Yet, for my own growth, I have to set time aside, jealously, like a father choosing to be alone, apart from the family.
2) Executives are forced to keep on “operating” unless they take positive action to change the reality in which they live and work. This is so true, a reality I discovered when I became a director. I’d walked into a poor situation where everyone else sought to define the nature of my organization. I worked long nights to meet the expectations set, but also, to build new expectations. In those early years, I strove not to be the primary mover, the agent of change evident in the quote, Define or be defined. While I was successful to a certain degree, I also have encountered the “organizational ceiling” that is defined in reality #3.
3) The third reality pushing the executive to ineffectiveness is that he is within an organization. That means he is effective only if and when other people make use of what he contributes. In my organization, there was a profound feud, a divide, between Curriculum and Instruction and the Technology Dept. The divide was there before I arrived, and the greatest challenge was living up to Helen Keller’s advice, I am only one, still I am one. I can not do everything, still I can do something. I will not refuse to do the something I can do. As an administrator, I have the benefit of a team of people…it intensifies the anger when others disdain the contribution of a talented team. In those instances I am reminded that one should not cast pearl before swine. So, within this environment, we have done something. It’s not as wonderful as I would like, but it is something…and it is a miracle to the people who benefited from the actions taken. Perhaps, it is worth remembering another of Helen’s quotes, Tyranny cannot defeat the power of ideas. The beauty of the Read/Write Web is that so many more people are exposed to your contributions, and can benefit from that work, even if those within the organization are caught up in the reality of the organization.
The real challenge for me as an administrator, for becoming effective within my organization, is when other people make use of what I have to contribute. So long as others are caught up in the immediate reality, they will be unable to see the picture. I have to try and help them get out of “the Cave.” It takes time to build a relationship and relationships don’t last when the administration changes quickly, and you have to start over again with somebody new…who may be on the same road out.
4) Finally, the executive is within an organization. What is inside is the immediate reality and what goes on outside is usually not even known firsthand. It is received through an organizational filter of reports, that is, in an already predigested and highly abstract form that imposes organizational criteria of relevance on the outside reality. This last reality is one that I think Drucker is wrong about. In the old days, this may have been true…but now we have the benefit of blogs, the emphasis on transparency, and administrators lack only the courage to speak.
That is, they have to be willing to tell the organization the truth about itself. This is challenging because we know the depth of commitment and effort people put into realizing–literally, making their vision a reality–their imagination, their conception of how things should be. And, sometimes, this effort is marred by other priorities beyond that of serving the people in the organization. For example, imagine a competing department that because it lacks the will or expertise to accomplish its own mission, decides to do what another department does. Instead of pursuing their particular mission, they compete against that of another department. While competition may work in business, in education, it is a poor idea…especially when superintendents are feuding.
I like to think of this as each “ranch” having its own hired guns, sending them out to battle. After awhile, one or both gunfighters figure out that this is a waste of time, but they are drawn together by tradition and repetition. Even after the ranch owners are gone, the gunfighters show up at high noon to fight. And if one doesn’t show, the other comes looking.
Increasing transparency enables the REAL story to get out about what is happening…it is because of the blog that I have something to say, in the manner I have to say it, that makes the difference for me…that helps me realize that I do matter, even in my meanest moments when I am in the corner…I’m reminded of Thoreau, a passage I didn’t understand until now:
…to live so…as to put to rout all that was not life…to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion.
Source: Walden by Thoreau
In the end, persistence and integrity may win the day. But the sure sign of an administrator gone wrong is one who wraps himself in a blanket of ignorance and surety…and ignores the truth that is out there. I’ve seen it happen. Some embrace the criticism, others do not. Those that do not…well, they fail.
So, I like Drucker and what he has to say. Even if he’s off in regards to the computers, he’s gets a lot of points right. As I consider life as an executive–a knowledge worker–I’m reminded by a sermon on the radio of a truth I hadn’t considered in awhile.
You have to reach the end of self, give up that mistaken belief that you alone can make everything work the right way. For me, it is the fifth reality that Drucker didn’t discuss. As an executive, I have to surrender myself to the fact that I can’t do it alone, that my team can’t make it happen, no matter how good they are. That I have to have faith that there are forces at work that will win the day, even when all is lost.
As a teacher or professional learning facilitator, I would have balked at that faith.
After being on the Mountain, my God, that is all I have…is it enough?
Subscribe to Around the Corner-MGuhlin.org
Be sure to visit the ShareMore! Wiki.