So come with me, 

where dreams are born,
and time is never planned.
Just think of happy things,
and your heart will fly on wings,
Forever, in Never Never Land.
~Peter Pan

This morning, this Buzz bugged me like a gnat on a hot summer day (and, in Texas, that’s not too far off!):

Dr. McLeod has a wonderful reputation for generating controversy by moving people’s cheese. This buzz from Scott, though, highlights another one of those “feel-good,” easy to share messages about leadership.  The article is entitled Leading from Wherever You Are in an Organization: Your Professional Responsibility. It is brief hurrah article about John Maxwell’s book, The 360 degree Leader. Check out this Powerpoint slide show to see what Maxwell was highlighting in more detail.
While no one can fault a positive attitude, thinking happy thoughts and all that, there’s some serious risk in trying to lead from the middle, especially when you consider the diagram below.
Here is an excerpt from the article:

Emanating from a central hub, your influence should transcend multiple levels within your organization. Conceptually, 360° Leaders “lead up, lead across, and lead down” to maximize their sphere of influence.

Let’s get down to brass tacks. Before we do, let’s reflect on what “Let’s get down to brass tacks” actually means. Usually, it means the following:

The expression usually means clearing out confusing details and finding out the real facts about something.

What’s confusing about this article? For me, this article fails to take into account these points…and the concern is that it you’re sending people off to get “slammed” as they try to put these ideas in place with no real specific advice. It’s like, “Go tear down the dam” blocking the great ideas with no thought as to where the “flood” waters will go. Is that the kind of way you want to begin reconstruction in YOUR environment?
For me, the book review….
  • Fails to Conduct an Environmental Scan: If you conduct an environmental scan–getting relevant information about your situation–you will probably find that there is an entrenched culture ready to resist your change efforts. It doesn’t matter that YOU think it’s all wonderful and great, but that people with real feelings do not want to change. Leadership without taking stock of the needs and fears of those around you is plumb loco.
  • Fails to Avoid Garnering Needless Resentment and Retaliation: In the diagram above, it is stated that your professional responsibility IS to break the chain of command and talk to your supervisor’s peers, peer’s subordinates, and supervisor peer’s subordinates. Although education certainly gives lip service to distributed management/leadership approaches, the dysfunctional hierarchy is very much still in use.

    Is the following true of your organization or school hierarchy?

    Most hierarchies express arrogance and abuse of power, repressing expressions of new creative impulses. The limitation of the leader or leadership group becomes the limitation of an entire organization or society. Dysfunctional hierarchies create immense frustration in others, accompanied by threats of rebellion or at least passive resistance and subtle sabotage.Source: The New Leadership

    In hierarchies, is leadership shared? Can we have leaders in the middle and leaders in positions? Sure we can! But will insecure leaders in positions allow the leaders in the middle? NO.

    A great example of this is, if I go off and shout out a message to campus principals without ensuring that message has organizational support, nothing will happen. In fact, those folks at every angle of 360 degrees will strongly resent and retaliate. R&R increases when I go up the chain of command. Whether we agree that this is the “right” way, in many school cultures, R&R are a consequence of violating the chain of command and the culture of “no information” for those lower on the hierarchy.

  • Fails to Consider Command and Control Type Approaches in Schools: I haven’t read a single leadership book that encourages a lack of openness and transparency in leadership, but I bet readers would be unsurprised to find out that being close-mouthed IS an expectation for those higher-ups in position. The approach was described in this way to me by someone holding a doctorate in education leadership and consulting for local schools (read my disclaimer below before jumping to conclusions): School leaders are looking for “Soldier Ask Not” type obedience; they make a decision at Central Office and they want it carried out without argument or discussion. “Just do it.” That’s how districts that work get it done. This results in a top-down hierarchy where important decisions ARE made at the top by the POSITIONS, rather than the stakeholders.
The essence of the article Dr. McLeod has so graciously pointed out as worthy of being shared with those whinny tech coordinators who feel overwhelmed and irrelevant–my characterization, not his–is simple: If you want to effect change, step up and speak to everyone about that change. This type of approach resonates with me…SHARE MORE! The problem is, what happens when no one shares back and there are penalties for sharing?
From another review of Maxwell’s book:

Maxwell believes that those who are deficit in leadership skills tend to hoard their information. They protect their work from peers, supervisors and subordinates in order to make sure they receive their due credit for the work they have done.

He also believes that true leaders share everything. They share their best ideas, their hardest work, their most invested projects with everyone from every level in order to provide for the good of all. He feels this type of leader will ultimately reap the benefits of their unselfish and dedicated efforts and, like cream, rise to the top.

Often an entrenched culture that has deficit leadership skills is too hard to change without massive pain all around for everyone involved. The easiest answer is to practice Quinn’s active exit, but you end up jumping from position to position. Another, more likely approach, is to practice leadership in the middle that encourages team members to become star followers. Are you a star follower?

Star followers think for themselves, are very active, and have very positive energy. They do not accept the leader’s decision without their own independent evaluation of its soundness. If they agree with the leader they give full support. If they disagree, they challenge the leader, offering constructive alternatives that will help the leader and organization get where they want to go. Some people view these people as really “leaders in disguise” but this is basically because those people have a hard time accepting that followers can display such indpendence and positive behavior. Star followers are often referred to as “my right-hand person” or my “go-to person.”

The top level positions in command-n-control cultures that keep all information to themselves do not appreciate star followers because they represent a serious threat. Leadership from the middle is, sadly,  a clever illusion that is frequently dis-spelled by poor leadership at the top.
That said, with most of Maxwell’s book on my shelves, there are few authors who transport one to Never Never Land as quickly and easily. Ah, I’d rather the hard-bitten leadership advice one finds in reading Peter Drucker. If we could get these questions–between leaders and others around them–answered, I expect Maxwell’s advice would fall right into place:
  • “What activities do you need to report to me?” 
  • “What about my activity and my plans do you need to know from me?” 
  • The CEO needs to say, “This is what I am focusing on.” Then the CEO needs to ask of his associates, “What are you focusing on?” Ask your associates, “You put this on top of your priority list–why?”
Perhaps, it’s best to end with a John Maxwell quote….

“Where there is no hope in the future, there is no power in the present.”

To enact change, find your happy thought and to heck with the consequences.

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Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin’s blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure