The King in Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince is clear: he only ever commands people to do what they were going to do anyway. He knows he’s the King, and the King commands; but he knows too that his control is illusory. Leadership can sometimes feel like this: you know you’re ‘the Lead’ and ‘the Lead’, well, leads; but, you’re clear too, you lead only so long as people are willing to follow. The ideal is to create the conditions where what people are going to do is what you would have done anyway. Creating such conditions is at the heart of the art of leadership.
This isn’t about creating a ‘mini-me’ culture but rather empowering your staff team to develop as leaders themselves to extend the capacity of your school for their own professional satisfaction and bring the ultimate benefit to your students and local community. Three elements are key in achieving this state: values, clarity and vision.
The bedrock for a successful leader is the set of values that gets you out of bed in the morning and sustains you through the long evenings. This usually translates as making the world a better place – for both the children and adults for whom you hold responsibility. Be it big picture, increasing social mobility, or more humble, a sound grounding in literacy by the end of Reception, the values you hold dear dictate how you approach everything else. These values need to feel authentic – they really have to matter to you – if they are going to have an impact on others.
“And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”
― The Little Prince
Can you enable others to understand why those values are important? Can you communicate why those values matter to ensure that others will share them? Can you create and sustain systems that support and challenge your staff team and enable them to become self-motivated?
Daniel Pink describes the conditions supporting self-motivation as: autonomy, mastery and purpose. How far do your staff feel that they can make decisions appropriate to their direct remit? How much do they feel professionally nourished by the support and training they receive? How relevant are the school’s vision and values in their day-to-day work? If all three conditions are met, you have a highly and intrinsically motivated team. No commanding required.
“A rock pile ceases to be a rock pile the moment a single person contemplates it, bearing within them the image of a cathedral.”
― The Little Prince
A clearly communicated image of the better future ahead, underpinned by the core values shared by all involved is the starting point of a transformation. Leaders who can achieve this have a much better chance of success than those who cannot do so. Yes, things need to be well managed and be given sufficient time to grow but the values and vision are the engine of change. Get those right and the chance is that you won’t need to command anyone to do anything in pursuit of your goals – they’ll be going to do it anyway.
SAINT-EXUPÉRY, A. D., SAINT-EXUPÉRY, A. D., & WOODS, K. (1943). The little prince. New York, Harcourt, Brace & World.