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Organizations today recognize that sustained innovation is essential in order to compete and survive in the global marketplace. However, “innovation” is not just about coming up with radical ideas, nor is it simply about cool products (iPads and iPhones, for instance) or “creative” gurus (such as Steve Jobs and Richard Branson). While these might represent the most visible and tangible evidence that innovation exists, there is far more to the story.
Author and creativity expert Bryan W. Mattimore, in his book Idea Stormers: How to Lead and Inspire Creative Breakthroughs (Jossey-Bass, 2012), says that “Ideation – the term for the collection of group creativity techniques formerly known as brainstorming – is fun but can be hard work. Innovation – getting an idea or product to market successfully – is much harder work still.”
￼￼￼Sustained innovation is more about a supportive and aligned culture than a singular product or individual.
Sustained innovation is more about a supportive and aligned culture than a singular product or individual....
As we value the wonder and joy that curiosity brings to children’s learning experiences, school leaders must likewise keep curiosity at the center of our efforts. In fact, curiosity might just be the transformational difference between creating impact as a fixed-mindset manager or as a growth-focused leader. Faced with complex issues requiring adaptive solutions, curiosity feeds an educational leader’s ability to systematically lead with purpose.
To challenge the status quo.
To thoughtfully address root causes and to not simply and reactively target symptoms.
To appreciate not having all the answers, but rather, the desire and drive to constantly ask “Why?” and “Why not?”
Examining our schools through a cultural lens, for example, and ensuring we are leading with equity demands curiosity. Our backgrounds and experiences are often quite different from those throughout our school community, leading to diverse-yet altogether valid-perspectives. Curiosity about our individual and collective beliefs, values, identities, and expectations is necessary to address inequities and disparities across the educational landscape. With knowledge, understanding, and empathy, we are better prepared to address societal challenges within our own school buildings.
Working in education, with and against its demands, requires emotional intelligence and stamina. School leaders can slowly lose their curiosity, becoming entirely focused on the technical and mundane tasks that we can let dominate our to-do lists. This often results in fewer questions asked and more directives given. Less creativity and more checklists. Tunnel vision.
I have experienced this tunnel-vision myself. In my district, we thought we were more than adequately addressing tolerance, inclusion, diversity, and respect in our curriculum and culture. But when an angry parent acted confrontationally in a public meeting, I was faced with the choice to either dismiss or diminish this parent’s concerns or to get curious about them. Thankfully, I chose the latter route, and this curiosity revealed that, despite the solid focus within our curriculum on these issues, there was a disconnect between our intent and impact in our schools. There were ways we could do better!
Curiosity allowed me to ask questions like “Tell me why you feel that way?” and “How have you seen this impact your family?” It allowed me to not only come up with a collaborative solution for the child in question, but also address a greater perspective shift within our schools. As a leader, I was also able to get curious about my perception of myself and how this parent felt I was showing up.
Equipped with this new understanding and a team of engaged stakeholders, we committed to ensuring all voices were heard and included in all aspects of our community. We rallied around a sense of curiosity to engage us all in this important work. We set forth on a large-scale equity and inclusion model that has dramatically changed not only what and how we teach, but also how we better interact and respect each other. Setting out with curiosity, we better understood ourselves and others as leaders and learners. This curiosity served as an opportunity to collaborate, empower, and build trust.
So, how do we, as leaders of adult and child learners, maintain our curiosity?
Many schools create powerful student “buddy” and mentoring programs; peers able to connect, share, and listen. Likewise, district and school-based teacher mentoring opportunities allow colleagues to learn from each other, creating supportive and enriching environments for growth. By having mentors, our students and teachers collaborate in safe, judgment-free partnerships to learn and grow. No assessments, grades, evaluations, or pressure – formal, yet simple, peer relationships focused on remaining open and curious about possibilities.
Yet, what about school leaders? How do we ensure we constantly listen to other perspectives, question our own assumptions, and learn about new ideas? Where do we turn when emotions overwhelm, pressures mount, and we view checking off our to-do list as a substitute for accomplishing our greater goals? How do we remain the curious growth-focused leader we wish to be?
Professional coaching is a wide-ranging practice in numerous business industries, but it can be especially valuable for the education leader. Trained and invested in the leader and their context, the coach serves as an active listener. The coach does not solve problems, but rather facilitates reflection and deep critical thinking to consider options. The coach can also help identify emotions that may drive insufficient decisions built upon faulty assumptions. It ensures our impact matches our intent. This coaching model keeps our curiosity alive.
School leaders need support as we maneuver among the multitude of challenges presented in our educational settings. Leadership curiosity must be valued if we seek to create and sustain outstanding learning environments for all. Supporting those efforts, professional coaching is a critically important tool to strengthen our leadership commitment to our teachers, students, and community.
MSBCoach is committed to partnering with leaders and teams to identify their True North. One's true north includes living into your values, identifying what it means to you to be your authentic self, and practicing emotional intelligence. Leadership, executive, and team coaching are effective ways to help leaders and their teams put these principles into practice. We also offer engaging workshops in being an authentic leader, emotional intelligence, identifying your values, and many others. You can check out our coaching processes and our list of workshops here.
What sets a great leader apart from a good leader? We know it is not title and not even experience. Leaders who reach the summit level of leadership either through their title or their own personal development (should be a combination of both) will have mastered all of the other levels of leadership competencies. Competencies such as:
· emotional intelligence
· ownership mindset
· outstanding communicator
· relationship management
· advanced people skills
· critical thinking
· change agent
· business acumen
· executive presence and
· community focus
With this extensive list…. What skills are left to develop at the top? To reach the peak of leadership competencies a leader should live a life that demonstrates:
· a belief in and a champion of people
· a visionary leader
· idea champion
Let’s focus on the competency of being an “idea champion.”
The word “mantra” has a few different meanings. One of the definitions means, “an instrument of thought” (Wikipedia). A credo is “a statement of the beliefs or aims that guide someone's actions” (Dictionary.com). A few weeks ago, I was writing up my thoughts on leadership to share with a new team member. In doing so, I realized I created a list that makes up my personal leadership credo or mantra.
I recently had the pleasure of facilitating a strategy process with an entrepreneurial team in a growing technology and communications organization. The owner and CEO expressed this simple request at the beginning of our discussions. The nuance of this elegant statement created an amazing exchange of ideas, energy, and future possibilities.
A manager who once told me that his goal for me was to find time for 20% open thinking time in my work day. At the time, I thought this was a silly concept considering I had so much to do and not enough time to do it. I was so busy with tasks that needed to get done. Coming from a strong work ethic background, it was actually hard for me to leave an open space in my schedule. I believed that being super busy was being the super employee. Clearly, this gift from my manager would take time and practice to understand and recognize the value.
A recent psychological study by UVA and Harvard found that people would rather be doing something – possibly even hurting themselves – than doing nothing or sitting alone with their thoughts. When faced with 6 to 15 minutes of time to think, many participants chose a mild electric shock rather than open time to think. “What is striking,” the investigators write, “is that simply being alone with their own thoughts for 15 minutes was apparently so aversive that it drove many participants to self-administer an electric shock…” – Wow! I guess this time to think is a common challenge!
Today’s technology devices allow us to fill every minute to be sure to get the most “productivity” out of our day. Instant, endless messages are sent at every moment of every day. The impact of this constant barrage of activity leaves us unable to quiet down often leading to exhaustion and insomnia. It becomes so uncomfortable to just be still.
I decided that taking time to think was a critical part of my wellness. I started with small steps. On the suggestion of a friend, I tried to pause to take a deep breath before opening the car door…easy right? Definitely No. I was miles down the road before I remembered my resolve… even after many attempts. Clearly this would be a long journey to change for me.
After much time and effort, I am pleased to say that I really enjoy open time to think. I had to try lots of different approaches to find a few that work for me…and I had to turn off the cell phone. Considering the research referenced, it’s no surprise that the focus on wellness continues to grow.
Personally, I am amazed at how the time to think can energize creativity. Creativity doesn’t just take the form of some amazing idea. For me, creativity fills the space with options to do things differently. Many creative ideas have been tossed aside but some have made a real difference in finding a better way to accomplish a task, partner with a co-worker, or solve a problem.
So what have I learned about the value of taking time to think? I’m happier and more creative. I have more patience for great conversations and future possibilities. I don’t really know when I lost my skills for enjoying thinking time, but I’m even more appreciative now that I have it back. My wish for you is some wonderful and enjoyable time to think…with no electric shocks.