Wednesday, 23 November 2011

The Elephants in the Room

As a leader, do you name the elephants in the room and ensure they are dealt with?

Every school/organization has its own 'elephants in the room'.  There are always issues that hover beneath the surface that impede improvement efforts.  In a school, these may be issues related to why certain groups of students are not being successful, whether we truly believe that all students can learn given sufficient time and the right supports, whether consequences are punishments or are designed to restore relationships, why certain staff members appear to be privileged, and....the list goes on. 

The job of the leader is to summon up the courage to name these 'elephants' and then to provide a forum for these to be worked through.  Sound easy?  It may be if it's done superficially or if it's done from the stance of 'the boss'.  It's not so easy if you - as leader - truly want to address the issue at hand.  It's tough because it demands courage.  It demands comfort with uncertainty about how discussions will unfold.  And in particular, it demands skills in being able to facilitate a discussion so that all voices are heard and differing perspectives can be surfaced in a respectful manner.  This is the toughest part of all.  In fact, it is often seen as so difficult, leaders will sometimes let the 'elephants' remain in the room and not address them at all because the challenge of dealing with them is just too great.  However, as a leader, can you ethically let this happen?  You have been entrusted with the leading of a school/organization with confidence in your knowledge and skills to lead.  Dealing with challenging issues like the 'elephants' demands a lot of you but avoidance of issues sustains the status quo when improvement is possible if the challenges are faced. 

What can you - as a leader - do about this?  Dealing with difficult and complex issues requires confidence on your part as well as the skills of facilitation.  The confidence needs to be summoned up from inner strength.  The facilitation skills can be learned. 

If you don't face these 'elephants', true and important change can't happen.  The critical conversations won't take place.  Most significantly, those who rely on you - students, parents, staff - are being let down because they aren't being provided with the leadership that's needed.  It won't be easy the first time.  You might even fail.  However, choosing not to act should not be an option because it's a guarantee that nothing will change.

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