Leadership Lessons from 2020 - Learning Valuable Lessons, the Hard Way...
"This will not be the last annus horribilis. The challenge for leaders is to step up now to be better prepared for the next one."
~ Eric J. McNulty
This blog is not about preschool education per se. It is about leadership. And learning lessons. Mainly as a result of COVID-19. But it is as applicable to any preschool environment as it is to large corporate enterprises.
We have written before about the challenges that preschools are going to face increasingly as far as management and leadership are concerned. Facing these challenges is going to take an increasing need for teachers to become au fait with the essence of management and leadership – and especially with the exigencies of strategy and strategic planning.
Because you see – strategy is all about anticipating what the future is going to bring. It is about making certain assumptions about what the environment will hold for you, and then act on these in terms of planning your resources, schedules, and timings.
Hard work is no longer the panacea for all kinds of challenges within the educational environment – if indeed it ever had been. Smart, agile work, however, is the answer to challenges brought about by new threats, seen or unforeseen. The ability to adapt, to think out of the box, but above all – to learn from past lessons, even if these were not your own…
Lesson 1 – Create Restorative Habits
Psychology teaches us that the human mind craves predictability — but 2020 brought uncertainty and all the stress that comes with it. The leader needs to stay focused and positive, setting the example. But that means that you must also be seen to be holding it together. One way to do that in 2020 was for people to add a new routine to their day. One could term this a restorative activity. There are many examples of this – keep and share a diary with other teachers; build a photo collage of developments during the years; brainstorm how you would build and celebrate the ideal year for the children, etc.
Lesson 2 – Prepare for and Adapt to Greater Uncertainty
This will not be the last pandemic. Nor will it be the last great challenge. We as leaders need to rethink our assumptions about constancy. We need to build resilience and crisis readiness in our organisations. It needs to become as routine as having everyday classes. We have to face it – the "old normal" is past us. Nothing else will ever be the same. To yearn for yesteryear will not serve any purpose.
Lesson 3 – Understand Sensemaking
Sensemaking is about having effective ways to make sense of the complex external world we are living in. When the pace of change is this fast, managers need to make sure that people update their understanding of shifts in training, technology, markets, competitors, and future demands on teachers.
In essence, we need an updated map of the world – the old order is past us. For example, a team trying to develop new training curricula need to be aware of the shifting requirements for scientific knowledge brought about by the 4IR (4th Industrial Revolution). To neglect sensemaking is to be behind.
Lesson 4 – Give Special Attention to Work Relationships
High-quality work relationships help individuals feel safe and supported. Now, more than ever, it is important that our teachers feel loved, respected, and valued. Make sure that you include teambuilding routines into your work schedule. Remember that all teams go through four team development phases – Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing. It is important that you teach your people this and show them the characteristics of each and how they can progress to the next stage. Just allowing your team to develop automatically is not the way to do it.
Lesson 5 – Put Care at the Centre of Leadership
If there is one thing that we have learned from 2020 is that it is not just desirable to be compassionate leaders – it is necessary. The old skillset of leaders – passion, vision, skills, coaxing – are no longer cutting it. These skills make the modern leader ill-prepared for the need to recognise and alleviate human suffering. It is time for those who are passionate about good leadership to put care at the centre of leadership.
Lesson 6 – Use the Advantages of Being a Team
You need to surround yourself with a diversity of thought — no one expects you to have all the answers. This pandemic demands that you go beyond what you should be doing to what you could be doing. It requires innovative problem-solving. It’s about collective wisdom. You and your team need to take care of each other. Trust them with your emotions. Commit to taking care of each other — admit to each other that this year is not just a head challenge; it’s a heart challenge as well. More than anything we need moral leadership.
Lesson 7 – Develop an Employee-Centred Culture
Teachers need to be empowered to do their work. They need to be empowered, and enabled, by showing them that you trust them, by developing them as individuals through continuous training, by giving them the tools to do their job. In short - by putting them at the centre – not you as the principal. Just like the nurses and cleaners are the true heroes in our hospitals, so too should we recognise are our teachers, our assistant teachers, our cleaners, our medical staff.
There are likely many other lessons, and we will return to them in future. Principals and teachers in 2021 will have to stand up against uncertainty by allowing our inner true heroes to come to the fore. By allowing our staff to take the centre stage, by empowering them, by protecting them against the ruinous effects of uncertainty and social invalidation.
As managers and leaders, we will have to engage in dialogue and develop practices to ensure that our teachers, parents, and children bridge the gap between the now and future so that we can begin to rebuild our sense of self and community.
Klassen, A. Image. Unsplash.com.
MacDonald, A. Nine Leadership Lessons 2020 Gave Us. December 2020. https://sloanreview.mit.edu/article/nine-leadership-lessons-2020-gave-us/.
Van Vuuren, I. Management and Leadership in a Post-COVID World. December 2020. Lecture Notes (Course under development at Play, Learn, Win).