Sunday, September 25, 2016

Popular vs Effective

“Effective leadership is not about speeches or being liked; leadership is defined by results not attributes.” – Peter Drucker

There is always an innate desire to be popular. Chalk this up to human nature, right or wrong.  Our culture idolizes movie stars, musicians, and professional athletes. We also gravitate to those who are the most popular in their respective profession, sometimes for reasons that I will never understand.  The world basically stopped and mourned when Angelina Jolie announced that she was divorcing Brad Pitt.  Kim Kardashian, on a recent vacation to Mexico took over 6000 selfies and the masses ate it up.  In her case social media has only increased her popularity exponentially.  We can even take a look at social media numbers in general.  Individuals with large followings are often placed into the popularity column, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are effective at what they do.  

Popularity means different things to different people and unfortunately can have a negative impact on the change process. The popularity bug impacted me early in my career.  I really wasn't concerned much about this as a teacher, but during my first few years as an administrator it was definitely on my mind. My thought process made sense to me at least. I saw being popular with my staff as a way to overcompensate for my young age and in turn gain the respect of a veteran staff. Needless to say, all this did during those initial years was help to sustain the status quo. Nothing really changed and results were flat at best. 


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One of the most challenging aspects of education is the perception that popular teachers and administrators are also effective. Granted some definitely are, but in many cases popularity creates a layer that when peeled away the reality comes to light. The problem, however, lies in the fact that this layer is rarely peeled away. It becomes fixated to the point that these individuals become sacred cows and untouchable.  Naysayers and antagonists use popularity strategically as a way to mask their deficiencies. It is also used to build stakeholder support for all the wrong reasons. 

Leadership is about action. It is not a popularity contest. As leaders in our respective positions it is important to ensure popularity doesn’t get in the way of effectively meeting the needs of all learners, helping to promote and sustain a transformative school culture, or moving the education profession forward. We must be willing to make tough decisions and take on the resistance wherever it lies, knowing full well that these actions will diminish our popularity. Changes to grading, homework, instructional accountability, and professional learning will all start out as unpopular decisions. However, results in the form of improved learning outcomes and the ability to help schools change at scale carry more weight in the long term than popularity does. 

Popularity does not necessarily make you a good teacher, administrator, or leader in the field of education. Your actions that lead to tangible results are what truly matter. By focusing on the latter you will not only become more effective, but also pretty popular in the process. Encourage others to do the same.

7 comments:

  1. Interesting distinction between leadership and popularity. What also comes to mind is that the way we lead; through collaboration, getting feedback and support also impact how teachers feel about leadership efforts.

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    1. Sometimes how we lead is impacted (negatively) by trying to make everyone happy. Your points illustrate the real balance that needs to be achieved. If we are effective in fostering collaboration and providing good feedback, that will not only improve our effectiveness, but could quite possible increase popularity as well.

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  2. It's easy to be popular. To "give" people what they want or at least pay them lip service. The key is to include your community in your decision making, take their feedback, and be up front with them even if they don't like what you're doing. That's the key to real leadership.

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    1. Great point Tom. When all stakeholders feel that have input that is valued and acted upon change is more likely to succeed. That in itself is an indicator of effectiveness.

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  3. If you focus on being popular instead of leading, you will lose track of your vision and potentially lose sight of why you are where you are. I think we often confuse being popular in a leadership role with being respected. If we share our vision, communicate our priorities, and listen to feedback, we are more likely to be respected.

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  4. Really powerful stuff! Enjoyed the read. I would add/echo that facilitating a relationship for people to know you care, your authentic, genuine allows and creates buy in. Will not solve all potential conflicts, but does attribute to better handling of tougher situations.

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  5. As a seasoned Principal transferred to a building that had several principals in the last four years, I'm currently trying to build relationships with my staff. The resistance is high and it can become discouraging because my expectations are to always do what is best for children. I welcome staff input and feedback however many are silent and the climate and culture is affected. My intentions are pure and I know it takes time. This blog has allowed me to relate and feel part of a professional network.

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