Everyone seems to want change. While this, in essence, is a good thing, the reality is that many people don't want to actually go through the complex process. If this wasn't challenging enough, the individuals needed to lead it is even less. Thus, there must be a combination of willingness, planning, and action that results in improvement when any idea is put forth. There are many pathways to initiate and sustain change, but efficacy must be the goal no matter the chosen path. Change for the sake of change is rarely successful. Hence the need for clarity when time and resources are put forth to move a system in ways that produce better learning outcomes for all students.
Leadership isn't telling people what to do. That is a dictatorship that often results in frayed relationships, animosity, and the cultivation of those who constantly try to undermine any new initiative. Leadership is taking people where they need to be by empowering them to want to be part of the solution. What I mean here is that if people see and understand the value that the change will have on their professional practice, they are more prone to embrace what the leader is setting out to achieve collaboratively. Did you catch the pivotal component here? As the saying goes, there is no 'I" in team. The change leader understands that they might be the initial catalyst, but staff need to play an active role for any new idea or initiative to take hold.
To better understand the intricacies of being a change leader, I created the following graphic. Keep in mind that this image is meant to align with any specific path (transformational, instructional, pedagogical, managerial, inspirational) that you decide to take.
Vision and Purpose
Clarity begins with a well-defined vision and an over-reaching sense of purpose that helps others understand why change is needed. Consider this a roadmap of sorts where the destination is outlined in a way that people want to go on the journey. The seeds for change will only germinate if a coherent vision is established that instills a sense of purpose. Before going full steam ahead, gather key stakeholders to develop a shared vision that includes rationale, goals, expected outcomes, expectations, and means to assess the initiative's effectiveness.
The real work and testament to outstanding leadership is moving past the visioning process by developing a strategic plan to turn vision into reality. Begin by aligning to research that will help to validate why the change is needed. I found this particularly useful as a principal when we worked to transform grading in my school. The planning process should also involve some consensus from key stakeholders as this will increase embracement of the change being pursued. The planning process should lead to the development of goals, preferred outcomes, and success measures. Efficacy can only be achieved if these are in place. A great strategy empowers people to take action.
You won't find an effective leader who is not a masterful communicator. It's about getting the right information out at the right time using the right means. Communication is vital in accomplishing tasks and getting things done, passing on important information, acquiring information, developing a shared vision, reaching decisions through consensus, building relationships, and moving people to embrace change. The use of body language, multi-faceted means of delivery, and listening intently are also essential when it comes to communication. Change leaders understand this and use each strategically.
Change will only succeed if the right supports are in place. Vision, purpose, and strategy become wasted efforts if job-embedded and ongoing professional learning is not in place. Establishing this is crucial, but change leaders also learn side-by-side with their staff to illustrate a team commitment to the process. When appropriate, they also jump at the chance to lead the professional learning or bring in outside experts to help build capacity. Learning is the fuel of leadership.
While this might be intertwined with the previous elements listed, there are some points worth fleshing out. Change leaders don't aspire to reinvent the wheel outright. They are keen to ensure what's working remains in place while simultaneously identifying other aspects that need to be addressed. As change takes hold, they have fun celebrating the successes of staff and students. Nothing moves change along better than showing people how proud you are of their hard work. This will also assist in motivating others to embrace the change effort while creating an environment people want to be part of and help to contribute to its success.
The most precious resource a change leader has are the people who will implement the changes being championed. Without them on board and taking action, the status quo will reign supreme. Successful change initiatives rest on moving the masses, but you must begin at a foundational level. Hence, this is the reason why this group is the foundation of the pyramid image above. This can best be accomplished by building positive relationships at the individual level. Empower staff to embrace change by putting them in a position to experience the value firsthand for themselves. Provide autonomy to those who are already on board while focusing more time and effort supporting staff who are not yet willing to change.
Those who step up to the plate to lead change understand it is a process, not an event. They also realize that many different styles need to be embraced, such as transformational, managerial, instructional, inspirational, and pedagogical. No matter the path taken, success relies on clarity and commitment to the process as well as empowering the masses to work together to achieve shared goals. Are you a change leader? Where is there an opportunity to grow and improve?