It is never too late for dysfunctional school leadership teams to change.



I wrote in a previous post that a school head with a dysfunctional senior management team, makes it difficult for a school to succeed. What then, do we mean when we say school leadership is dysfunctional and how can the school leadership fix their poor performance?

 Let's unpack Dysfunctionality.


I like the definition of the word, dysfunctional, as described on the Urban dictionary website: to be very bad at something.  This definition eliminates the temptation to be pretentious about what is going wrong at the school. Being "bad" at something means you lack the ability and the skill to do what you are supposed to do.


The complexities of dysfunctionality at schools


It is often difficult for outsiders to know to what extent SMTs are dysfunctional. The outward signs at school may mask the degree to which SMT members are not helping to manage and lead the school effectively. These school leaders may themselves compromise teaching, monitoring of the curriculum,  their management portfolios and critically, the leadership body at the the school. Evidence of such poor performance and incompetencies will only be whispered in the school corridors.


Schools will often tolerate their meltdown and hobble along, UNTIL the learners' performance come under scrutiny by the education department and other stakeholders. Then the school blame game starts and everything under the sun will be flogged - except the drivers in the classroom, the school head and the school management team (SMT).


But,  how do we get the school head and the SMT to start that important conversation about changing the way the school is being managed and led?

The reality is the principal and the SMT should acknowledge that they are dealing with systemic problems. Before they look at the external factors, they should start reflecting on their own leadership.

Starting the tough process of fixing your dysfunctional team.


The school head and the SMT should examine their own leadership behaviours and their commitment to upholding the strategic vision and the values of the school and its community. They should start with themselves and face the brutal facts about their inconsistencies, their lack of team effort and the absence of accountability.


According to research, the only way to change people is to tell them what they are doing wrong. The school head and the SMT must brace themselves because such talks will be intense and emotional.  This is what is called courageous conversations. Name the problem directly and then together, look for solutions without dwelling on the past.


The ideal would be that the school principal should take charge of steering this leadership crisis turnaround process.  If the school head shirks this responsibility, it is incumbent on the deputy principal or the other SMT members to initiate this discussion. The SMT cannot bury their heads in the sand.  They must stand up and be counted as individuals who want to change how they operate and make a difference to the team as well.


Each SMT member should commit to becoming a better leader by doing the basics: set the example, be accountable and hold those he or she is responsible for to the same non-negotiable standards.  Then, simultaneously, work at building the leadership team. Now is the time to start building an exceptional leadership team built to last.

Suggested reading to help SMTs reflect on their leadership performance.


A good starting point may be to get the entire SMT to read what Jim Collins, a well-known business consultant has to say about transforming companies. The research (here) that Jim Collins and his team did to find out how good companies make the leap to become great companies, provides invaluable insights.

These Jim Collins articles on "Good to Great" can be discussed reflectively. The advice can be applied to help the school head and the SMT gain clarity on their important role to provide superior management and leadership to the school.

Jim Collins's Hedgehog Concept will help school heads and their SMTs to stop doing anything and everything that does not fit in with the school's vision and mission.


Building leadership is an arduous task and it can be emotionally draining. There will be resistance, but you need to persevere.  You need to be in there for the long haul. When your flywheel starts turning, the rewards will be long-lasting.

Keep on keeping on!


What are your tried and tested ideas? Do share so that we can spread the good news!



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