The choice to lead

I was lucky enough to hear Simon Sinek speak in Melbourne last week at the “Start with Why” Leadership Forum. A quick bit of reading about the event and I was excited, but I was a little concerned that The Growth Faculty event could be very business-world oriented and those of us in the realm of dealing with individuals rather than numbers, could be overlooked. I was pleasantly mistaken.

After listening to him and having had 48 hours to sit on some of his insights I thought I would get down on paper a few things that really resonated with me, so here goes:

  1. Leadership is a choice.

Simon made it really clear that none of us have fallen into leadership. We have not had it thrust upon us without wanting it. We made the decision to step up, apply, and get given the opportunity to lead. We wanted this. We chose it for ourselves. And if you didn’t, then what are you doing?!

The challenge then, is it make the most of it. Not hide behind it. Own the fact you are a leader.

However, the risk is that leaders will fall into doing the job they have always done, the one that they are good at, the one for which they likely got promoted from. So, Simon reminded us that we are no longer responsible for “the job”, but responsible for the people who are responsible for “the job”.

  1. Leadership has nothing to do with being in charge, but taking care of those in your charge.

The effective leader is not ‘in charge’, but rather supports those with whom they work. The effective leader provides a safe space in which colleagues thrive and where they will be prepared to take risks and potentially fail.

Simon talks about the circle of safety where leaders have established behaviours and where it is there role to protect colleagues from the dangers outside the circle. This is the price of leadership. In Simon’s words, this is why we get the bigger offices, the bigger pay-packets etc. So, that we will be the first to take a hit for the team, the first to confront the danger when it arises. We need to be the self-sacrificing leader rather than the self-serving leader. Leadership is the choice to take care of other people.

3. Know your why? 

If you have ever read or seen Simon’s work, you will be familiar with the concept of knowing your why. Why you do what you do – and the fundamental importance of operating from this space all the time.

Simon stressed the importance of this again, but spoke about how we come to know our why. The observation that this is not aspirational, but often a story of how your organisation came to be (an origin story), struck a chord with me. Working in a regional Catholic secondary school, we have recently re-connected with the Mercy Sisters who started our school many years ago.

Hearing stories from long serving staff about these Sisters and the approach they took to education and the community more broadly, assists all staff at our school, not just new staff, to understand and appreciate the why of some of our decisions. Putting these origin stories front and centre at our school brings our why to life.

Ensuring all staff and students know and understand the why of our school is fundamental.

Shaun Mason, 2017




The Innovator’s Mindset – A Review

Innovation is a word we hear a lot at the moment; it’s bandied around education circles, in the business world and throughout government at all levels.Cover-in-3D

In his recent book, The Innovator’s Mindset – Empower Learning, Unleash Talent and Lead a Culture of Creativity, George Couros argues that innovation is not something that requires wholesale, transformational change, but is a mindset that creates something new and better, either from invention (totally new) or iteration (changing something that already exists). A handy definition for those left confused by the word.

In a clear, accessible text, Couros outlines his definition of innovation, suggests where we might see it in our schools, how educational leaders can develop places where it thrives and offers ideas of where to head next. At the conclusion of each chapter he provides discussion questions and extensive reference lists that help to make this text a useful inclusion on the agenda as a developmental item for any leadership team.

The Innovator’s Mindset is certainly not a panacea for poor student performance, but a challenging read that encourages leaders within schools to look into the mirror at our actions and sometimes, inaction. He challenges us to consider the implementation of new strategies and warns that if we aren’t intentional, we may promote confusion and burnout, instead of inspiring innovation and deep learning. Instead he argues that we need to change our mindset that every new idea, even good ideas, must be immediately implemented. Let’s focus on what we want learners to know and do and select and master resources to create learning experiences aligned with that vision that has been co-created with the community.

Building on the work of a number of educational theorists and commentators, Couros’ work seems to extend that of Carole Dweck, by suggesting the innovator’s mindset is a further iteration of the growth mindset. This book won’t tell you how to implement change, but it will provide you with some ideas of how to generate a mindset in order to innovate, create relationships that empower staff to set sail on a new course and will challenge you to question dominant beliefs.

What struck me most about this text was Couros’ voice. He is an avid user of Twitter (@gcouros), he blogs and he is still involved in education at every level in Canada. There is an authenticity about the examples he uses and the pace at which this book moves. It won’t take long to read, but the results could be long-lasting.