Things I Know 282 of 365: Perhaps our strength can overpower our weakness

Ideal conversation must be an exchange of thought, and not, as many of those who worry most about their shortcomings believe, an eloquent exhibition of wit or oratory.

– Emily Post

As a teacher, I learned alongside my students. As the youngest faculty member in my first school, this was a mindset I brought with me fresh from my undergrad program. To most of the more veteran teachers, I was seen as idealistic and cute. My two years in that school were full of many “Yeah, but” scenarios.

Those weren’t the only voices I heard. Three other teachers, folks who had been in the classroom more than a decade each, saw something of value in my want to learn with and from my kids. Often and informally, I found myself in conversations with them about what we were asking students to do and why. When we saw things the same way, it helped build my sense of craft. When we disagreed, it led me to ask myself why I was making the choices I was making and if there was a better way. There usually was.

In that school, my community with those three other teachers was the counterculture.

The school ran on a mix of the Landlord & Tenant and General & Soldiers leadership archetypes as described by Quigley and Baghai in their discussion of their book As One. The power sat at the top and we did as we were told. In some areas such as curriculum design, there were multilevel hierarchies. For the most part, control existed at the top, and you got access by find a path to the top.

Quigley and Baghai’s 8 Leadership Archetypes:

  • The Landlord & Tenants pairing is based on landlords’ top-down driven strategy and power: they control access to highly valuable or scarce resources.
  • The Community Organizer & Volunteers archetype sits on the emergent axis, meaning that the power for setting direction emerges bottom-up from the volunteers and not top-down from the community organizer.
  • The Conductor & Orchestra pairing is based on highly scripted and clearly defined roles that focus on precision and efficiency in execution as defined by the conductor. The orchestra members, who have similar backgrounds, need to be fully trained to comply with the requirements of the job and, therefore, must be carefully selected to ensure they fit the strict culture and scripted tasks.
  • The Producer & Creative Team pairing is typically about producers providing their creative team with the freedom to do their best work and reach their natural potential. This pairing is led by legendary, charismatic producers who bring together a team of highly inventive and skilled independent individuals to achieve the producers’ objective.
  • The General & Soldiers pairing has a command-and-control-type culture combined with a multilevel hierarchy organized around the general’s clear and compelling mission. Soldiers’ activities focus on clearly defined and scripted tasks.
  • The Architect & Builders pairing focuses on the creative collaboration between groups of diverse builders that have been recruited by visionary architects to bring a seemingly impossible dream to life.
  • The Captain & Sports Team pairing operates with minimal hierarchy and acts like a single cohesive and dynamic organism, adapting to new strategies and challenges with great agility as they appear.
  • The Senator & Citizens pairing is based on a strong sense of responsibility to abide by the values or constitution of the community, which have been outlined by the senators.
What strikes me as odd, though, was the fact our principal avoided 9 of the 10 most common leadership shortcomings as described by Zenger and Folkman. That 10%, though, was enough to lock down the culture of the school. While there were pockets of innovative thinking occurring around the campus, little of that innovation ever grew to scale because teachers didn’t know how to get to the top of the structure. Once there, and in spite the clear vision and direction of the school, a rift of language existed between both sides in building understanding of how the innovation could help move the school in that direction or achieve our vision.

Zenger and Folkman’s 10 Most Common Leadership Shortcomings:

  1. Lack energy & enthusiasm
  2. Accept their own mediocre performance
  3. Lack clear vision & direction
  4. Have poor judgment
  5. Don’t collaborate
  6. Don’t walk to walk (violate their own standards for behavior/performance)
  7. Resist new ideas
  8. Don’t learn from mistakes
  9. Lack interpersonal skills
  10. Fail to develop others

And while I know Ronald Heifetz and Donald Laurie outline a decent path for leading adaptive work in their 1997 article “The work of Leadership,”  I’m left wondering if there’s an inverse to Zenger and Folkman’s work listing the 10 necessary qualities of a leader. If my evaluation of my principal is correct, and it took only 1 of 10 shortcomings to stunt the school’s growth, are their qualities of leaders that would balance out that shortcoming if applied?

For example, if a principle is “accepting of their own mediocre performance,” could extreme charisma and deep knowledge of pedagogy negate that shortcoming?

Every leader studied by Zenger and Folkman possessed at least one of the Top 10. If we assume this is true of all leaders, then shouldn’t it be true that those leaders who motivate fiercely adaptive organizations such as those Heifetz and Laurie describe to move forward and grow also possess at least one of those shortcomings? And if this is the case, what balances the equation?

Perhaps we don’t need to eliminate shortcomings. We need only make certain the strengths run longer than the weaknesses.


One thought on “Things I Know 282 of 365: Perhaps our strength can overpower our weakness

  1. Pingback: Things I Know 282 of 365: Perhaps our strength can overpower our weakness – charismaticleadershipblogs

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