Leadership for the New Century

Last week I had the honor to congratulate a new cohort of CT EPFP (Educational Policy Fellowship Program) as they completed the year long program and became new alumni members, joining the hundreds of other CT educators who have participated in the Fellowship in the past 25 years. While this particular group of educators was clearly an exceptional one, I wanted to leave them with a strong message related to their leadership so I presented on Leadership for the New Century which was a topic I have been presenting on for the past year in several districts and with many administrators. In all of my conversations on this topic I have consistently come back to the idea that in the new century certain dispositions and skills are absolute in a leader – especially those who are leading our public schools. These leadership characteristics may not be radically different in previous literature of many thinkers of the 20th Century but the application of those is truly different. Collaboration is probably the most telling of all of these changes to leadership application.

With current technologies and applications of the “New Civic Discourse” as the 2020 Forecast has called it, changes the way in which leaders need to be “prepared” to address new forms of interaction among constituents. Traditional means of meeting with partners i.e. parents, students, community partners, teachers, etc. will need to include at the very minimal a recognition of how the conversations are happening all around them. Social networks (beyond Facebook or MySpace) will fast become a part of our world and, therefore, the methods of communication among all members of any given community. For many parents, Facebook (as an example) has changed the conversations about their child’s school experience from not only being at the sports complex but also at any moment, instantly, and to a seemingly endless number of people who can respond and provide input. Students are routinely engaged in digital conversations that become an integral part of the creation of a climate of the school. Advocacy groups are leveraging technology to ensure that their agenda is always available and present in the daily lives of of the community – including the educational community. With this type of extensions to the conversations, leaders of the 21st Century need to adjust their methods to applying this leadership skill. Leaders will need to innovate in their own collaborative practice – not in an effort to control the information but, instead, to develop the skills to analyze and synthesize information in support of the vision for their school community.

What was also examined and needs to be considered as we move into the new century, was the ability of the leader to nurture that vision through action-in-common. We framed this portion of the discussion around the topics of convergence and movement. How do leaders recognize convergence (such as trends and patterns to the New Civic Discourse) and generate the movements that can help us move our organizations towards sustainable change? The key lesson here was that a leader’s willingness to forfeit control and allow those who initially follow to pave the way towards implementation of the vision that has been communicated about an initiative or activity. Quoting Derek Sivers from a 2010 Ted Talk, “It is the first follower who turns the lone nut into a leader”.

A leaders ability to recognize and nurture those around them who can become the drivers of new initiatives while being willing to release control has become more important than ever before in generating change. Consider literature on generational changes including the patterns of behaviors of Millennials or some of the influence new technology is having in this element of our teacher ranks. Given these shifts, leaders of schools have incredible opportunities to generate their own convergence of change if they are willing to forfeit some of the control they may be accustomed to in the current way in which they do their work.

All-in-all, leaders of the future will need to understand the trends in new behavior that seem to constitute the convergence all around them. The Conceptual Age to which we now live requires leaders to examine their practice not necessarily differently from previous iterations of skill and dispositions of the 20th Century but how those skills translate in the 21st Century. In this sense, leadership of the past remains the framework of the future but leaders need to examine their application of those skills in relation to current trends and the forecasts of organizational design that will result.

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