Command is no longer the name of the game

As Richard Elmore once said, the greatest barrier to change in education is teachers and leaders’ inability to relinquish control. I would also add to that, a misguided belief that with control comes greater certainty. The ghost of Frederick Winslow Taylor still looms large on current business practice.

By no means is command and control the exclusive domain of schools. In fact, Ibarra and Scoular in the November issue of Harvard Business Review explain why more and more organisations are moving away from this managerial mindset to one that embraces coaching to create true learning organisations.The authors explain that under this model, leaders are motivated to ask questions, support rather than judge and facilitate the development of individuals.

Schooling has had a long history of ‘doing to’ rather than ‘doing with’, evidenced in the popularity today of using punishment and rewards to build individual responsibility. Rewards and punishment are intended to create compliance and obedience rather than self-motivation and responsible thinking. In some ways, Seth Godin’s recent blog post ‘Transition to Leadership’ illustrates the problem:

The flawed theory is that A+ students become good leaders.

There’s no reason to think that this should be true.

Doing well on tests, paying attention to what’s being asked, being diligent in short-term error correction–these are three hallmarks of someone who is good at school.

None of these are important once you’re charged with charting a new path, with figuring out what to do next. In fact, they get in the way.

We invented the educational regime to produce compliant factory workers. But the most compliant aren’t always suited to be the bravest, the most empathic or the most intuitive.

Seth has a point and maybe an explanation as to why inertia still exists. If we are honest, there is still more directing than guiding; telling than modelling; punishing/rewarding than trusting; more competing than collaborating. As I’ve shared with many school leaders, the central paradox here is that the more control you give away, the more you gain in terms of the teams you lead and the environments you create.

Simon Sinek reflects on this paradox in his latest book ‘The Infinite Game’ where he argues that today’s leaders must be focussed on taking care of those in one’s charge not being in charge. It comes back to the point made by Ibarra and Scoular that a true learning organisation is one where leaders share their knowledge but are equally invested in developing knowledge in others.

This move away from command and control should not only be the aspiration of all contemporary workplaces in creating true learning organisations but a priority for school systems also.




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.