Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Mistrust drives manipulation

Superiors are there to support you not dictate you.

Seth Godin writes about turning the traditional top-down power structure up-side down:

I always took the position that my boss (when I had a job) worked for me. My job was to do the thing I was hired to do, and my boss had assets that could help me do the job better. His job, then, was to figure out how best give me access to the people, systems and resources that would allow me to do my job the best possible way.

Of course, that also means that the people I hire are in charge as well. My job isn't to tell them what to do, my job is for them to tell me what to do to allow them to keep their promise of delivering great work.

If you go into work on Monday with a list of things for your boss to do for you (she works for you, remember?) what would it say? What happens if you say to the people you hired, "I work for you, what's next on my agenda to support you and help make your [learning] go up?"

Today's test and punish brand of accountability have left teachers deprofessionalized in a pool of distrust. I've come to know far too many teachers who are numb to top-down, teacher-proofing reform. For them, education reform has become a shopping list of dictates and demands, and so many teachers have come to see their principal or their superintendent as their superior who tells them what to do.

When I hear of school districts that mandate teacher's professional development, I am not surprised to also see their teachers disengaged from their own learning. Undert this climate, everyone comes to see professional development as this thing to just get through.

When interactions between teachers and administrators become more about power, things go awry. Harriet Rubin, a legendary innovator in the world of business-book publishing, sums this up when she said: "Freedom is actually a bigger game than power. Power is about what you can control. Freedom is about what you can unleash."

When you don't trust someone, you resort to controlling and manipulating them.

Mistrust drives manipulation.

In his Harvard Business Review blog, Bill Taylor writes:
So much of how we think about strategy, competition, and management remains centered on the zero-sum logic of amassing power: For me to win, you must lose. But almost anything that's hopeful and positive about business today is premised on spreading freedom — inviting all sorts of people, inside and outside your organization, to contribute ideas, improve your products and services, and otherwise have a voice and a seat at the table that they never used to have. For leaders, the most important question today is not How many people or departments or business units do you control? It is How much energy and participation have you unleashed?

Education reform should be less about compliance and more about ingenuity. If the teachers in the field aren't affored the opportunity to influence administration without appearing to be troublemakers, reform is destined to fail a thousand deaths.
Education reform must be less about control and more about collaboration. We would be wise to listen to Dan Pink when he speaks of autonomy, mastery and purpose.

We would also be wise to ponder Thomas Gordon's message:

The more you use power to try to control people, the less real influence you'll have on their lives.

For teachers, Gordon's words act as a kind of double-edged sword. Just as teachers have a need for collaboration with their administrators, so must teachers collaborate with their students.

This isn't a teacher thing - it's a human being thing.


  1. "So much of how we think about strategy, competition, and management remains centered on the zero-sum logic of amassing power: For me to win, you must lose"

    Wasn't it the realization of how crazy this is that lead John Nash (A Beautiful Mind) to revolutionize the world of economics with the perspective that everyone can win? I think we are slowly grasping this within our individual schools. If we could take that attitude to a spirit of cooperation between schools instead of the competitive spirit we have now concerning test scores then we all really could win. If our top level administration would model and encourage that, we truly will see positive energy and results unleashed.

  2. My feeling is that the hierarchies (student-teacher-department head-division head-principal etc), should be self-similar. That is, what teachers should expect from students ought to be what administrators expect of teachers, and if it is a teacher's responsibility to ensure each student succeeds, then it should be admin's responsibility to ensure each teacher has everything they need to accomplish that.

  3. I think that this fits perfect with Dan Pinks statement

    "Compliance vs. engagement"

    When people are expected to be “accountable” for things that they have no control over that negative punishment leads to compliance rather than active engagement it stifles creativity and causes discontent in employees.


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