Opinion

The need to reflect at the end of every few years

Major General S S Nair
The need to reflect at the end of every few years

There is a tendency amongst people in organisational and institutional leadership positions to believe that the more years you spent on the lead, the more competent and efficient you become and that if you have seen it for so many years you have seen it all. There is nothing more fallacious than this. There is nothing more self-defeating than this.

Many of us in leadership positions of small and medium organisations suffer a ‘second-half disaster’ due to this, sadly common syndrome. A friend was lucky to be assigned the principalship of the school he had studied in. While exchanging notes during his journey to assume the position, I found him happy and confident. But the reasons for that worried me. He claimed that as an Old Boy he knew the school “like the back of his hand”; that is, he knew it brick by brick. Though I tried to caution him on his assessment, he brushed me aside. Naturally, he had to suffer an early, ignoble exit.

The organisation you head may be a better one, an improved version of what you inherited, after three or more years of your leadership. It is but natural that it deserves a better leader now to take it further up. Have you bettered yourself in these years in your knowledge, skills, strategies, outlook, and world view? Or, are you the same as you were six years ago? Or you have deteriorated in essential areas of competence? The answer to this is important as it will decide whether your chair needs a change! Oh no, not the chair, its occupant.

Those who are with you could have become tired, complacent or have developed blind faith in your abilities. Their energy, effort, support, and input may not be available to you in the same quantity and quality as you have received earlier. You must renew them and recruit new talent to your team. Have you done that? 

On the contrary, those who are not with you are smart and never get tired. They are waiting for an opportunity to strike, looking for that Achilles Heel in you. May be their numbers might have increased as it is directly proportional to your success. New opponents, new challenges need new strategies and plans.

Status quo seekers and those who resist, dig their heel and grow roots, whereas those who want to stay with change and growth may look for better pastures, if not given opportunities. Has the volume of deadwood in your school increased and the creamy layer thinned during your time? 

Reverse it or else the weight of deadwood will take you down. Redo the competency matrix styles and remap competency.

We are in the fallacy that the organisation is the same because we are the same. Look at the faces around you, your students. Not even one is the same. The whole school is new. Look at the teachers and staff. 

More than 33% have changed. Then, how do you claim that you know them like the back of your palm? We keep telling the teachers that every student is different, and their teaching styles should cater to each one of them. In our case, the whole organisation has changed. Change in your style is a must.

Targets and objectives are set with time limits decided to achieve them. Some of them have been fully achieved, some partially and some may be beyond achievement and deserve to be dropped. There is no meaning in flogging a dead horse. New objectives in fulfillment of your vision and mission need to be selected, new benchmarks and milestones set, announced and plans for their attainment rolled out.

Direction, speed, and content of your efficiency may need a course correction. Do it. Reset directions, if need be. Accelerate so that you are not only there, but the environment perceives your presence. Go on a “People, Process, Technology, Behaviour” framework.

Riding the technology wave is one sure method of keeping you renewed and contemporary. Do you know that Python is not a snake but a computer language to be taught in your schools? Do you know that STEM is not that part of the plant that holds branches, leaves, plants, and fruits but Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics and that it becomes STEAM when Arts is added to it?

Have a huge toolbox. Change your tools to meet the changed situation. 

Recently, I read a Buddhist story of a person who builds a raft to cross a river. Once he crosses the river, he feels so proud of the raft that he decides to carry it for the rest of the journey that is to climb a hill and he fails. Leadership behaviour is like this raft- it can become a part of it and pull you down. Change it at the right time despite it being the one that brought you up till here.

Small and medium-sized educational organisations that are run as one-person family businesses, Trusts and Societies that are managed in traditional styles rather than on corporate principles are likely to confront this challenge even more. The impact of the management principle “everyone grows to her/his level of incompetence” has contributed towards this situation.

Thus, leaders who head these types of institutions need to be on a constant “renew, review, reengineer, restructure, recycle, reinvent, renovate” mode to continue to be effective and successful. Standard Operating Procedures inherited/prepared need to be revisited and revised to make them contemporary. Responsibilities' charts need to be redrawn so that the tired and fatigued ones are replaced with fresh minds and performing ones rewarded with rest.

A false sense of performance is a pitfall into which many organisations with non-tangible, non-measurable performance indicators fall. Schools come under this category. Admissions and results are the figures seen, one at the beginning and the other, at the end. Both numbers being good (enough) one feels wellness. Systems and processes that helped you are now given a go-by as you start looking more at the figures. Fall in quality is slow and steady; unnoticed till a point of no return is reached.

So be forewarned and forearmed, Praemonitus Praemunitus.

Look at that mirror that tells the unvarnished truth before you start your next year at the helm. Have you run out of ammunition? Are you blank? Reinvent yourself, refresh, and restart as if it is your day one in the office. The chances of you being a better performer are higher.

But look at a reliable mirror, a mirror that reflects the truth and not the Photoshopped version of your own.

About the author:

Major General S S Nair is Director, Birla Education Trust, Pilani

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