Sunday, November 28, 2010

What about adaptive leadership?

Okay, so the issue of technical leadership has been addressed.  According to the New York Times a deal has been struck.  Mayor Bloomberg will get a waiver to hire Cathleen P. Black as the next chancellor of the New York City Schools and Shael Polakow-Suransky will serve as Ms. Black's deputy.  Polakow-Suransky has the technical expertise Ms Black lacks.

Now, what about the adaptive leadership issue?  Can either Ms.Black or Mr. Polakow-Suransky lead the change effort required to transform New York's school system?  Technical expertise alone will not make it happen.

The challenge public education faces today, in New York and the rest of the country, is one that is not easily solved with technical expertise.  The problems are not simple and do not have easily identified answers. The challenges exist in chaos and uncertainty.  The public education system does not have the resources to tackle the problems on its own.  Solving the problems found in public education today requires leaders to use their communication skills to build relationships and create a context for others in the system to create solutions.

In fact, the public education system will not be successful on its own. Today's successful leaders understand that Collective Impact is needed, that collaboration across social systems is required for successful social change.

If the New York City school system is to experience that kind of social change, its top leaders need adaptive leadership skills. They must value building relationships, both within the school system and with other organizations that serve students and their families.

Our country has focused on the technical issues in public education for more than 40 years.  Little progress has been made.  It is time to start focusing on the adaptive aspects of the problems.

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