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Immutable commandments

Article provided by Steve Simpson & Stef du Plessis

Sometimes people misinterpret the latest thinking on leadership. And this can be easy to do – much of what we read on leadership promotes the need to empower people, and to involve them in decisions. Steve Simpson has a different view however…

Recently, we decided that some extra space needed to be created in my office. It was time for the big clean out.

Of course, that meant that I had to personally sift through the stock of files that had progressively built up over the years. As is often the case, I came across things I had totally forgotten about.

In one of the files I discovered an overhead (that shows you how old the file was) which was headed: “The Simpson Immutable Four Commandments”. This was an overhead I had used as part of the presentation I did for school leaders many years ago. It represented part of my early thinking on UGRs® (Unwritten Ground Rules).

In essence, I was saying to this group that if I was a leader in a school, a lot would be up to negotiation. However, there would be some issues which were not up for debate. Hence, my four immutable commandments, which were as follows:

  • We constantly seek to improve, in the interests of improving students’ education.
  • Maintenance is not OK – for any of us.
  • We are committed to making the tough decisions in the interests of student and teacher learning. This means our decisions have real meaning, and they are made in a context where we demonstrate respect, and expect each other to listen and to contribute.
  • When we agree to action, we act.
  • Failure is to be expected from time to time and is OK, if we learn from the experience.

To be honest, I cannot remember the response I got from the group when I presented those “commandments”. I wish I could.

In my view, writers of business books and articles over recent years have helped a great deal. But it’s not all good.

A great deal of emphasis on leadership in recent years has focused on the need for leaders to empower staff and gain consensus on important issues. However, this can be overdone.

I see some of this when I work with companies to help them improve their culture. Sometimes, leaders are reluctant to impose on the group with their views. I think it is a leader’s responsibility to impose some imperatives on their people.

As an example, I often work with people to identify the type of culture they would like to characterise the team or organisation. This normally involves all people, wherever possible.

A true leader should not necessarily be happy with the final outcomes from an exercise like this.

Indeed, a leader evades their responsibility in not identifying cultural aspects that need to be in place to help ensure the success of the organisation into the future. While a leader should work with people, sometimes staff do not see the bigger picture.

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