by Mindy Farry, School Improvement and Accountability Representative
How would your colleagues describe your leadership personality? One of the most difficult tightropes that school leaders walk is the fine line between coaching, leading, and supporting teachers, and the essential job of evaluating teachers.
In Liz Wiseman’s books, Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter and The Multiplier Effect: Tapping the Genius Inside Our Schools, her research begins with examining how successful leaders can cultivate and multiply genius in others while some leaders tend to diminish that same intelligence. Diminishers tend to believe there are not many people who are smart enough to lead, and that people will not come to the right conclusions without the leader stepping in or controlling the ideas. On the other hand, Multipliers see their employees and colleagues as intelligent, capable people, and create the right opportunities for each person. Multipliers know that each person has unique skills and talents and can tap into that uniqueness to help the entire school move forward.
There are so many factors post pandemic affecting recent struggles with teacher staffing, that no one aspect can “cure” the problem. Teachers are frustrated by student trauma behaviors, understaffing, increased demands, lack of public appreciation, their own mental health, and much more. One aspect, however, that is within our control is whether we, as school leaders, are being Multipliers or Diminishers. Are we allowing our staffs to grow and flourish or are we stunting their growth? Are we assuming intelligence and good intentions regarding our personnel or are we trying to control every aspect of their behavior? Are we building leaders or followers in our buildings?
Personally, I know what it feels like to have someone who is a Diminisher overseeing my work. Let’s call her Ms. D (Ms. Diminisher). Ms. D drove me out of a district where I had been a teacher, a dean, and a principal for twenty-four years. I had grown up as an educator in that school. I loved the community, the families, and the students. Ms. D., who was a newcomer to the district, attempted to micromanage my staff, and the entire building. She had little knowledge of the secondary classroom, yet tried to force her strategies and philosophies on a high school staff. Suddenly, my autonomy as building leader had disappeared. When an opportunity presented itself in another district, I took it. When I left the district that I had considered “home,” I felt as if I had abandoned the other district principals. Four out of the five remaining principals did indeed leave the district within the next year. I always regretted not telling my first superintendent how Ms. D. had made my decision easy. However, in my next district, I encountered a superintendent who said to me, “I hired you because I trust your knowledge and decision-making. Just do what you think is best for your building and your students.” He consistently guided, suggested, coached, and mentored me. He was an intentional Multiplier. I grew more in those six years than I had in the previous twenty-four.
One of the most fascinating aspects of Wiseman’s research is the “Accidental Diminisher.” She assumes that most leaders are well-intentioned, have historically decent leadership skills and do not intend to be Diminishers. However, in the chaos of the job, the sense of urgency may manifest itself as a Diminisher. Do any of these characteristics sound familiar? Could you be an Accidental Diminisher?
The Idea Fountain: Creative, innovative, constantly spouting new ideas.
Always On: Highly charismatic, energetic, and a little draining
Rescuer: You step in before people have a misstep and rescue them
Pacesetter: Sets the example on how to achieve the task
Rapid Responder: Prides themselves on being a quick “fixer”
Protector: Being the “Mama Bear”
Strategist: The big thinker who reaches too far with little implementation skills
Perfectionist: Delays action until everything is perfectly in place
Recognizing the Accidental Diminisher in ourselves is an essential first step. I know that I was especially guilty of being the Rescuer and the Rapid Responder. I thought that made me a decisive leader. Once we recognize those tendencies, either overt or subtle, there are steps to take to decrease the Diminisher profile:
The Idea Fountain: Create a holding tank for thoughts and ideas; take all ideas.
Always On: Say something once and then sit back and allow others to add ideas.
Rescuer: Ask your staff for “fixes” to the problem.
Pacesetter: Stay within sight; you might tend to get too far ahead of the team
Rapid Responder: Set a mandatory 24-hour waiting period for major decisions.
Protector: Expose your team members to the harsh realities of school change.
Strategist: Let the team put the puzzle together; don’t complete the puzzle for them.
Perfectionist: Make space for mistakes; decide on an acceptable, not perfect standard.
As we think about ways to make our teachers feel valued and respected, assess your leadership style and how you might become closer to a Multiplier and less like a Diminisher. Obviously, there are times when school leaders must act quickly and decisively in a crisis, but in the everyday walk of the school leader, how can you become more of a Multiplier and cultivate all the intelligence in your staff?
Wiseman, L. (2017). Multipliers: How the best leaders make everyone smarter. Harper Business, an imprint of Harper Collins Publishers.
Wiseman, L., Allen, L., & Foster, E. (2013). The multiplier effect: tagging the genius inside our schools. Corwin.