Control, Conformity, or Alignment?


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You're listening to School Leadership Reimagined, episode number 208.

Welcome to the School Leadership Reimagined podcast...

where we rethink what's possible to transform your school. If you're tired of settling for small wins and incremental improvement, then stay tuned to discover powerful and practical strategies for getting every teacher in your school moving towards excellence. Now, here's your host, Robyn Jackson.

Hey, builders, welcome to another episode of the school leadership reimagined podcast. I'm your host, Robyn Jackson. And today, we are going to continue our series where we are looking at the difference between a toxic culture and boss kind of have have a boss kind of approach to running your school versus a good enough culture that's really run by a leadership approach versus a 100% culture that's really run with a builder ship approach. And today, I want to talk about the difference between control, conformity and alignment, control, conformity and alignment. And the differences are subtle, but they are so powerful in terms of helping people do the right work the right way, even when you're not checking.

Now before I do that, a couple of quick announcements first one is that bill does ship University The doors are now closed. But I do know that we are going to have a couple of slots opening up and be you very, very soon. Those slots we don't publicize, they just go to people on the waitlist, we have a couple of people who are cycling out there finish the process. And so we're gonna have a few openings if you want one of those openings, you need to go and sign up for the waitlist. And when you sign up for the waitlist, when those openings happen, we go down the list you know in order of the waitlist, and we open those slots up. And if you get that email, then you have you know a few days to be able to grab that slot or goes to the next person on the waitlist. So only join the waitlist if you know you want to join builder ship university because when those slots come open, they go very, very quickly. If you want to do that, if you want to join the waitlist, go to builder, ship builder ship and then sign up for the waitlist. The next intake for builders ship University is not happening until later on this summer. So this is your opportunity to join builder ship university now and get started now, so that you are not only ending the school year strong, but you are putting things in place now for next school year. So build your ship and join the waitlist. The second thing is this, and I've debated a lot about whether it's going to say anything on the podcast, because it's not something that I normally talk about many, while many you probably don't know, but that not only do I do the work and build a ship university, but occasionally I take on private clients and do coaching and support mostly for people who are superintendents or areas, superintendents, giving them coaching and support to kind of install some of these systems in their school, you know, creating a dashboard so they know what's going on in their schools and, and getting their people in alignment. And, and putting systems in place.

We have a ton of tools that some of them are inside of buildings from university and some of them are tools that we developed just for people at the superintendents level, or the associate superintendents level at area superintendent, department head level. And if these tools are designed to help you run your departments or your school systems more efficiently and effectively, and then I do some coaching to help you install the system so that you can you know, you can you can manage things, you can make sure that the schools that you support are actually growing and you can monitor that and you can make your work more effective. And so it's not something that I talk about, it's usually something that we do just for a handful of private clients, but I have a couple of openings for that kind of coaching coming up we are finishing the school year. And you know, normally this is something that's just spread kind of word of mouth, you know, I work with people I you know, that are that are kind of in our circle, but I've been thinking lately that I should open it up to more people. And so this is a highly specialized kind of engagement. It's not something that you know, that it's not for everybody, you have to be committed to this idea. Around builder's show up, and you know, we have to be a fit. But if you are a superintendent, associate superintendent area superintendent, or you are working and running a department at the district level director of leadership director of curriculum, Director of secondary or elementary education, those kinds of positions, and you want some help getting your self and your department and your team in line, if you want some help, making sure that you are not the bottleneck that the people around you are working effectively, especially if you're a superintendent, and you want to get your central office in line. And you know, the hard part about being a superintendent is that you become a superintendent, but a lot of the tools, you know, like there isn't necessarily a superintendent school, right. So there are a lot of tools that are available that you probably don't know anything about, that really help you run an effective and efficient central office that helps you understand what's going on throughout your entire district without you having to micromanage and it also helps you manage the people that you're managing in your central office to make sure that they're at their best. And so we have some short term, coaching engagements where you know, we work together for a month or two, we put these systems in place so that you're effective and efficient. 

And now's a great time to do that over the summer. 

Because then you know, when the school year starts, you've got some things in place, when teachers come back, your district feels different, you know, there's some time for you to work with your principles in your district. Anyway, if you're interested in that, all you need to do is you need to go to mind steps MINDSTE P S, IMC mind steps And there'll be a little button at the in the upper right corner that says you know, a schedule a call. And then when you click that button, you will be speaking with someone in our office, you'll be setting up a time to schedule a call and John from our office will call you and talk to you and he'll see what's going along with your situation, see if you're a good fit, talk to you about how to make the arrangements. And then after that you and I work together one on one I learn about your district and or your department or your team. And then I then we start working to create these tools together. 

So you'll walk away with a dashboard that helps you keep track of everything in your district and monitor the things that are really important. You'll walk away with a plan to be able to rethink the roles and responsibilities and your org chart and making your org chart makes sense. You'll walk away with tools to help you meet with each of your direct reports and get them on board you're gonna walk away with you know, we, we have this whole kind of process that we help you install in your school district that helps you be more organized and more efficient in the work that you do. So anyway, I don't want to go this is a highly specialized thing. And a lot of people a lot of listeners here, you know, it doesn't necessarily relate to you. But for those of you who are listening, who you know, you want that we have just a couple of slides. So you know, my my energy and time, it's mostly focused on builders ship university, but we do have a couple of slots available for people who really, really want to go all in and be more effective and efficient in your role. And these tools that we've developed people are just, you know, they, when they get them, they're like, oh my gosh, this is where have you been on my life. And it just helps you be better at your job. Take some of the stress and the weight off of you helps you to be able to sleep at night knowing that your district is running effectively that the your direct reports your teams are more effective and efficient that you know what's going on that you're not going to be blindsided. Anyway, if that's you go to mind step Schedule a call, you'll talk to John John, I'll talk to you see if you're a good fit. And if you are then we'll start working together just a short term, you know, couple of months to get some things in place. You and I'll be meeting directly, you know, on Zoom, and I'll be sending you electronic copies, you'll be filling them out, you know, kind of, it's not like homework, but you're going to be putting these systems in place. I'll be giving you feedback and helping you make it fit with your Situ your specific situation. And then you'll start using these tools and be more efficient anyway. If that's you and you're interested, go to mind steps And then schedule a call talk to John. And if it's a fit, then we can start working together. All right, let's talk about this idea of the difference between control, conformity and true alignment. If you are operating as a boss in your school or your district and your culture, it because you're operating as a boss, your culture is starting to turn toxic. Now a lot of times we hear toxic culture and we think oh people are infighting and it's a horrible place to work. work. But there is another kind of toxicity that often happens in schools and districts where it's not an overt toxicity, people are not mean and crying and leaving and threatening each other. And, you know, but it just doesn't feel good working there people are more driven by fear than they are by, you know, service for kids.

You feel it in the work you do you feel like you'd have to be in control all the time. And so there's a huge amount of pressure on you. And a lot of times when I first talked about this difference between boss leaders and builders, between a toxic culture, and good enough culture, and a 100% culture, the thing that people will say to me is, well, sometimes you just have to be a boss. And if that's you, if you've ever found yourself saying that, then you're not a builder, yet, you because builders know that there is never a time when you need to be a boss. But if you're feeling that way, it's probably because you have bought into this false notion that if you are not in control, then everything falls apart, if you're not in control, then you're not in charge. And so a lot of the things that we were taught to do a lot of the, the mythology that we were fed about leadership says that we have to be in control. So we do things to control, you know, we we withhold information, because we're afraid that if everybody knew what we knew, then then how will how, what's the difference between them and us how they might think, well, if I know what, what she knows, then then I might as well be in charge. And so we have this fear inside of us that that makes us withhold information, we want to kind of hoard information ourselves, so that we can stay in control, right. Another thing that that that lets you know that you're you're driven by this idea of control is that you feel like you have to have your hand in every single pot, or it just doesn't go right. If you find yourself saying, if I'm not involved, it won't work. I can't trust them to do things on their own. And maybe you're right, maybe your experience has told you that maybe you've trusted people in the past, and they haven't done a good job, and it's fallen back on your lap. And so you just say, Well, you know, from now on, I need to be involved, I need to know everything. So you not only are hoarding information, but you feel this, this, this drive to be to have your hand in everything. And you can't let go because you're afraid that if you do let go, it will fall apart. Which means that in many ways you are the bottleneck in your school, everything has to run by you and run through you. And you feel uncomfortable letting go, you're afraid to let go, you don't trust everybody to let go. And so the work that you do is really around supervision, you feel like you have to be the first one in the building. And the last one to leave, you feel like if you're not visible, if people don't see you every single day, then they will forget you are in charge and they will, they will start to run amok, you feel like you spend a lot of your time checking other people's work to make sure that it's right, you spend a lot of time approving things, people don't feel like they can move forward unless they get your approval.

So nothing happens in your building without your consent. 

And if somebody does do something that they didn't get your permission to do first, then they've gone rogue and you have you feel like you have to reprimand them, you're constantly worried that somebody is going to try to take over somebody else is going to try to assert and themselves and take away your power. Which means that you spend a lot of time afraid, you spent a lot of time afraid that you if you that people are going to look behind the curtain and realize that, that you're not everything that you've projected yourself to be you have this feeling of imposter syndrome, you're you're always worried that people are going to find out that you're not as much in control as, as as you project. And so you're constantly doing things to to hold up this image that you're in charge from how you dress to how you show up every day at work to, to the decisions that you make to the the information that you hoard and kind of leak out to different people to who you trust and who you don't trust. All of that is driven by fear. And it's exhausting. It's exhausting. And a lot of us are driven by that. I used to be driven by that. I when I first started mine steps I was young I was in my 30s and I was in rooms and situations where You know, I was the youngest person in the room. And there were colleagues of mine who had written books and, you know, people I admired people, I steamed. And I couldn't believe that I was in a same room as these people. And I was running a company, and I didn't know anything about running a company. And so I was terrified that people were going to find me out even before that, I remember being, you know, an assistant principal in a school and was very, very young. I was late 20s, early 30s, when I became an administrator, yes, I had taught for a while and been very successful teaching. 

But it's very different when now I'm giving other teachers feedback on their teaching. And I remember going into a new school, and it was in a very affluent community, and there is an unspoken language around affluence that I didn't know because I didn't grow up that way. The parents were highly educated and highly litigious. And so I had to project this, this, I felt I had to project this, that strength that I knew everything that I was in charge, a lot of the teachers I was supervising were older and more experienced than I was. And, you know, I was worried that they would look at me, and they would think, well, who's this young whippersnapper coming in and telling me what to do? In fact, a couple of them did say something almost exactly like that. And so I was, I was driven by this imposter syndrome. And this desire, I thought that in order to be in charge, I had to be in control. And so when I say that it's exhausting. I know from experience, how exhausting it is, how terrifying it is, every single time you're sitting down to give a teacher feedback, because you're constantly worried, well, what if they push back? But what if say, what if they argue with me? What if they call the union, you know, that was like, so terrified? Like, oh, my goodness, I'm new in this position? What if people call the Union on me, and then my supervisor finds out and then they think I'm not in control of my building, right? So that fear often drives us to make decisions that are not necessarily what's best for the school, but more about staying in control. And so, if that's you, not only is it exhausting, but you're not going to get to 100% that way. This is the paradox. You make the 100% decision, vision by yourself, right? You, it's your vision, but you can't achieve it, unless you get help. So the saying we always say at mine steps is your vision is your baby, but you need other people to help you raise it, right? So you, yes, it's your vision, but you don't achieve your vision by yourself. That's why we don't build a ship University, we teach you how to tell that vision story that recruits other people to now take ownership of that vision to join you in the journey. You know, that's why builders say come you are inviting people into a bigger vision for your school. And so, if you are into control, if your culture is is is is is built on your need to be in charge, you cannot get to your 100% vision because you are the only person pulling from it for it. Nobody else is pulling with you. You are a bottleneck, you are holding your vision back. And so what's ironic about that is you want the success and the more you try to control things in order to get the success, the more likely you are to fail. Because you can't do it by yourself. 

Now, some people know that and they're saying, Okay, I don't want to be in control, right. But instead what you do is really, it's I call it control light. And that's conformity. You're not necessarily trying to control right? But what you are trying to do instead of hoarding information, you're trying to gatekeeper information, you you control who has access to that information, and you Dibble out the information you want people to have, and you try to distract them from other sources of information, you try to keep them focused on the information that you want them to focus on. And that often happens in a good enough culture and it and it's exacerbated by the very leadership strategies that we were taught to adopt and to use in a school. So an example of a culture that's driven by conformity. You want everybody teaching the same thing the same way. Your you want everybody in their CO planning to come out with the same lesson plans. You want everybody doing the same five minute warm up at the beginning of the period. You want everybody writing the learning objective on the board in the exact same way you want everybody using the same lesson planning template. And we justify this by talking about best practices. Alright. And the older I get, the more I began to quarrel with that term. I used to be a believer in best practices. You know, what does Marzano say what does John Hattie say? Alright, and then I would take that research without understanding the research without, without really going into deep about why that is so effective. And I would say up, John Hattie says that we need to have this. So therefore, everybody must have that without really understanding why that's so important. And then I would make these proclamations, we all need to be doing this. And we all need to be doing it the exact same way. Then I walk into classrooms, and teachers started turning off their brains, right, they stopped being the professionals, I hired them to be, and started just doing what I told them to do, and conforming to best practices. And as a result, those best practices begin to lose their potency, because the teachers weren't doing the thinking behind those best practices. 

It's one of the reasons why I wrote never work harder than your students in 2009 was because I realized that instead of strategies, you need to be focused on principles. 

So once I understand why a strategy works, I can take that strategy and make it my own, make it work for my kids, and my teaching style. So the more important investment is not in best practices, but in best principles. And if teachers understand the principles, you can trust them to do the right thing for kids, they are empowered now to do that work to help you get to your 100% vision. But best practices get satisfied with good enough, because what we do is we walk around every single day, and we're saying, Oh, everybody in my school is using this strategy or that strategy until of course, this strategy or that strategy falls out of favor, and then it's the next one and the next one and next one, and then your field, because you see everybody using those best practices, you're okay with a certain percentage of your kids failing, because not everybody's gonna pass and we do our best, right? Even the name, the notion, best practices means that that's the best you can do. So we have a way to start building that subtle Excuse an argument for why not all of our kids are succeeding, because after all, we're using best practices, and everybody is doing it, you're not going to get to 100%. That way, you're going to stay stuck at good enough. Now, if you really want to get to 100%, you need 100% culture. And in order to get to 100% culture, you need to be practicing builder ship, and build a ship is not about control. And it's not about conformity. Builder ship is about alignment. One of the things that I absolutely love about alignment, this idea of, of, of building a culture that's more focused on alignment and control and conformity is that alignment means that everybody agrees to some principles. And then they do the work of making sure that their work stays in alignment with those principles. 

Not only does that create a lot of freedom for your, your teachers to be their best selves and to do what's right for the kids in front of them and to, to bring their own style to the table and still be successful. But it's very freeing to you. Because instead of running around and trying to control everything, because you're afraid of losing grip on things, or instead of trying to get everybody to conform to whatever the best practice du jour is. You set the principles, you create a vision 100%. And you're stubborn on that vision. But you can be flexible around the details. Because as long as people are doing work that's in alignment with a vision that work where it's clear that they're going to get to 100% success. You don't need to worry about it. And then not only that, you create a mission that refines a vision it says this is how we're going to get to the vision. This is why we're pursuing this vision. And as long as people are doing work that stays on mission, that's an alignment with your mission. You're good. And then you create a set of core values which create those guardrails. It says, Okay, how we do this work. It's Oh, you know, we have a lot of freedom, but we can't go outside these lines. These things are non negotiable. Then as long as people do that, then they're fine. Which leaves you free to do the work that only you can do? Because when you're in control, you're running around chasing, checking, correcting people all the time. And when you're doing conformity, you are you know Always trying to convince people that the way that you've chosen to move the school is the best way. And you're always a little worried that isn't really the best way. So you're you suffer from a lot of shiny object syndrome where, you know, you're like, Well, this was the best way, but you're always chasing the next new best practice. And then you're just adding more and more and more things to people's plates. And then wondering why people are complaining Why people are tired, what, why it's not working, because you don't stick with anything, when you're focused on conformity, or you do stick with something long after it no longer works. But when you focus on alignment, you leave room for innovation, and creativity. Because people understand the goal, they understand the job that they're there to do. And once people understand that, and feel empowered to achieve that, and they're given some guidelines about how to achieve it, you unleash their creativity, their innovation, their commitment to the work. And then it's no longer about you, you are no longer the bottleneck. 

You can let it go. 

No longer do you have to get sick in your stomach about giving somebody feedback, right? Because when you're a builder, the feedback looks different. Because your feedback is about, hey, listen, all I'm doing is I'm not checking off a list of best practices like like you would have your leader, or I'm not going in to enforce my way of doing things like you do when you're a boss and focus on control. As a builder, you're going in and you're saying, Hey, we've all agreed on a vision mission set of core values. Is this classroom that I'm observing in alignment with those? Is the work moving kids towards 100%? Success? is the way the teacher is doing this and conducting this classroom going to get kids to 100% success. Do I see 100% of kids successful on the pathway to success? Is this work on mission? is the way the teacher is doing this work in the classroom? Is it it doesn't align with our mission? And does it align with our core values? Or are there non negotiables that are being violated here. And then when I sit down with a teacher, all I'm doing is helping them say, here's what I observed here, our mission, mission and core values. And here are the areas of misalignment. And here's the support that I'm going to give you to help you become more aligned to that vision, mission and core values that we've already said we embrace with a totally different conversation. And when I shifted to focusing on alignment, I could be honest with people without having to be brutally honest with people, sometimes people Oh, I'm gonna be brutally honest. Why would you be brutally anything, right? There's nothing brutal about honesty, when you're focused on helping people stay in alignment with something they've already agreed to. It's only brutal when you have to tell something that people tell something that people that they'd say they don't want to hear. But when you have a vision, mission and core values, and we've already agreed to part of that says I'm open to hearing when I'm out of alignment, because my biggest aim is to stay in alignment with that vision, mission and core values. Think about the difference between that culture and a culture where you have to maintain control, or try to get convinced people to conform to your notion of what's best for schools.

When we come together, and we say first vision, mission and core values, and we agree to that, the rest becomes easy, because then it's just about checking every single day to say, are we in alignment with that vision, mission and core values. I remember once I was working with a principal, and I may have told you this story before but I tell it again, because I think it's so true. She was talking to me about a teacher that was really struggling, he was on a performance plan. And she started the vision work and she did the vision, the mission, the core values with the staff. And then she went back started going doing using micro slicing, which is you know, a strategy that we teach a builder's lab and build a ship University. And she started using micro slicing to observe and to go in and help teachers say here's the one thing, the most important thing that's out of alignment, how do we get you and then supporting people and getting them into alignment. And so she's making major gains with giving people feedback. They're welcoming the feedback. They're acting on the feedback. And so teachers are making major shifts very, very quickly. She's worried about this one teacher, and she goes in and gives him some feedback. And normally this teacher pushes back he doesn't accept her feedback. He he's he is combative and argumentative. He refuses to change. That's been our experience. She goes in with this new approach, and she sits down with them. And she comes to the conversation from a spirit of alignment. This is what we've agreed upon. This is what I've observed. These things seem out of alignment to me. Do they seem one of aligned MIT to you. And instead of arguing, he said, I can see that. And then she said, Okay, so let's talk about ways to get you back into get you more in alignment with this vision, mission and core values that we all support. And for the first time, he accepted her feedback. Not only that, but he said, This has been so helpful. And that teacher, the worst teacher in our building, the teacher who was on a performance plan, the teacher, she was thinking about taking moves to dismiss, started making gains, and his kids started performing better. And his attitude shifted. And a teacher she thought she was going to have to dismiss became a teacher who was growing every day more and more in alignment with that vision, mission and core values. And without a fight.

That's the power of alignment. And an alignment approach, we have got to let go of these notions that because we have positional power, because we are the principal or the superintendent, or the assistant principal, or even the instructional coach, because there is a position and a title behind our names, that our job is to prove that we deserve to be there, or to force everybody to conform to our vision of what we say or how we think our school should run. Not only is it exhausting, it's a fool's errand. People are, are professionals, they have brains, they, they they make choices, you know, it's a difference between go and let's go and come. And alignment. Really contrib conveys this idea of come, I'm inviting you to step outside of your practice, and step into alignment with a shared vision, mission and core values. I'm inviting you that as you go through this process of alignment, you become your best self, I'm inviting you to become your best self in the service of kids. Think about what shift in your culture, that would mean if you really, really created true alignment. And insight to build a ship University we have some people are going through right now. And they are building what we call the alignment architecture. So tool inside of builder ship University. And it's a way to help you have true shared decision making, right we talk about shared decision making. But shared decision making means whoever is most persuasive, or most vocal usually wins out. And there's always a loser in most models of quote, unquote, shared decision making we we get people around the table, we open up the conversation, supposedly, and then we vote and there's always a loser or winner or we try to get consensus and somebody always has to give up the fight. With an alignment architecture, that doesn't happen anymore. Because the decisions aren't being made based on what I want control, or based on what I think is best conformity, decisions are made on what is the best what decision will keep us best in alignment with our vision, mission and core values. So all of a sudden, because you have now this alignment architecture in place, meetings are different, they're way more productive. 

The focus is on about as the focus stays on your vision, and no hurt feelings. 

If I propose an idea, we take it through the alignment architecture, if it's out of alignment, I have an opportunity to revise my idea to make it more in alignment. And then we go for it. It's just that simple. So stop fighting people, stop fighting for control, stop, you know, torturing yourself trying to maintain control. Let go. You're not going to get where you want to be from control. People don't look at you any differently because they see the fear of leaching out of every decision that you're making anyway, stop. The competence comes from the vision, mission and core values, not your title, not your years of experience, not your degrees. The confidence comes from your being the person who is building something so big, so powerful, so compelling, that people can't help but join you. And when they do, they look at you differently. They see you differently. And then when you empower them to be their best selves by helping them stay in alignment with that vision, mission and core values. They are grateful to you because as a result of responding to your invitation, your invitation to come and build something bigger. They are now better. You want people to respect focus on alignment. You want people's you want people's commitment, focus on alignment, though that's my challenge to you this week. When to think a little bit about how you Currently approach your work how you run your school? Are you trying to control people? Are you making decisions out of fear? Are you exhausted? Because you feel like you have to be a part of everything? Are you focused on conformity? Have you bought have you? Did you drink the best practices Kool Aid and now you're thinking I gotta get best practices. That's the way I get to my goal. And what you end up with is a good enough culture. Or have you set yourself free by focusing on alignment, where your work is to keep everybody focused on the vision, mission and core values to help them see when the work is out of alignment, and to support people as they get back into alignment. 

So that you can achieve your 100% vision. 

I'll talk to you next time.

Hey, if you're ready to get started being a builder right away, then I want to invite you to join us at builder ship University. It's our exclusive online community for builders just like you where you'll be able to get the exact training that you need to turn your school into a success story right now with the people and resources you already have. Inside. You'll find our best online courses, live trainings with me tons of resources, templates and exemplars and monthly live office hours with me where you can ask me anything and get my help on whatever challenge you're facing right now. If you're tired of hitting obstacle after obstacle and you're sick of tiny little incremental gains each year, if you're ready to make a dramatic difference in your school right now, then you need to Join builders ship University.

 Just go to and get started writing your school success story today.

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