Leadership: Purpose Driving, Data Directed. 3 methods to Improve Leadership.

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Plato’s comment “The beginning is the most important part of the work,” is the foundation for effective leadership. Asking yourself, what is our purpose as an organization will give you a clear value system as you make decisions to move your organization forward.  Once you know your purpose you can begin your strategic-planning.  The importance of the “beginning” is invaluable when you are strategic planning.  Dedicating the work and time in the initial planning of a project to develop a foundation that supports future policy making, addresses the obtainment and management of resources, incorporates flexibility, and focuses on the recruitment of effective people to fulfill assigned objectives will yield better results as you lead your organization. 

Strategic planning is analogous to the building of a foundation for a house.  Houses are built on cement foundations.  Cement foundations are solid, weight bearing, and even though cement foundations are expected to give and settle over time, the damage to a house built upon the foundation is usually minimal if the house settles evenly (as expected).   Compare the cement foundation to a dirt foundation.   Dirt foundations are not reliable and can result in the total collapse of a home.  Footings and foundations are to homes what feet and legs are to the human body: footings anchor the home to the ground and support the foundation, which in turn carries the weight of the home (Wardell, 2017).  Like building a home, implementing a successful strategic plan requires a strong foundation.  Leaders must do a needs assessment, look for key people to involve, anticipate future roadblocks and plan for them, brainstorm ideas, acquire resources, devise a timeline, and provide training to needed personnel to build a solid foundation for the plan.  If the necessary steps are not taken at the beginning of the strategic plannig process, one the plan will not be very strategic; and two, it is very possible that the strategic planners will not have direction, the best people will not be involved in the planning, the plan will fail due to unforeseen variables, and valuable time will be wasted after the plan fails.  “The nicest thing about not planning is that failure comes as a complete surprise, rather than being preceded by a period of worry and depression.” (Bryson, 2018).  Strategic planning is a commitment.  The leader’s role requires patience, leadership skills, that the leader be a visionary, communicator, faciliatory, and that he or she be politically savvy and culturally aware. 

Now that you have your purpose, you need to determine your direction. Data collected and reviewed through the purpose-lense will give you the information needed to determine your direction.  How should you collect the data to make your decisions?  There are the normal methods that come to mind.  For educators, the first thing that normally comes up is to look at the test data.  I will mention also that educators look at the attendance data, teacher-condition survey, discipline data, and teacher observation data.  Business leaders focus on profit, competition, politics, performance parameters, and job performance. Leaders should look at their organization as a whole.  It is important to know as much as possible about your organization.  There are many ways to look at an organization as a whole.  I will discuss three methods.  The methods are the S.W.O.T method, Implementation Science, and using the Bone Diagram. 

S.W.O.T
The S.W.O.T method is used to gain an understanding of how your organization is functioning.  The method focuses on Strengths(S), Weaknesses (W), Opportunities (O), and (T) Threats.  Using the S.W.O.T can identify significant Pros and Cons in your organization, as it reviews internal and external variables, especially if conducted in conjunction with the P.E.S.T.  Information gathered from your S.W.O.T and P.E.S.T analysis will be invaluable when you began your strategic planning. 

Bone Diagram
The Bone Diagram looks at where you are as an organization, where you are trying to go, and what is helping you to and hindering you from obtaining your goals.  It is a nice tool to use when brainstorming at the beginning of your strategic planning process. I have attached a template for a bone diagram taken from educationworld.com since I was not able to find a website to direct you to. My google search for Bone Diagram only returned results for the Fish Bone Diagram, another effective method of analysis that you can use to evaluate your organization.

Implementation Science        
Martin Eccles and Brian Mittman (2006) define Implementation Science as the scientific study of methods to promote the systematic uptake of research findings and other evidence-based practices into routine practice, and, hence, to improve the quality and effectiveness of health services. It includes the study of influences on healthcare professional and organizational behavior.  Implementation Science helped health service managers reduce operational costs, save lives, and improve practices to improve efficiency in the field.   The accomplishments obtained in the health services were the result of higher-ups conducting real-time research, as the work occurred and at the level it occurred (alongside the workers conducting the work.)  School leaders can modify the practice to improve how students learn, how teachers teach, and how leaders lead in education.  The one issue with many academic improvement plans is that the applied theory works on items, but do not work well with students.  Students have a million and one things that distract them from achieving educational benchmarks and set goals.  An assembly line to build cars has no will, a child does.  Implementation Science takes into account that people are people and that they are unique.  In fact, Implementation Science looks at all variables preventing a desired outcome.  In education, if leaders focus their attention on letting problems of practice reveal themselves in a real-time study, they will have better information to use when they engage in strategic planning.  For non-education readers, the health care example was for you. 

Now that you have your direction and data you are ready to go out and do great things for your organization.  However, there is one more thing to discuss. Courage. Courage is sometimes synonymous with loneliness, dedication, heroism, bravery; or as defined by dictionary.com (2002), the quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty, danger, pain, etc., without fear; bravery.  What causes a person to take on difficulty when they can simply deflect the responsibility? Courage. Consider that the process for effective leadership or strategic planning requires that many different cogs in the strategic planning process work together to bring about the desired change(s).  Leaders must have the courage to make the decisions that are in the best interest of the organization and keep the focus of stakeholders on the important issues.  Be a strong leader.  Let your organization’s purpose drive you and the data guide you.

Recommended Reading:

Suggested Reading for Leadership: Click Here

References

Bryson, J. (2018). Strategic Planning for Public and Nonprofit Organizations: A Guide to Strengthening and Sustaining Organizational Achievement. In J. Bryson, Strategic Planning for Public and Nonprofit Organizations: A Guide to Strengthening and Sustaining Organizational Achievement (p. 395). New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons.

Wardell, C. (2017). Building a Solid New Home Foundation. Retrieved from NewHomeSource: https://www.newhomesource.com/guide/articles/solid-foundation

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