[Warning: long post]

My ongoing notes from the 2012 SAIS/MISBO conference in Atlanta, Georgia… These are from a keynote panel of independent school leaders who discussed 10 critical new leadership skills postulated in Bob Johansen’s book, Leaders Make the Future.

Steve Robinson, President, SAIS

  • It’s a VUCA world (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, & Ambiguity). What is the impact of a VUCA world on independent school leadership?

1. Maker instinct. Reggie Nichols, Piney Woods School, Piney Woods, MS

  • Ability to exploit your inner drive to build and grow things, as well as connect with others in the making.

2. Clarity. Doreen Kelly, Ravenscroft School, Raleigh, NC

  • Ability to see through messes and contradictions to a future that others cannot yet see.
  • There is a difference between clarity and certainty. Certainty is expressed in rules. Clarity is expressed in stories and narratives.
  • What is a problem and what is a dilemma?
  • “What we permit we promote”

3. Dilemma flipping. Colleen Glaude, The Westminster Schools, Atlanta, GA

  • Ability to turn dilemmas – which, unlike problems, cannot be solved – into advantages and opportunities.
  • We must love the process of puzzling, not just putting the puzzle together

4. Immersive learning ability. Dana Markham, Pine Crest School, Fort Lauderdale, FL

  • Ability to immerse yourself in unfamiliar environments, to learn from them in a first-person way. 

5. Bio-empathy. Damian Kavanagh, SAIS, Atlanta, GA

  • Ability to see things from nature’s point of view; to understand, respect, and learn from its patterns.
  • Our competition is not the private school down the street. It’s the misunderstandings of parents and communities about what we do as educators.

6. Constructive depolarization. Suzanna Jemsby, The Galloway School, Atlanta, GA

  • Ability to calm tense situations where differences dominate and communication has broken down – and bring people from divergent cultures toward positive engagement.
  • What is the food most commonly consumed by teenagers? Not pizza, hamburgers, chips, or chicken fingers. Rice (put on your global hat!).
  • What we’re talking about here is grace.

7. Quiet transparency. Cliff Kling, Jackson Academy, Jackson, MS

  • Ability to be open and authentic about what matters – without being overly self-promoting.
  • The days of the ‘rock star leader’ are over. Teams, not individuals.
  • Leaders will increasingly have to be open about everything that they and their organization do, whether they want to or not.
  • Check out the Online School for Girls

8. Rapid prototyping. Keith Evans, Collegiate School, Richmond, VA

  • Ability to create quick early versions of innovations with the expectation that later success will require early failures.
  • Fail early, fail often, fail cheaply. “Small bets out of sight”
  • Rapid prototypes have lifetimes measured in days or hours. Pilots take much longer.
  • Rapid prototyping emphasizes 1) trial and error mentality, 2) experience in the field rather than massive advance planning, and 3) maximizing our learning by prioritizing speed of learning
  • This mindset runs counter to key leadership values in independent schools, such as 1) leaders do extensive planning (don’t plan it, try it), 2) leaders cultivate democratic participation to build consensus (not necessary for small bets), and 3) leaders mitigate risk and promote success (we need a comfort level with failure)

9. Smart mob organizing. Chris Angel, Hammond School, Columbia, SC

  • Ability to create, engage with, and nurture purposeful business or social change networks through intelligent use of electronic media and in-person communication.
  • We all have mobs we can organize and leverage.
  • We need to teach students how to have a productive online presence. 

10. Commons creating. Paul Ibsen, Providence Day School, Charlotte, NC

  • Ability to seed, nurture, and grow shared assets that can benefit all players – and allow competition at a higher level
  • We have new abilities to do this
  • Goldmine sessions at conference are great ways to do commons creating 
  • Shared opportunities and shared problems save time

My own closing thoughts

Small pilots (okay, prototypes!) are non-threatening and powerful. Iterate often. Learn. Iterate yet again. Learn. Iterate yet again…