A Recipe for Failure

I heard a saying that talked about a recipe for success and failure when it comes to leadership. It reminded me of a saying by Abraham Lincoln: “You can please some of the people all the time, and all of the people some of the time, but never all of the people all of the time.” This is pretty famous and the one I heard on the radio changed it up slightly:

   ” I have no recipe for success but one that will insure failure: Try to be all things to all people”

This really struck me when I heard it on the radio and seems to speak to some of the struggles that I have with my leadership approach. The temptation is to try to be all things to all people. The talk about leadership is relationships as the centre, and I totally agree with that. The problem is that one can be tempted to try to fit everyone’s wishes and opinions into every decision you make. This is tempting but something that will lead to absolute inertia. There will be no movement if you wait for total acceptance and support for everything. I think all leaders know this and can easily identify those people that will always be in opposition and those that will offer support. Because these people are easy to spot, I don’t see this approach too much.

I think the bigger problem is when a leader tries to be “All things to SOME people”. I have to confess that I find myself falling into this trap from time to time. The temptation is to work with people or to support those that you feel connected to and in sync with professionally. This is a temptation because the job can be very difficult, so you look for allies when you have the chance to. This is ripe with danger though and something that I am going to consciously keep in mind for the new year. When you go down this road you bring two elements of peril into play.

The first is that you can obviously alienate other staff as they feel left out and not a part of the process. The problem with this is that any initiative or change you try to put into play, needs more than the few to make it work. In other words you need the whole congregation singing, not just the choir! Even if you hand pick a few people to drive the conversation (that you know will support the change), the inclusion of many different voices can make for a better conclusion and certainly one that is more likely to be supported school wide.

The other problem with being “all things to SOME people”, is that you can lose the proper distance that allows you to critically think and comment on the ideas of all staff. I need to have as many people in the conversation as possible so that I can stay where I need to be to make sure that not just a small sample of the staff is satisfied.

So as I consider the new year and what I can work on to improve my leadership style, I think about being something to everyone. I need to listen to every voice and then move forward with things in an inclusive and collaborative way. There are still going to be those that choose to be contrary no matter what the situation. They are the prototypical critics and there is not much to do about that. I still need to hear their voices and have the confidence to move through it. In fact, you can say that if certain people disagree with me, then I know I am on the right path. Not that there is anything wrong with their ideas, but they are not in line with my philosophy. Some times a leader just has to be true to their ideas and some times consider the opposition to temper their thoughts. Still I have to be able to question and consider the views of the people that share my philosophy. I need to be able to see all sides and then move with what best serves the school.

I love the saying and I think that Abraham Lincoln should be someone to defer to when it comes to leadership. After all he had to deal with a civil war and so I think we can all learn from his example of measured leadership and support.



This entry was posted in Instructional Leadership and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s