I am privileged every day, when I meet with leaders in centres and schools to hear stories, the stories of these leaders in their everyday lived experiences. These are stories about the ordinary and about the extraordinary enduring commitment these leaders have to ensure outcomes happen for the people in their communities. These are also stories of how leaders respond in extraordinary circumstances: the global, the local and the immediate in the community. Stories of leaders dealing with the everyday are profound in that they can be related to by others who are not always in a similar context. Leaders’ everyday experiences may seldom be acknowledged or celebrated as stories that show an impact on the life and learning of others.
These stories in themselves tell so much. They tell of the complexities, the joys, and the angst of ‘being’ in leadership. Hearing and sharing these stories give meaning to people’s purpose, what is behind their leading and can be deemed to be their stories of practice.
My recent Ph.D. study took the stories of leaders captured in their everyday lived experience over several years and set about analysing these stories so as to reveal further layers. The layers of interpretation beneath, and surrounding these stories go deeply into what is within the leader: the inner aspects, the inner wisdoms, what van Manen describes as ‘innerliness’ (2014).
By exploring these stories through description and interpretation I set out to reveal insights and incepts rather than concepts to be confirmed or to become principles to guide our leading across all contexts. I was also starting with the stories of practice, stepping back so as to develop an understanding through applying a theoretical frame and then returning to practice. This was not merely putting theory into practice.
One ‘revelation’ was what I term beyond the rational, that is leading with heart, soul, and spirit. This is another layer alongside what is known and acknowledged with both the emotions and the cognitive processes required of leaders. This is a self-awareness that is more holistic and which I consider relational.
Our cultural partners in a bicultural Aotearoa-New Zealand, as do all indigenous cultures, treat the beyond the rational as an inherent aspect of the everyday. In Te Ao Māori the terms aroha, wairuatanga, mana and ihi (inner strengths) for example, have their own significance and highlight what might be incredibly important to all leaders regardless of our ethnicity and background. A challenge for us as leaders is to walk in several worlds whilst being our selves. I term this having dual cultures.
We value and hold as worthy the insights Julia Atkins has given us with a focus on core values and beliefs, principles, and practice and also the insights of Simon Sinek and his ‘Golden Circle’ focused on why, how, and what. To go beyond the rational is to add further layers to this thinking or to dig deeper so as to explore the inner aspects.
We lead in an information saturated world and yet leading change is not merely acquiring more information. Some aspects of leading an organisation will be ‘business as usual’ especially in regard to the systems required to function smoothly. The often-used term ‘improvement’ might merely imply more of the same and can often prevent deeper reflection and changed actions. On the other hand the term ‘transformation’ (read innovation, a re-thinking, a re-framing) signals a shift and a radical one at that. Lange (2012) considers transformative change as the most radical and complete form of change, a change of not just a change in. Trans means ‘to go across’ indicating, Lange states, a dynamism or force being involved. Formation means ‘to take on a new shape’, hence Lange states trans-form means to ‘move across forms, to change the very form of the organism’ (p.202). The going deeper I mention involves a ‘shift inside’ a person which highlights their ‘formation’ and involves an interaction of both the informational and the transformational.
Just as Lange uses the term transformative to apply to change inside a person, Shields (2018) terms leadership as transformative; that is leadership that is focused on social justice and equitable change and not merely ‘business as usual’. Van Oord (2013) focuses on our imagining and communicating a new social reality whilst Caldwell, Dixon, Floyd, Chaudoin, Post and Cheokas (2012) explore a leadership that was ‘ethically-based and which connects with other leadership approaches in a layered approach'.
The late Ruth Bader Ginsburg said, “ Fight for the things that you care about but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.” Our ways of relating and our ways of Being matter.
The courage we need as leaders is the courage to be yourself and to be prepared to look inside one’s self, to acknowledge what one brings to leadership and to consider what matters for one’s self.
Alsop, P. & Kupenga,T. (2016). Mauri Ora - Wisdom from the Māori World. Nelson, NZ: Potton and Burton.
Caldwell, C., Dixon, R.D., Floyd, L.A., Chaudoin, J., Post, J., & Cheokas, G. (2012). Transformative leadership: Achieving unparalleled excellence. Journal of Business Ethics, 109(2) 175–187. doi.org/10.1007/s10551-011-1116-2
Lange, E.A. (2012). Transforming transformative learning through sustainability and the New Science. In E.W. Taylor, P. Cranton, and Associates (Eds.), Handbook of transformative learning - Theory, research and practice (pp 195–211). San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass.
Shields, C.M. (2018). Transformative leadership in education: Equitable and socially just change in an uncertain and complex world (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Routledge.
Van Manen, M. (2014). Phenomenology of practice. Meaning-giving methods in phenomenological research and writing. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press.
Van Oord, L. (2013.) Towards transformative leadership in education. International Journal of Leadership Education, 16(4), 419–43. doi.org/10.1080/13603124.2013.776116