This last week, the school Shelly and I used to work for suspended 60+ students after they rode their bikes to school. The students had a police escort and even included the mayor. The knee-jerk decision to suspend the students is a classic example of people placed in a leadership role acting as managers, not leaders. The story is in the process of being picked up by the national media. Regardless of the behind-the-scenes facts, the known details make the school’s leadership look really, really bad.
I’m a firm believer that schools, probably more than any other institution in our society, needs true leadership. So what’s the difference between leaders and managers? Here are a few thoughts:
Managers control behavior set rules then strictly enforce them. Think authoritarianism.
Leaders create a culture where the collective organization acts responsibly because they’re personally committed to the organization.
Managers “motivate” with fear or extrinsic rewards.
Leaders motivate by appealing to individuals’ drives by providing challenges that capitalize on intrinsic motivators.
Leaders consider the big picture before acting.
Managers demand respect.
Leaders earn respect.
Managers have subordinates.
Leaders have followers.
Managers crave stability.
Leaders crave change.
Leaders empower others to accept responsibility.
Managers are obsessed with control.
Leaders are obsessed with creating passion.
Managers make rules.
Leaders break rules.
Managers have to always be right.
Leaders accept blame.
So how would I have handled the bike situation? Simple. Thank the students for taking the initiative to break the destructive prank tradition. Thank the police and mayor for helping make the event safe. Create a committee of students to organize the same event next year and empower them to consider issues like safety and traffic disruptions. Engage the local fitness or cycling communities to promote community involvement. In short, I’d leverage my position of power to turn this into a powerfully positive event that would generate a ton of positive PR for the school.
But hey, what do I know?