Spaces for Innovation

Leadership Challenge: Redefining the Possible – going beyond what we know…


“Once we accept our limits, we go beyond them” (Einstein).

One of the greatest challenges facing educational innovation or transformation is getting beyond the what is in order to redefine the possible and get to the what could be. If we believe in the notion of schools as places of possibility, then, what kind of leadership is vital to support our ability to “imagine forward differently” (Zatzman, 2009)? What will be different in our schools as a result of this way of being?

Venturing outside of the field of education to garner insights may provide inspiration and inform our thinking as we journey forward in our schools and districts. The impact of stepping out of one’s own field and into the “intersection… a place where different fields meet, where wildly different ideas to bump into and build upon each other” is referenced in the book The Medici Effect (Johansson, 2006, p.16) as a vital source of creativity and innovation. The act of “stepping into the intersection” (Johansson, 2006) in order to seek new possibilities and facilitate the innovation of new ideas is achieved by looking for the spaces where connections in thinking between different disciplines occurs:

When you step into the intersection (of fields, disciplines, or cultures) you
can combine existing concepts between multiple fields, generating ideas
that leap in new directions— what I call intersectional ideas (p. 2) …Intersectional Innovations change the world in leaps along new directions” (p. 19) … Leonardo DaVinci, the defining Renaissance man and perhaps the greatest intersectionalist of all times, believed that in order to fully understand something one needed to view it from different perspectives (p. 58)

I wonder, have we yet arrived at a point in education where we truly accept our limits and have the desire to go beyond them, or, are “we afraid to cross the ocean, because we do not have the courage to lose sight of the shore” (Columbus)?

Essential to transforming our systems, schools, institutions and organizations is action driven by engagement, where learning takes place within an environment fostered by aesthetic leadership and the notion of “artful-mindedness” (Steffensen, 2012). The Four Directions of Leadership, which embodies the ways of the Teacher, Healer, Visionary, and Warrior/ Leader, provides a mind-frame that can help shape actions to successfully navigate a way forward within “the place called school” (Goodlad, 1984). The Four Directions of Leadership grants us the opportunity to step into the intersection, allowing leadership to be re-framed in schools, organizations and institutions. The following is what I have come to understand about the Four Directions through my ongoing conversations and interactions with hereditary chief, elder and Tsimshian artist, Roy Henry Vickers.

The way of the Teacher is about listening, learning and growing. It is about a continuous journey of learning and not about a destination or a place of arrival. It is about being open to new possibilities and potential. It is about taking risks, learning from mistakes and failures and constructing new paths to explore. It is about expanding understanding, knowledge building and co-construction learning.

The way of the Healer is about learning to process all of our emotions, to be centered in our feelings. It involves nurturing, caring, guiding, supporting, and ultimately moving out of a space of hurt, anguish and despair into a space of renewal. Navigating through these emotions requires us to understand and process these emotions if any healing is to occur. The way of the Healer is also about joy, love, and hope because of new beginnings and connections that are made from the learning we have undergone in the healing process. It is dependent upon the relationships we foster as we work together for a renewed purpose. “We do not move out of a place of pain (hurt/ despair) because we stay with the emotions, we embrace and process the emotions in order to move forward without despair” (Vickers). The way of the Healer is about paying attention to matters of the heart, emotions of pain, joy, anger, guilt, fear, shame, and loneliness. “We are given gifts of healing, strength, making amends, wisdom, spirituality, and reaching out when we process our emotions” (Vickers).

The way of the Visionary is about seeing beyond what is, to be open to possibilities and responding to one’s intuition, to embrace “wide-awakeness” (Greene) as we strive to move forward. It is about “artful-mindedness” (Steffensen, 2012) and embracing a forward-thinking mindset. It is about knowing or being in touch with one’s self and with others, and requires using knowledge in ways that support creative and innovative ways of being. The Visionary is able to see clearly because of the healing and the knowledge gathered along the way, providing clarity and deep awareness for the journey at hand and what may lie ahead. The way of the Visionary is about embodying the creative process, ignited by inspiration or challenge, resulting in the emergence of something quite innovative or new, and ripe with possibility. “The way of the Visionary is about using our ability to see without our physical eyes, to be aware of the insights that come to mind everyday, that we may or may not be tapping into in a conscious way” (Vickers).

The way of the Warrior/Leader is about speaking truths, not being afraid to take a stand, to take risks and to inspire the changes necessary to move beyond a current reality. The way of the Warrior/Leader is invested in place of potential and possibility joined by action. It is a way of leadership that “ignites the passion in oneself and within others, because it is clear, pure and true” (Vickers). It is about enacting and being the change. “The way of the Warrior/Leader is about standing in the strength, truth, and beauty of who you truly are and leading forward in a good way” (Vickers).

The following graphic developed by Vickers and Steffensen (2012) suggests that a leader moves in and out of the four ways of being and seeing in a cyclical and iterative way:

Screen Shot 2015-04-04 at 2.12.30 PM

When an organization is presented with challenges or obstacles, approaching these challenges through the way of the Teacher is an essential starting point. This approach invites leaders to take on a learning stance that seeks to understand, and requires learning from and with others in order to determine what needs to be done or happen next. In seeking to understand the challenge at hand, emotions emerge that lead into the way of the Healer. As a Teacher and a Healer (as one processes and learns from these emotions) a renewed vision begins to evolve and grow. As a Visionary, a Teacher and a Healer, one can step into the way of the Warrior/Leader where the journey of change can begin, can be sustained, be strengthened and renewed by the teachings, the healing and the vision that have unfolded during this journey of change. The Four Directions of Leadership provides an opportunity to transform the places and spaces within organizations that have become transfixed by the status quo. It offers leaders a lens through which they might see new pathways for navigating beyond what is known and arrive at new places of possibility.

How might the model of the Four Directions of Leadership help your organization navigate challenges or obstacles, to redefine the possible … to “imagine forward differently”?

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This entry was posted on April 6, 2015 by .
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