“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.”
– Antoine de Saint-Exupery
There’s good provocative thinking from Umair Haque on the Harvard Business Review blog: The Builders’ Manifesto: 20th century leadership is what’s stopping 21st century prosperity.
With everyone on the leadership bandwagon proclaiming the need for leaders and leadership, it may be time for a fresh perspective. Because – whatever is needed – from health care reform to education to action on climate change – we don’t seem to have it. Haque writes:
Dear World Leaders,
This relationship isn’t working out…. We’ve tried to make it work. But it’s not us — it’s you (really).
Haque’s hypothesis is that the word “leader” feels like a relic of the 20th century and that rather than try to train better leaders we need to reboot the concept.
He contends that it’s a myth that leadership is a set of timeless skills and points out that leadership can be both powerful – and bad. And it is certainly true that the graveyards of the 20th century are littered with the consequences of effective leadership.
Institutions are broken, he says, and their dysfunction means the old model of leadership cannot work. The answer he says not leadership but “about ‘buildership’, or what I often refer to as Constructivism.”
Haque includes some interesting contrasts between leaders and builders: Sarah Palin v. Nelson Mandela; Ben Bernanke v. Mohammed Yunus. He has others from a variety of fields, and his commentary provokes thought.
In education, constructivism challenges the default mode of sage-on-the-stage, all-knowing leader-teacher whose job it is to transmit knowledge.
It’s a meaning-making theory of learning that maintains that individuals create or construct their own new understandings or knowledge through the interaction with what they already know and believe and the ideas, events, and activities with which they come in contact.
Knowledge is acquired through active engagement rather than imitation or repetition. A constructivist classroom is characterized by active engagement, inquiry, problem solving, and collaboration. Constructivist teachers help students by encouraging active questioning and challenging learners to form, reform, and refine their ideas and understandings in an active and social context. Multiple perspectives, intellectual diversity and engagement with the real world are taken as a given. Knowledge is not out there to be taken in, but derives from interaction and engagement as the learner builds a personal world of understanding. It’s a social process, and it means that you have to do something – intellectually and/or physically – to learn. And caring – i.e. motivation – matters.
So back to the Builders.
Haque concludes with a list of ten principles that contrast bossism/ leadership with buildership. My summary is that builders (constructivists):
- believe in community
- are motivated by the desire to change things for the better
- are inspired by what could be
- work to show why the destination matters
- draw passion for the enterprise, and
- are there every step of the way.
And to distill it further: Builders believe in, and work for, a mission and a vision founded on values.
Do these ideas apply to institutions like schools and to school leadership?