I know from conversations with our Campus and District Leaders that summers are often a time for reading, reflecting and recharging. I know this summer feels a bit different, as educational leaders work tirelessly to prepare for the complexities of the upcoming school year. It might feel like there is time for nothing else.
We know that even—no, especially—during demanding seasons, leaders need to continue to invest in themselves. Ronald Heifetz and his colleagues have famously coined the importance of getting off the dance floor and onto the balcony—a place where we can step back from the action and gain a broader perspective on the work and our role in it.
During demanding seasons, leaders need to continue to invest in themselves.
But they also talk about the importance of sanctuaries: “spaces (physical or mental) where you can hear yourself think, recover yourself from your work, and feel the quieter inclinations of your spirit” (from Adaptive Leadership, pg. 293-294).
Reading is one of my sanctuaries. Yours might be exercise, time with friends or loved ones, or a spiritual community or practice. For those of you who find solace in a good book, we’ve put together a list of some things we are reading with our Leaders, as well as some recommendations from my bookshelf that are helping me gain new perspective on 2020.
What our Leaders are reading…
Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, by Carol S. Dweck
Before you skip to the next one because this is old news for you, let me make the case! Honestly, there are some texts that can become so popular, so ubiquitous, that we become inoculated to their ideas, converting nuanced ideas into slogans.
If you have never actually read “Mindset” cover to cover, I think 2020 might be your year. I picked it back up recently to facilitate a session for campus leaders and it reminded me that growth mindset is essential during periods of crisis and disruption, when leaders are being confronted with new challenges every day with no clear answers. If we view those challenges from a fixed mindset as ‘performance tasks’—tests of our competence, our fitness to lead—we will be rigid, brittle and less willing to innovate and experiment—the very things we need to navigate through uncertainty. If leaders adopt this mentality, it will impact everyone around them, stripping the team of their adaptive capacity. Choosing a growth mindset, which allows us to view these challenges as opportunities to learn and grow, will increase our chance of success and allow us to be a bit more compassionate towards ourselves and others in the coming year.
You’re It: Crisis, Change and How to Lead When It Matters Most, by Leonard J. Marcus, Eric J. McNulty, Joseph M. Henderson, Barry C. Dorn
Written by the faculty of the National Preparedness Leadership Initiative at Harvard University, this book has played a big role in informing the work we’re doing to help Leaders navigate the current crisis. I’m going to let the book description speak for itself: “This book takes you to the front lines of some of the toughest decisions facing our nation’s leaders, from how to mobilize during a hurricane or in the aftermath of a bombing to halting a raging pandemic. They also take readers through the tough decision-making inside the world’s largest companies, hottest startups, and leading nonprofits. The authors introduce readers to the pragmatic model and methods of Meta-Leadership. They show you how to understand what is happening during a moment of crisis and change, what to do about it, and how to hone these skills to lead high-performing teams. Then, when crisis hits, you can pivot to be the leader people follow when it matters most. A book for turbulent times, ‘You’re It’ is essential reading for anyone preparing to lead an adaptive team through crisis and change.”
Leadership in a (Permanent) Crisis by Ronald Heifetz, Alexander Grashow and Marty Linsky
When you think about the study and practice of leadership development, think about Ron Heifetz. This Harvard University scholar and practitioner has made a significant impact on the field of leadership development through his work on “adaptive leadership.” Adaptive leaders, according to this Harvard Business Review article by Heifetz and his colleagues, “use the turbulence of the present to build on and bring closure to the past. In the process, they change key rules of the game, reshape parts of the organization, and redefine the work people do.” This article is a great summary of the skills and capacities needed to be an adaptive leader.
What I’m reading…
Forged in Crisis: The Making of Five Courageous Leaders by Nancy Koehn
Reading the amazing stories of five people who led through extraordinary circumstances (marooned in the Antarctic for close to two years, racing against cancer to save the planet) is a shot of encouragement for education leaders confronting enormous challenges. I’m particularly inspired by the one thing all five of these leaders have in common: a willingness to walk into the pain of these moments – and the vulnerability – in ways that have made them stronger.
The Big Test: The Secret History of the American Meritocracy by Nicholas Lemann
This one might seem random, but it is a fascinating history of the evolution of higher education, including the role of the SAT and the College Board in college admissions. A thorough history disguised as a fast-paced story with a twisting plot and compelling characters, this history—which ends in the 1990s—invites us to grapple with some of the most pressing questions we face in 2020: How do we expand access to education in ways that are fair, just and equitable?
The Person You Mean to Be: How Good People Fight Bias by Dolly Chugh
One of our core values at Holdsworth is to drive for excellence and equity. That work requires us to be constantly building our own awareness, knowledge and skill to lead for equity as individuals and as an organization so that we can continue to be of service to our districts. This work is ongoing. This fall, our staff will read “The Person You Mean to Be” together to continue building common language around race, justice and equity, and to support and deepen this work. There are so many good resources out there and frankly, you can start almost anywhere. We picked this one for many reasons, but one was that we’ve heard from many of our District and Campus Leaders that this has been helpful to them on their journey.
The Practice of Adaptive Leadership: Tools and Tactics for Changing Your Organization and the World by Ronald Heifetz, Alexander Grashow and Marty Linsky
If you liked the Harvard Business Review article above, pick up this book by Heifetz and his colleagues to go deeper into the concept of adaptive leadership. In addition to providing good grounding in the theory, and stories to bring the concepts to life, this text is really practical. It’s organized into a series of small chapters, each of which culminates in prompts to guide reflection and practice. It could be a resource for self-guided learning or for professional development and team learning.