As a Science teacher, I understand ‘osmosis’. It is an important concept taught not only as part of the science syllabus but also finds its way into Biology and Chemistry too. If science is not your thing let me explain what it is in simple terms. It is a chemical process that uses differences in concentrations across a semi-permeable membrane to move liquid, or solvent, from the high concentration side to the low concentration side to even out the two sides. It’s the same process that makes your fingers go wrinkly when you have been in water for too long; the liquid in the skin cells of your fingers loses fluid to the surrounding water.
This is not an article about science, but I can’t help but apply the concept of osmosis to leadership development. Many people learn about leadership from reading about it. Some are fortunate to do some formal study. Most learn how to lead whether that leadership is good or bad, by observing others and working alongside or under other leaders. In other words, by osmosis. Osmosis, defined in terms of leadership development, is the gradual process of unconscious assimilation of ideas and knowledge. It just seeps in, both the good and the bad examples of leadership; and they somehow become part of what we understand our leadership to be. We all have an idea of what we think is good leadership, but if we don’t have great role models around us, how would we really know?
If they are a good leader, we can learn a great deal about what makes strong leadership. If they are a poor leader, we still learn a lot about leadership, but this time in terms of what not to do and that is only if we can recognize it as what we shouldn’t be doing. Leadership development by osmosis takes too long and is so often inaccurate.
In my career in school leadership, sadly, I came across only a few good leaders. It is therefore not surprising, to me, that I have dedicated my business to helping leaders in schools be the leaders we need them to be, role models for their communities; so that students, staff and parents can experience quality leadership and from there, craft better working relationships in collaborative communities.
Let me introduce you to another science concept, that of ‘active transport’. This is the process whereby it supports the transport of the solute, or the particles floating in the liquid, to move across a semi-permeable membrane. So instead of volumes of fluid moving across the membrane to even up the concentrations, enzymes on the membrane wall attach to the particles and actively help the particles move across the membrane, hence the name ‘active transport’.
I began Coaching Focus in 2016, after leaving the role of Deputy Principal in one of Melbourne’s leading independent girls’ schools. I now work with staff in schools right across Australia and New Zealand providing quality leadership development. In our programs everyone gets a Coaching Focus bent pen and a notebook for a specific purpose. It’s not to take notes throughout the program, they get a full workbook for that. Instead they are to use the concept of active transport to learn from others about leadership. I encourage them to identify specific leaders to watch and learn from, and to do it actively and I share with them a specific framework to pull apart what they see.
I encourage them to write down what they observed and learned in each example or incident or meeting; wherever the examples of leadership show up, both the good and the bad. Then I ask them to put themselves in that leader’s shoes and rewrite part of the story in terms of how they would have managed the situation.
The framework we use is the STAR Technique. This is the same framework used in behavioural interviewing, when you retell a story succinctly to the interview panel. It’s a great method to use to get your story told in about 2 to 3 minutes before the interview panel becomes bored and you see their eyes glaze over.
Here is the framework.
S- Situation – What was the situation?
T- Task – What was the problem that needed to be addressed? or What was the leader attempting to achieve?
A – Action – What actions were taken?
R – Result – What was the result of those actions?
The important part from here is to rewrite the A and R sections, placing yourself in the shoes of the leader. You need to decide what actions you would have taken and the result that you would then expect.
A – Alternative action – What might you have said or done instead or differently?
R – Result – Why would the alternative action have been more effective or produced different results?
You can use this same process to analyse your own actions as a leader, to reflect on your own practice and leadership.
Observing and analysing the actions of other leaders helps you to define the type of leader you want to be. My leadership development programs focus on developing leaders who are clear, confident, consistent and considered and being self-reflective is vital to developing these traits.
So your next step is to get yourself and pen and a notebook so you are ready for the start of the school year, ready to begin observing leaders around you and crafting your own style of leadership or alternatively come to one of my programs and I will give them to you.
You can find out more about these programs at:
For aspirant women leaders;
In 2016, we launched The Leading Edge: Women in Education Conference; a conference for aspiring women leaders in independent schools, across 2 days designed for a smaller group setting and deeper personal exploration. The conference has now been held 5 times with rave reviews.
The two days provide deep learning about leadership, with clear actions to become the role models we need in schools. As a former school leader, leadership coach and behavioural analyst, I have designed the conference to address the barriers for women and leadership and help them move their leadership and career forward with purpose and direction- no more osmosis learning.
A key feature of the conference is that each delegate receives a psychometric profile, the DISC, to help better understand themselves and make use of the model to improve their understanding of others. The 40-page report accurately describes strengths, challenges, time wasters and areas for improvement – detailed and accurate data to support realistic leadership growth. Each delegate also has the opportunity to have an individual coaching session with me, the Private Accelerator Session, in the weeks following the conference, to further unpack the report and develop an action plan for leadership and career growth. Another feature of the conference is hearing from Principals and senior leaders, all female, across a range of independent schools, both in a panel setting and in small discussion groups with the opportunity to have each delegate’s questions answered to help unlock barriers and overcome hurdles and propel their leadership and careers forward.
A highlight is hearing from behind the scenes about how the recruitment industry searches for talent and manages the search process. Fiona Hutton, Executive Search Director at Hutton Consulting will share how women can put present themselves well in a search process and explains some of the often-missing aspects in career experiences for women and how to fill the gap.
This year we are delivering the conference in three cities across Australia; Sydney in March, Adelaide in May and Melbourne in August.
All the details can be found at https://coachingfocus.com.au/leadingedge/
For existing leaders, teaching and non-teaching, male and female, who are looking to improve the way they lead.
The Leading by Example – 2 ½ day Intensive Leadership Development Program is designed to combine the individual insight and learning provided by the DISC psychometric profile, with the understanding and application of coaching to deeply explore thinking, attitudes and current behaviours to improve leadership, relationships and develop strategic actions.
We have taken some of the key aspects of very successful Elevating Leadership Program, that we have been delivering for the past two years that involves 5 workshop days and taken a coaching approach to develop a targeted and more strategic leadership development program for those male and female leaders in any role in a school to lift their leadership and improve their team effectiveness.
The program is being held twice in 2020, both in Melbourne, April and September.
All the details can be found at https://coachingfocus.com.au/leadingbyexample/