School Leadership: Predictive or Reactive

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In a recent senior leadership meeting, we were evaluating our leadership strategies amidst the Covid pandemic. It was interesting to note the complexities in leadership approaches especially considering the shift in perspectives due to Covid. This got me thinking about the current leadership decisions I have had to make and how it is very different from the way I made decisions in the recent past, just a year ago! The shift I have experienced is a move from predictive leadership to reactive leadership. This will come as a surprise to you but it is true.

Predictive leadership is based on experience, knowledge, and information. Predictive leadership focuses on problem-solving and analytical thinking. Senior management practicing this type of leadership are usually very calm, they take time to decide, they rely on their experience and on insights provided by the team. They think of the final goal and the bigger picture or why the decision needs to be taken. Predictive leadership aligns more with a global approach to a problem, accepted and ratified by most stakeholders.

Reactive leadership on the other hand is a more in-the-moment kind of decision. These leaders need to, have to, and do take decisions on the spot. There is no time to investigate data or research or past experiences to come up with a solution. Reactive leadership has to be creative to solve the current crisis as it is urgent and probably one of its kind, like the Covid pandemic. Reactive leaders are impulsive and confident as they are making high-risk decisions in a short period of time without consulting others.

School leadership in the last year and a half has been reactive; even though it is not considered a suitable leadership style, it is becoming more and more prevalent due to the way the education paradigm has evolved in the recent past. Leaders are required to make quick decisions relying on their gut instinct that it is the best possible decision. Instead of looking into the root cause of the problem the lens has shifted to finding the solution to the problem. For example, a reactive approach in leadership is to change the way they start a conversation; from “But the problem is…” to “The solution is…” A more solution-oriented approach, a more reactive approach. Even though it is the age of big data and data analytics, but it is not the time to depend completely on data. Data does give us a trend a possible prediction but human ingenuity and the ability to weigh out the best possible solution in a crisis is invaluable.

Being a reactive leader is something I have learned throughout the Covid crisis. For example, taking the decision to start online schooling, or not; decisions to reinvent the wheel, or not; decisions to advise teachers’ professional growth, or not; it is never an easy decision, but it must be made. And here are three things that have helped me to be a reactive decision-maker:

  1. Prioritize self-care and well-being, these are essential for making high-risk decisions.
  2. Create a culture of trust, your team needs to believe in you to buy in your ideas.
  3. Rock the boat if required, sometimes big decisions mean big changes, be prepared.

Decision-making in challenging times is hard; think of it as standing at the edge of a diving board, either open your arms to dive in or you need to step back. But unfortunately, there is no stepping back in crisis so embrace your reactive self and make the decision, right or wrong, data will tell.

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