Books

A new way of thinking: Systems thinking for leadership

As leaders, we need to look at the big picture to identify challenges and support our team to find productive solutions. We sat down with Paul Larkin, Senior Facilitator and Executive Coach at NESLI, to discuss how systems thinking can allow us to strategically address issues for our teams.What is the difference between systems thinking and systematic thinking? Paul uses a frog analogy to explain the difference to the leaders he coaches.“If you wanted to understand a frog systematically, you’d take it to the lab, put it to sleep and methodically dissect it, learning about each part of its makeup in a linear, structured fashion,” he explained.“If you want to understand the frog’s system you’d go to the pond where it lives and observe how it interacts with its environment, what it eats, what eats it, how the nearby farms that fertilise their crops affect the ecosystem in which the frog lives etc. We see the bigger picture of the frog, how it is interdependent with other parts of the system in which it lives and how small changes can effect big change,” Paul concluded.So, rather than following a set process to look at individual parts, looking at something using systems thinking allows you to take a broader view, and identify the interdependent and external influences that can have an impact on the system and its parts that we want to understand. It’s about observing the environment – ecologists and economists are examples of professions that engage in systems thinking.Why don’t I already use systems thinking? As leaders, we are often thinking and problem-solving systematically. Taking action to resolve an issue is usually praised and seen as an indicator of positive influence and performance. There is nothing wrong with solving problems in a systematic fashion. But some problems are more complex and cannot be dealt with as readily.Systems thinking affords us an approach for working with complex problems in creative and sometimes counter-intuitive ways.How can I use systems thinking to create positive change in my organisation? By using systems thinking, you can step back from day-to-day problem solving, and consider the root causes of problems. You can identify interdependencies and understand the bigger picture.Paul uses the example of an IT department in a big corporation. Their team set KPIs around how quickly IT issues were resolved (90 percent of issues being fixed within a day). While this was an important measure, the team was focusing on ‘fixing’ problems, not on ‘eliminating’ problems – that is, addressing the causes and preventing the problems happening again.By taking a systems thinking approach, the team was able to shift their mental model and improving their performance. The team’s KPIs switched from the percentage of problems fixed to the percentage of problems eliminated, and within just a couple of months achieved a 70 percent reduction in problems and associated cost.This example highlights how a shift to systems thinking can increase productivity and solve recurring issues.How can I move into a systems thinking mind-frame?Taking a wider look at your organisation or team is the first step towards systems thinking.“Mentally stepping back and observing what is going on is crucial,” Paul explains. “Talk to people who are new to the organisation and who are not yet imbued with the culture and mental models that come with it – fresh eyes with different perspectives are critical.Paul also encourages leaders to have open conversations with teams: “Have a conversation with your team that explores their thinking, beliefs, mental models and values that inform how the team operates. Find out why they do things a certain way. Looking at other sectors and organisations with similar issues can also be a huge help.“Consider how success is measured in the organisation, as this often determines how people respond to different situations. There is a saying which goes, ’People will do what you ask them to do. Make sure you ask what you really want.’ What gets measured gets done. And over time, it creates beliefs (mental models) about what is the ‘right’ way to do the job.” Paul explains.What are some tips for systems thinking? The following, although not exhaustive, can provide some ways into addressing issues with a systems thinking approach:Identify a recurring problem in your team or organisation – look for patterns in results and people’s behaviour, individually and collectively.Look for interdependencies; how different parts of the system interact and affect other parts.Explore processes, performance measures and decision-making criteria to try and surface the team or organisation’s beliefs, values, and mental models (which is extremely challenging, involves many conversations and can prove the most fruitful).Do not expect easy or immediate results. Systems change usually involves many people, often with different agendas, to engage in dialogue and work together to achieve a common outcome. Is there an issue in your team that you can address using systems thinking? Share it with us in the comments below!

Books

Four Doors

Dealing with change? These four doors could help Have you heard of the four doors of change? This model, created by Australian innovation expert Jason Clarke, demonstrates which doors are open (available) and closed (not available) in times of change.The model allows you and your team to categorise and understand the effects of a change, big or small, in your workplace. Whether it’s a change in people, process, location or resources, you can use this information to help your team understand what will change and what will stay the same.The first door: Things that you did before, and will continue to do now This door is an open door; it signifies everything you do now and will continue to do in the future. This is a particularly important door to talk about with your team if they are apprehensive about a change, or if there is a very significant change coming. It gives them and you stability and certainty that there will be some familiarity.The second door: Things that you didn’t do before, and won’t do now This is a door that was closed before and will remain closed. It remains consistent; this door focuses on things you didn’t need to do or think about before, and will continue to not think about or do in the future. Often, change will bring new tasks and challenges, which is exciting; but it can also represent more work and cause you or your team to feel a bit nervous about trying new things. Knowing that there are unfamiliar tasks that you won’t have to handle can be reassuring as you lean into to a new way of doing things.The third door: Things that you did before, and won’t do now This door is a closed door, that used to be open. Tasks that used to be manual might now be automated; and your team may feel unsure about whether this will be a success, and how it will affect their activity on a day to day basis. Something as simple as a change in office location meaning you or your team will no longer visit your favourite coffee shop is a closed door.  Helping your team focus on letting go of these things, and replacing them with new routines, processes or activities will allow them to accept that these activities are no longer neededThe fourth door: Things you didn’t do before, and will do now This door used to be closed and is now open. It has all the new things you will be taking on, to replace the things you have let go of. This door represents an opportunity for learning and growth, both for individuals and the organisation. These are new skills and processes that will allow you to develop your role, try new things and hopefully, see better outcomes as a result of your hard work in embracing these changes.Putting it into practiceAs a leader of an organisation or a team, it is important that you look at this model of change from different perspectives; your own perspective first, and then the perspective of the people you lead. Each of these doors will look different for every individual in your team, regardless of whether you are all experiencing the same change, or different changes.Understanding what the change will look like for you, and working through any nervousness you have, will help you better support your team and your organisation more broadly.Some useful questions to ask yourself are:What changes am I looking forward to? Why are these changes exciting for me?What changes am I apprehensive about? What do I need to feel better about these?What can I rely on to stay the same? Once you have worked through these, ask your team the same questions. It will allow you to have an open and honest dialogue with them, understand how they are feeling, and create a space where they feel listened to and supported.Are you dealing with any change at work at the moment? Tell us about it in the comments below.

Books

What’s on your recovery rocket?

Look, I am not a big believer in balance.I am a believer in balance being an admirable goal, one that should you find it, will probably mean you live a much happier, healthier life. I have just spent so long searching for it that I am sure I am running out of places to look. And this is coming from someone whose biggest responsibility outside of herself is a kelpie. (Perhaps I could have found balance in a greyhound?)I lamented this problem to a much wiser colleague of mine, who is in possession of two golden retrievers, a husband, adult children, and, if memory serves me correctly, a cat. Rather than clipping me over the ears and telling me to get on with it, she took the time to introduce me to the Recovery Rocket. I looked at it with the requisite apprehension, but delightfully, there was nothing on there that seemed unattainable.Essentially, the recovery rocket provides a model for maintaining a baseline of mental wellness over a year, and then gives you activities to do during the week to top up your engine fuel. It was originally designed by an organisational psychologist called Andrew May, who created the model for the Australian Cricket Team.For your baseline, the model recommends:300 nights of good sleep (7 + hours of unbroken sleep) every yearOne big stretch break or ‘off season’ (a good week or two on holidays)Three mini breaks (long weekends in different locales)10-15 minutes of ‘slow time’ every day (going for a walk, preparing veggies for dinner, meditation, etc)30 weeks where you accumulate 100 recovery points. What are recovery points? Recovery points are points that you get for doing activities that you enjoy. Each has a certain number of points attributed to it, and the aim is to do enough activities each week to accumulate 100 points.In the model, points are attributed to massages (50 points), going for a walk (20 points), talking with a friend on the phone (15 points) and so on. However, you can make your own up instead.For instance, I have my weekly dance class racking up a solid 30 points for me every week, along with walking my dog on the beach (20 points), walking along the beach with my friend (10 points), sitting down to do some crochet or other craft activity (10 points), watching a few episodes of my favourite show (10 points), getting takeaway (15 points), dinner with a friend (20 points) and playing a video game (5 points).What I like about the recovery rocket model is that it is set up for success, rather than failure. To tell someone that they need 365 nights of a solid seven hours sleep every year in order to live a well-balanced life is, frankly, rude. One hour of meditation every day is somewhat excessive for your average executive and you won’t always rack up 100 points every week. And with this model, all of those things are okay. There’s no need to beat yourself up because you only managed 80 points one week. One night of tossing and turning doesn’t automatically mean you have failed for the remainder of the year.So, I have a challenge for you all. This week, sit down and make a list of 10 activities you enjoy, that are easy to fit into your week. Give them points based on how refreshed or rejuvenated you feel at the end of them. And next week, see if you can make it to 100 points.What will you put on your recovery points list? Share your ideas in the comments below.

2020 in review

It’s funny to think about the start of 2020 now, isn’t it?After one of the hottest summers on record, Australian teachers went back to the classroom with lesson plans, camps booked in and a few excursions and incursions to look forward to. After the black summer we had endured, we welcomed our students, parents and the wider school community back through the gates for another year of learning, growing, laughing and developing as a whole, relieved that the worst seemed to be over.Here at NESLI, we were excitedly planning events, developing new programs for school leaders across the globe, and looking forward to continuing to support school leaders at all stages of their career, as they in turn supported the school community.However, by March, students (and teachers) were being sent home across the country, and the around the globe. Some only for a couple of weeks, some for a month, and for students and teachers in Victoria, for almost half the year. Lesson plans designed for face-to-face lessons went out the window, excursions and incursions got put on hold and camps were cancelled in a year I think we can all be truly grateful is a ‘once in a lifetime’ event.Teachers were working in unprecedented circumstances and having to adapt so quickly from face-to-face to online instruction, a pivot that was nothing short of heroic on their part. There was more pressure on teachers’ time, energy and resources than ever before. Something we noticed at NESLI while facilitating leadership development programs during this time was the importance of ensuring that teachers had peer-to-peer and wellbeing support. While this could be found in their own school environment, having contact and support from people outside of their school community was often also beneficial. Despite the extra support we were able to provide, our surveys confirmed what we had observed; teacher wellbeing declined during this time.However, one bright light in this time was the calls from many different groups in society to finally recognise, appreciate and celebrate the role of teachers, school staff and school leaders. It was long overdue, but finally, it seems that the crucial role that teachers play is finally being recognised.Post lockdown, things began to get back to something resembling normal for some states and territories, much quicker than others. We noticed a marked sense of relief from teachers, school leaders and school staff at NESLI, as one by one, people got back to school. For Victoria, the reprieve was brief, before they went into a hard second lockdown. While teacher wellbeing is gradually increasing to pre-pandemic levels, there is still a long way to go. The leaders we have the privilege of developing and supporting have done a magnificent job of supporting their school community, and we are proud to support them in turn.As always, we looked for opportunities to support teachers, school leaders, school staff and school communities across the globe. A bright light for NESLI this year is the opportunity to partner with the Association of International Schools Africa, who are giving 80 of their member schools the opportunity to undertake the Staff Wellbeing Toolkit with NESLI. Locally, we have continued to work with many long time partners to support their staff internally.Looking forward to 2021, we are crossing our fingers that everyone was right when they labelled COVID-19 a ‘once in a lifetime’ event. We are hoping that people will continue to remember the incredible work and sacrifice that school communities made to ensure that kids were able to continue learning, growing and developing during a pandemic. We look forward to having the opportunity to support more teachers and school leaders to improve their wellbeing and develop their leadership skills. And we trust that we will get to see you all, in person, at some point during the course of the year.A very Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and Happy New Year to you all.

New AISA partnership sees NESLI Staff Wellbeing Toolkit rolled out in Africa

The National Excellence in Schools Leadership Institute (NESLI) is proud to share that the Staff Wellbeing Toolkit is being made available to 80 schools in Africa, as part of a new partnership with the Association of International Schools Africa (AISA).Teachers and staff from participating independent schools in Africa will benefit from completing the Staff Wellbeing Toolkit over the next two years. AISA will be facilitating group sessions for teachers and school staff undertaking the program, as an add-on component to the online learning experience. It is anticipated that over 300 teachers will benefit from this program.Chanel Worsteling, AISA’s Child Protection and Wellbeing Programme Manager, said of the partnership; “The Staff Wellbeing Toolkit provided us with an evidenced- based wellbeing programme that we could offer our schools immediately. COVID-19 caused tremendous disruption and stress to all our member schools, placing a great deal of strain on our school leaders and educators. Being able to offer a flexible programme that could meet the diverse needs of our schools at an affordable price was an advantage of this programme over others that we assessed.”Antony Maxwell, Director of Learning and Development at NESLI, said of the partnership; “We are delighted to be partnering with AISA and are proud to be able to assist their member schools to increase the health and wellbeing of their staff.“Teachers and members of staff in a school community do amazing work, particularly given the immense challenges they face in the classroom. Surveys in Australia and more broadly across the globe consistently show drop in teacher and staff wellbeing in schools. NESLI’s Staff Wellbeing Toolkit is designed to give teachers the extra support and skills they need.”The Staff Wellbeing Toolkit is designed to enable teachers and staff to bolster their health and wellbeing by building their resilience, wellness practice and social capital. The toolkit was developed with educational leaders and experts, in recognition of the fact that globally, teacher health and wellbeing is declining dramatically. The Toolkit has been delivered to teachers across Australia and New Zealand, Finland and the US.You can find out more about the Staff Wellbeing Toolkit here.

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EQ VS IQ: CLASH OF THE TITANS​​

Are EQ and IQ destined to be at war? Paul Drewitt investigates.

On an average Google search we can find literally hundreds of articles and quotes highlighting the importance of EQ over IQ and leadership versus management.

The substance of such articles is always about whether EQ or IQ is more important. A series of well set out arguments are then highlighted in order to persuade the reader of the importance of EQ over IQ. 

I have always read such articles with much interest. Most highlight the point that EQ is more important than IQ and that your intelligence quotient is merely an indication of your brain’s overall fitness and efficiency.

We often become intrigued by the process of eliminating contributing factors and concentrate on prioritising processes to distinguish the ‘one area’ that is most important. We then focus on that one area at the expense of other skills that are part of the larger picture but equally important.

Let’s examine various examples that argue the point of complementation; that no single virtue or skill will necessarily lead to having more, being better at something or attaining more success, and that in most cases, we need to concentrate on skills integration to acquire excellence.

IQ + EQ

EQ is the ability to handle conflict, manage stress, develop self-awareness and work with people more effectively. You can see why this skill is highly sought after in the workplace and in our personal lives. Most people get this; if you demonstrate high EQ you can get along better with your colleagues, negotiate that million dollar deal or be promoted into a leadership position. However, the two Qs (IQ and EQ) are always linked, just as they are always held in comparison. They are linked for one main reason – they complement each other. 

When dealing with conflict in the workplace we need both Qs; if you are mediating a dispute you not only need a soft tone and disposition and the ability to read body language, but also a sharp mind to focus and demonstrate conceptual thinking. To feel the emotion of the situation and empathise also requires split decision thinking of when to respond and how to articulate in the correct way. To increase self-awareness and regulate our emotions to bounce back from failure requires high EQ, but also goal setting which got us started in the first place requires IQ through high levels of concentration and analytical thinking to refine our long term goals to medium term targets, and then to short term actions.

Like tall and short, EQ and IQ complement each other.

Leadership and Management

I often hear that leadership and management are not the same thing. Whilst I am in agreeance I also believe they complement each other and the focus should not be that one skillset is more important than the other. I have organised numerous school camps over the years and its true, the ability to inspire and motivate others, instilling meaning and purpose is the key to human motivation. This will then rub off on the children who feel the energy of the staff which in turn creates an atmosphere of fulfilment and enjoyment; there are certain jobs to be delegated and staff need to be intrinsically motivated to fulfil their obligations, as the leader cannot always be watching. 

However, there is also the administration side; permission forms, transport requirements and adhering to government policies and insurance matters. This must be of equal focus for accountability reasons but requires sound management skills. One skill set is no more important than the other and the leader must know how to do both. We all want to be the leader as it’s more glamorous, however a good leader must also be prepared to be a good manager.

Like day and night, leadership and management complement each other.