Books

How to stay above the line of choice

Have you ever heard of the line of choice? It’s a really impactful tool for leaders and organisations to measure both where you sit, and where your team and organisation sit in terms of accountability, ownership and teamwork.Below the line thinking usually manifests itself in organisations with cultural issues, where teams or individuals don’t feel comfortable, or don’t want, to accept shared or singular responsibility for the outcomes they produce. There is a lack of willingness to take personal responsibility. This is particularly true where the outcome is less than desirable. It is also really understandable; as Brene Brown explains in her Ted Talk, ‘blame is the discharging of discomfort and pain’ by putting it on to another person. On the flip side, individuals and teams who sit above the line are usually in an environment where they as a team and as individuals are happy to accept and be responsible for the outcomes they produce- not just the excellent ones, but the not so good ones as well. In these environments, colleagues usually experience a high level of psychological safety and are able to work collaboratively with each other. Antony Maxwell, Senior Leadership Facilitator at WLA, said of the model: “Staying above the line is actually really challenging for most individuals and teams. Personal responsibility can be really challenging. You also see different individuals, pairs and groups working above and below the line depending on the project and the interpersonal relationships at play. “For example, you might have two members of your team who work really well together and consistently operate above the line. But when those two individuals are part of a bigger group, they fall below the line due to the interpersonal relationships at play. “It is really important to acknowledge that everyone falls below the line, if not every day then certainly most days. It is about psychological safety, personal responsibility and a feeling of insecurity and inadequacy. Leading by example and actively reaching out to support team members who consistently display below the line behaviours can really help to bring the entire team above the line.”Recognising and addressing below the line behaviours: Below the line behaviours will fit into one of the following categories or personas; Defend, Blame, Justify, Quit, Victim, Deny. These can manifest in a number of ways; for example, if you are in a meeting with a member of your team and discussing a project that perhaps wasn’t managed as well as you would have liked, they might say ‘I could have managed it better except I didn’t get the support that I needed from (team member/department.)’ That’s an example of the employee making an excuse or justifying the outcome, and in the process, blaming the other person or department involved. In this example, you also need to see personal responsibility being taken by every member of the team in order for everyone to be working productively; both the team member who is tempted to blame another department and the department that they believe didn’t contribute to a good outcome. Some coaching questions can be helpful in this situation; countering that response with something along the lines of ‘Okay. What could you/we do differently next time to better manage that team so that you work better together?’ or ‘What are some things you could do to help them to be more involved or take more ownership of the project?’ Hopefully, this will encourage your team to take more ownership by empowering them to think about how they can take more personal responsibility for the outcome.Recognising and encouraging above the line behaviours: In terms of recognising above the line behaviour, it is summarised by the acronym OAR: Ownership, Accountability and Responsibility. This can manifest in a number of ways; for example, if you are working with your colleagues on a project and someone in the team has not met a deadline, they will feel comfortable to put their hand up and say something along the lines of; ‘sorry, I didn’t get that done in time. I know this will have an adverse effect on the project. Once it is done I will try to support the team in other ways until we are all back on track.’ That’s an example of an employee feeling comfortable within their team and organisation to take personal responsibility for their actions and the compromised position they have put the team in.In order for the above to happen, your team has to feel supported and psychologically safe in the workplace. An employee or team who feels they are not valued, that they are in a precarious position in the workplace or that they are not well-liked by their team or manager is far less likely to feel able to take personal responsibility for their actions and the outcomes they produce. It has to be said that one of the most important things you can do as a leader to encourage above the line behaviour is to demonstrate it yourself. As good leaders we know that our employees aren’t perfect, and neither are we. We also know that at least once (probably more) we have been guilty of demonstrating that below the line behaviour. By demonstrating to your team your willingness to own your own mistakes and take responsibility for them, you create a culture that makes it easier to do the same. Identifying where you sit on the line of choice: Antony is a strong advocate for teams utilising ‘walk and talks’ to connect with their fellow colleagues and to identify where they are perceived to sit on the line. “I would recommend that you start with people you are close to and work your way out from there. People are far more open to receiving feedback from people that they have a close relationship with and feel psychologically safe around. Focus on identifying one thing you could work on in the next 30 days and then really actively focus on it.Over time, expand your conversations to other people that you work with, your supervisor and even people in other teams. Knowing where you are perceived to be is really important.”​

Three Recommended Leadership Books

Looking to be challenged, inspired or for a different perspective on things? Here are three recommended leadership books.

SUZI FINKELSTEIN APPOINTED AS CEO OF THE AUSTRALIAN SCHOOL OF APPLIED MANAGEMENT

The Australian School of Applied Management (ASAM) has announced the appointment of Suzi Finkelstein as Chief Executive Officer.Ms. Finkelstein has held various senior leadership roles with ASAM over the past 10 years, most recently as Global Executive Director of its ‘Women & Leadership’ entity, which works to increase gender equity through delivery of professional development in Australia and New Zealand. ASAM also delivers professional learning opportunities for educators through its National Excellence in School Leadership Institute (NESLI) - and development programs for public servants through Government & Public Sector Learning (GPS) - with a strong focus on helping participants to develop their skills while managing their own wellbeing. Working with around 8,000 learners each year, across Australia and NZ, ASAM is recognised as a leader in the delivery of innovative online, blended and traditional face-to-face developmental experiences, based on proven principles of adult learning.“I am very humbled and excited to be appointed CEO of ASAM,” said Ms. Finkelstein, who replaces outgoing CEO, Damien Farrell. “Over the years, I have been fortunate to watch ASAM develop into a leader in professional development training, helping clients to realise their professional and personal ambitions.“Now more than ever there is a need for niche, tailored training that helps managers, aspiring leaders and accomplished professionals to upskill, reskill - and possibly even pivot their careers in response to the ever-changing needs of employers, industry and governments.“We take a holistic view of professional development which is not only focused on the needs of the individual, but the needs of broader sectors and communities. For example, our Staff Wellbeing Toolkit - which has been embraced by schools around the world - is not only helping teachers and principals to manage their own mental health during this unprecedented period, it is supporting schools to deliver improved experiences and outcomes for students.”Ms Finkelstein said that as incoming CEO, her first priority was to support staff and clients through the coronavirus pandemic. “Seeing our team work so hard to convert our offerings to a fully online delivery over the past few months has been incredibly motivating. The response from our clients has also been overwhelmingly positive, which speaks volumes to their commitment to learning.“I am excited to lead us through the challenges presented by the current pandemic while working to build a strong, sustainable future for our organisation.”ASAM is owned by Australia’s largest independent, global education provider, Navitas Pty Ltd. Navitas is a leading global education organisation which provides vocational training, higher education, employability and professional development programs to more than 70,000 students every year.About ASAMASAM is a private leadership and management education provider offering innovative face-to-face, blended and online training for aspiring through to executive managers across all industries and sectors. Through a number of specialised brands, ASAM offers a wide range of courses and events in areas such as leadership and management, staff wellbeing, gender equity and team effectiveness. Working with around 8,000 learners each year, ASAM delivers high-quality learning solutions across all Australian states and territories. Further information about ASAM is available at www.asam.edu.auAbout NavitasNavitas Pty Ltd is an Australian global education leader providing pre-university and university programs, English language courses, migrant education and settlement services, creative media education, student recruitment, professional development and corporate training services to more than 70,000 aspirational learners across a global network of over 120 colleges and campuses in 24 countries each year. Further information about Navitas Pty Ltd is available at www.navitas.com. ​

Queensland Department of Education Sponsor State-Wide Rollout of Staff Wellbeing Toolkit

NESLI is delivering the Staff Wellbeing Toolkit to schools across all regions of Queensland as part of the ‘Teaching Queensland’s Future’ five year initiative.

COVID-19 Is Forcing New Learning Models To Emerge

The coronavirus pandemic has been profoundly disruptive to the education sector globally, but new learning models are emerging during the crisis, some of which have high levels of efficacy, according to NESLI’s International Advisory Board.

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NESLI LEADERS IN ACTION: MERILYN BURTON

Merilyn Burton talks about her career journey and how NESLI helped her on her path to becoming a principal through the Advanced Leadership Program.

Can you tell us a bit about your career journey?

I have been extremely fortunate to have been afforded leadership opportunities early in my teaching career. I worked in western NSW for 4 years, and spent most of that time in relieving roles, receiving invaluable leadership opportunities and professional development. 

I was successful in obtaining a permanent assistant principal role after about 8 years of teaching, with the opportunity to relieve as principal for 6 terms about 10 years ago. The school I work at has significant funding due to socio-economic disadvantage, which enabled me to work in both a teacher mentor and deputy principal role, utilising and building my leadership capabilities.

What were you looking for when you chose to do the Advanced Leadership Program (ALP) with NESLI?

I was at a real crossroads in my leadership journey at the end of 2015. I was unsure of which direction I wanted my career to take and felt like I needed a change. I had applied for a few positions with no success, and was starting to question my leadership abilities and career choices. My principal at the time encouraged me to apply for the ALP and I decided to take a chance and applied. 

Just being accepted into the program gave me a real confidence boost and reenergised my leadership and career ambitions.

What are the most important things you learnt doing the ALP?

I learnt a lot about myself, what I valued and the kind of leader I was, as well as the leader I strived to be. Authentic leadership was something I strongly identified with and I thoroughly enjoyed the webinars, giving me an opportunity to talk with a bunch of great women facing similar issues.

I learnt how to silence my inner critic, which I soon realised was something I had always struggled with. I had a great coach, who had travelled a similar career path, and I got a lot out of our coaching sessions via Skype.  Another thing I discovered was that I had lost my ‘sweet spot’. So I examined some of the things within my role that I wasn’t enjoying anymore and channelled my abilities, interests and strengths into other areas. I found this was really helpful, as it gave me greater purpose and fulfilment within my role again. It was something quite simple to do, yet without knowing about it I wouldn’t have changed anything.

How has the ALP helped you in your journey to becoming a principal?

At the end of last year I was successful in gaining the principal position at my existing school. As I had been an assistant principal here for 11 years, I recognised that moving into the  role of principal was going to have some challenges, such as my relationships with staff and how I was going to step up to a new level of leadership. 

As part of my interview process, I had to present what my first staff meeting would look like. Instantly, I knew that the authentic leadership principles was the perfect place to start! I used the analogy ‘from the dance floor to the balcony’ to explain how I was going to achieve this and the feedback I received when I was offered the job was that this blew everyone away and they were extremely impressed.

What is your biggest challenge as a principal? 

Time and paperwork! While I am fortunate enough to have gained a position at my existing school, it has been a very overwhelming year so far. A few new challenges have been thrown my way, including a whole new finance system and the development of a new three year plan. Building the capacity of my executive team is a big focus for me, which will set the scene for the continued growth and success of the school. 

Merilyn Burton is Principal of Pelaw Main Public School in the Hunter Region of New South Wales. Merilyn completed the Advanced Leadership Program.