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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ALMOST 1 IN 2 WOMEN TEACHERS EXPERIENCE DISCRIMINATION AT THEIR SCHOOL​

Important survey points to widespread biases, boys club culture and bullying.

Almost one in two women teachers in Australian schools have experienced some kind of barrier or discrimination throughout their careers, according to a new survey administered by the National Excellence in School Leadership Institute (NESLI). 

The 2018 Australian Schools Gender Survey is believed to be the first of its kind in Australia, and points to consistent patterns of severe bias in hiring practices, salaries and professional development plans, a boys club culture in some schools and behavioural prejudices against women leaders within the education sector. 

When asked ‘As a woman, have you ever experienced barriers or discrimination within a school (can be your current or former school)?’, 46% said yes, 39% said no and 15% were unsure. 

Respondents were asked to specify what kind of barriers or discrimination they most commonly faced. They reported that women in schools are often undermined in meetings and do not get the same promotional opportunities (especially when of childbearing age), and that women leaders are sometimes seen as weak and ineffective, especially when working in boys schools.  

Interestingly, survey respondents reported that these prejudicial behaviours and attitudes don’t only come from within the internal ranks of the school. Parents (particularly fathers) exhibit the same predispositions, whether it’s their preference for speaking with a male member of staff, bullying from male parents on a school council who did not recognise that a women leader was capable of understanding the finances of a school, or just a general perception from parents that women aren't as 'strong' as men and that males are better principals. Dr Janet Smith, Leader of NESLI’s 2018 Year of Women in School Leadership, has said she finds these results extremely disappointing and problematic. She commented that, “It is totally unacceptable that in 2018, nearly half of the women teachers who were surveyed have reported experiencing some form of disadvantage or discrimination because of their gender.”

The ‘Education and Training’ sector is officially ‘female-dominated’, with 70.6% of the workforce being women, finds the Workplace Gender Equality Agency. Since 1995, this is an increase of 5.2%, when females made up 65.4% of industry employees. 

However, the picture is much starker when looking at the participation of women in leadership roles – particularly for schools. The Staff in Australia's Schools survey found that 80% and 58.4% of Australia’s primary and secondary school teachers are female respectively, yet only 57.5% and 41.7% of principals in each of those sectors are female. 

Respondents were also asked what they think would be most helpful or supportive in addressing this issue. The most common sentiments included better support from colleagues, mentoring schemes/arrangements, leadership training and professional development and being offered more opportunities to progress. 

Other ideas included allowing women to work flexibly in leadership roles and not being penalised for taking maternity leave, identification of institutionalised sexism and gender discrimination and an action plan to remedy, and developing a strong reciprocal network of female trusted leaders. 

Fortunately, a more positive response was achieved when NESLI asked the survey respondents to rate their current level of personal wellbeing at work. The most common responses were ‘Good’ (46.7%), ‘Fair’ (27.31%) and ‘Excellent’ (20.7%). Only 1 in 20 respondents said that their level of wellbeing was either ‘Poor’ or ‘Very Poor’ (5.29%).    

The survey was launched by NESLI as part of their 2018 Year of Women in School Leadership. The 12 month period includes a range of research activities, events and development programs to address the problems highlighted in the 2018 Australian Schools Gender Survey.  

The results of the survey will be discussed further at the forthcoming Australian Schools Women’s Leadership Summit in Sydney on 18th April.

“The results of this survey have further strengthened NESLI’s commitment to this issue,” Dr Smith said. “We look forward to working with women teachers and school leaders throughout 2018, to support and inspire them and to help reduce the challenges and barriers they face.”