Responsive Leadership

Twice now I have had the pleasure of hearing Sir John Jones speak as part of our district’s Lead the Way series for creativity and innovation. He’s incredibly inspirational, funny as hell, and throws back the covers on what he feels we’re doing well as educators, and what we need to change.

The one thing that has stayed with me is his idea on responsive leadership. As a leader in my school, how I respond to the needs of my staff so that they are the most effective educator they can be depends on 2 things: motivation and capacity. He shared a slide of this concept in the form of a matrix, which I’ve recreated here:

Sir John Jones’ concept of responsive leadership

As you can see, there are several ways leaders can support their staff depending on where they fall with regards to their levels of motivation and capacity:

Highly motivated + high level of capacity =  a leader who gets out of the way and creates the conditions for autonomous pursuit of professional growth, creativity, etc.

Highly motivated + low level of capacity = a leader who takes on the role of a coach, co-creating goals and giving feedback along the way.

Low level of motivation + high level of capacity = a leader who needs to inspire his/her staff.

Low level of motivation + low level of capacity =  a leader who needs to be more explicit and more direct in their expectations.  It does not mean being authoritarian necessarily, but I know that there are a few times in my leadership where I have had to direct a staff member to cease an instructional practice that no longer fits into our vision of a healthy and creative learning environment (i.e., giving lines, cursive writing/printing), or, with my support, to start learning about an instructional practice (i.e., feedback as an assessment approach). In other words, this is an expectation of the district, so what do you need from me to get this going? This is what is meant by being direct.

Now, do teachers fit neatly into each box? Absolutely not. Levels of motivation and capacity fluctuate constantly depending on what’s being asked of them and when. When I began seeing the potential for technology in the classroom, I needed a leader to coach me. When my daughter and I hit a very rough patch in our relationship a few years ago, I was not all that motivated to show up and give my all to my students. I needed my leader to inspire and support me.

What’s underpinning this framework? Trust, support and cultivating relationships. Before you can be responsive to your staff, time is needed to develop the relationships so that however you are supporting your staff member, the trust is there as is the mutual pursuit of what is best for our kids.

I know it’s very easy to put something into a graphic and the real world isn’t quite so cut-and-dry. I  was more intrigued with how motivation and capacity inter-relate so that I could best support my teachers. I would be very interested to hear back from others.

3 thoughts on “Responsive Leadership

  1. I really enjoy reading new things on your blog because you say what you feel. I can see why you love to listen to Sir John Jones. His ideas on leadership makes a lot of sense and has opened my eyes to how being a good leader is important inside my school. I really liked the Highly Motivated + Low Level of Capacity. I understand that making goals and achieving them as a team is a huge accomplishment and I think it would be very effective for my staff.

  2. Thanks Kayla. I appreciate the comment. I know it was new for me to think of teachers who were highly motivated to need a lot of support because I used to think that they had the go-get-em attitude where they would just figure stuff out on their own. And some might, but as a leader, I need to be aware of where my staff is so I can respond accordingly.

  3. Hey Erin Paynter
    I’m Giorgio Lymon, a student from EDM310 at the University of South Alabama. This was a very interesting post. The ideas that you expressed that stuck with you from hearing Sir John Jones seemed to be really important and you gave excellent details of why. I know several of leaders that I sometimes look at and wonder to myself what are they accomplishing. However, this would be a good post to refer to them. In my future, I plan to be a strength coach for a university which I know I will have to have a great level of motivation in order to have an successful outcome in the athletes that I train.

    Thanks for your time,
    Giorgio Lymon

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