“This makes no sense, no sense at all” is the first sentence in this chapter in which a mission statement has been handed down to a unit commander and was not well received. Before sharing the mission statement with his leadership team, the unit commander took the time to understand the why behind the mission statement. The commander had to step back and look at the statement from a more strategic perspective. The key benefit in doing so was to reframe what winning meant in this context. Once that was understood, he was able to believe in the mission statement. Next, he went through the same process with his leadership team. The difference being that he explained why the mission statement was given. He also took the time to ensure that everyone understood and, consequently, supported the mission statement. This systematic approach of prioritizing understanding leads to believing. “A leader must be a true believer in the mission” along with “The leader must explain not just what to do, but why” are the two statements that sum up this chapter. Understand and believe.
I recall sitting in a faculty meeting as a young teacher. The principal announced that the State Department of Education was going to start implementing academic standards. Both in curriculum and new high-stakes testing as a result of No Child Left Behind (NCLB). The year was 2001. The principals' presentation was not at all inspiring. It was more in the vein of “here is another thing the State is making us do”. I can still remember the veteran teachers start to chuckle with one saying, “this to shall pass”. Needless to say, these teachers did not implement standards in their classrooms. This, along with other factors lead to the district historically struggling with the high-stakes test scores.
If the time would have been taken to explain the why, would things have turned out better? If the principal would have been a true believer, would things have turned out better? In my 20+ years of experience in public education, I can attest that the State does have mandates that are passed down to districts with little to no explanation. However, that does not relieve the district of their responsibility in understanding the why behind the mandate. The habit of putting blame on the State needs to stop. Just as the commander took the time to change his perspective in order to understand the mission statement, school district leaders need to also look more strategically at State mandates. Time spent understanding the why and then intertwining that with their own mission/vision statement will enable them to have the best chance of a successful implementation. Sometimes we need to slow down in order to, eventually, speed up.
Thanks for reading!