Uplifting Leadership and the Power of a Story
In the opening pages of their remarkable book, Uplifting Leadership , Hargreaves, Boyle and Harris note that ‘Emotional and Spiritual uplift is the beating heart of effective leadership. It raises people’s hopes, stirs up their passions and stimulates their intellect and imagination. It inspires them to try harder, transform what they do, reach for a higher purpose and be resulted and resilient when opposing forces threaten to defeat them…. It also has the power to improve people’s performance and results” They then go on for another two-hundred-plus pages rigorously analyzing what constitutes uplifting leadership, how it can be attained, what it looks like and what the challenges and liabilities may be along the way there.
The authors outline the significance of measurement, of competition and collaboration, of sustainability and more. But they reserve special mention for the power in the importance of articulating shared aspirations, ‘Uplifting leadership is not primarily about a number of a ranking that utilizes envy as its overriding emotion, it is found in what a community aspires to become and in how this serves the greater good. In stead of having no dreams, idle dreams, or hollow dreams, filled only with indicators of self-seeking success, uplifting leadership is about an inspiring and inclusive dream that draws people upwards by addressing their desire for self-actualization, their needs for service to the community, and their wish to be part of something bigger than themselves. It articulates a dream that defines a desirable destination for people, and does so in ways that are consonant with the best of what they once were or what they have always been.”
At Inspiring Educators, one of our core beliefs is leaders who can articulate their vision, mobilize their team and align the work around an agreed upon visions are more likely to succeed. This belief shapes our work – want to help leaders build empathic bridges with their consistent; helping these leaders and the people with whom they work find the emotions and states of mind that will foster change and foster student success.
Thus, we work to help school leaders grow, and for us that means helping them elicit positive emotions like hope, confidence, a greater sense of personal agency; that they can make a difference and they and others can be part of a team that can succeed together, developing a proper sense of urgency about their work especially those working in underserved communities.
And by seeing the greater challenge around us, we believe that, though our work, we will help others in their work to make a difference, improving schools and school climates, and ultimately, working towards a greater equality of opportunity and the closing of the achievement gap.
It’s insights like those of Hargreaves, Boyle and Harris that animate our work. I had the privilege of sitting with Andy Hargreaves a few weeks back to explore further the ideas he helped lay out in the book. I was particularly interested in the mechanisms uplifting leaders – what do they actually do that helps define that vision that others can rally around?
Andy was very big on storytelling. He told me that while Uplifting Leadership is about ‘connecting the dots’ between mission and performance, it is story telling that connects the dots between leaders and others. Indeed, when the authors of the book get ‘down to earth’ in their ‘how to section’, they note that ‘The first step is to develop and articulate an inspire dream that all share (italics in original)… Uplifting leadership calls for inspiring storytelling by yourself and those around you… use these stories to re-connect people to the best of what they used to be “ (and what they can become).
I loved it when Andy suggested that these stories can build a bridge of empathy between members of a team. It reminded me of one of the other generative inspirations for our work, Marshall Ganz of Harvard’s Kennedy school, “The way we talk about this is not just to go up to someone and say, “Be hopeful.” We don’t just talk about hope and other values in abstractions. We talk about them in the language of stories because stories are what enable us to communicate these values to one another.”
At I.E., we deeply believe in the transformative potential of great schools, and we consider uplifting leadership essential to inspiring these schools to live up to their potential, and thereby changing the lives and the prospects of the children in their care. When we equip these leaders with the tools they need to ‘connect the dots’ in real, human ways – when we help them articulate their vision, mobilize their team and align the work around an agreed upon visions, we know that we are helping them to succeed, and we are all the beneficiaries of that success.