The principles of Stronger Smarter create great leaders regardless of context. 

Principal, WA (alumni survey 2022) 

In the Stronger Smarter Leadership Program (SSLP) we use the provocation from Meg Wheatley that ‘What organisations needs is leadership – not leaders.’  Instead of an organisation based on roles and chains of command, Wheatley creates a different lens to view organisations as a dense network of relationships.   

In the Stronger Smarter Approach, we take on Wheatley’s view that leadership is a behaviour, an act of the heart.  This is where leadership is noticing that something needs to be changed and having the courage to step forward and make something happen.  

Facilitative leadership

In our 2022 survey, many Stronger Smarter alumni describe how they have made these changes to their leadership style.  Alumni describe changing from a top-down leadership to a more collaborative, facilitative leadership style.  

… that wasn’t me as a principal coming in or the teachers coming in and saying this is what how the school is going to be…. It was creating space for dialogue and listening to parents and community members, what is it that they wanted for their children from now and into the future and then trying to capture that in the school vision and documentation, so that it was all about the community rather than being directed by school staff. 

Principal, Remote school, WA (alumni interview) 

In the SSLP, we describe this as knowing when to move between the triangle and the circle.   Of course, there are times when leaders need to be in the triangle, to take command in times of chaos or when quick decisions are needed.  At other times, however, alumni tell us they are implementing the more facilitative leadership of the circle.   

In the circle, power is shared, and voices are equal.  Alumni describe this ‘moving to a circle’ in terms of the physical process of holding meetings in a circle and using check in processes.  They also describe extending the processes and values of the circle into everyday operations. As alumni open up more spaces for communication, this results in greater collaboration and staff more open to expressing ideas. 

Shared and distributed leadership that values the voice of all.  Non-hierarchical and inclusive of all.  It has become part of who I am as a leader and is embedded in who I am as a person. 

Principal, SA (2022 alumni survey) 

Distributed leadership 

Moving away from hierarchy requires leaders to take a step back.  This involves changing the power dynamics, valuing the voice of all, and recognising the leadership potential in others.   

Increased distributed leadership across the school. This has and is still resisted at times, but perseverance does pay off. I work to build knowledge with a bigger team, so there is no team that holds all information and ability to decide directions and strategies. I work to give voice to all members of the team. 

Principal, NSW (2022 alumni survey)

This involves greater trust to give staff more autonomy.  It involves holding more conversations with staff, and in those conversations spending more time listening and learning.  This distributed leadership does need to occur in a safe space where staff have the knowledge and tools they need and can seek support if they need it.  This requires a staffing structure that encourages everyone to care for each other.  Our alumni tell us that schools work better when they have a collaborative staff environment that embraces new ideas. 

As Wheatley suggests, with facilitative and distributed leadership, the role of the leader changes.  It becomes less about making decisions, and more about building relationships, and creating the circumstances to bring out commitment and creativity in staff.  Facilitative leadership means facilitating the flow of communication so that the whole organisation is connected.  This leads to a distributed leadership model where all staff can use their leadership skills to contribute in meaningful ways. 

Our conversations with alumni suggest that schools and organisations see more success when they focus on ‘leadership, not leaders’.

Find out more: 

Our Reading Review of Meg Wheatley’s work explores these ideas of leadership. 

Our Responsibility for Change position paper describes how the Stronger Smarter approach is grounded in the belief that every educator can challenge the status quo and make a difference. 

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