Saturday, April 13, 2019

Achieving High Performance by Recipe-Following: Truth or Fairy Tale?

Educators, and I would add business leaders love fads and leadership gurus. While I don’t know personally the data regarding how much money is made by consultants and gurus in the educational industry, I would bet it’s often more than whole educational budgets in states and districts. There is money to be made, and the entrepreneurial sects know it; that’s why our inboxes of our email accounts and our message boxes of our LinkedIn accounts get stuffed daily with promises of high performance nirvana and paths to leadership greatness. 

But what if it’s all an entrepreneurial fairy tale based on an educational (or business) leadership model that believe there exists “magic principles” that can guide the leader and her or his Educationalites to the “Promised Land” of high performance and pedagogical greatness? What if the only ones reaching any levels of high performance and success are those pilfering the meager coffers of educational systems with their “educational tonics and powders” that promise success if only you follow our program?

As Phil Rosenzweig writes in The Halo Effect…and Eight Other Business Delusions That Deceive Managers, we, like business leaders, have fallen for the idea that:
“...high performance can be achieved with enough care and attention to a precise set of elements—the four factors or those six steps or these eight principles” (2007, p. 143). If we “do these things,” then “success is just around the corner.”

Now I ask, if success is that easy, then why is there not more of it? We should have schools everywhere with achievement levels off the charts. (And I would add many, many more business successes.) The gurus and consultants would say, “Well, it’s because those trying our 7 principles, or four factors, or six steps, are not following our program faithfully.” That’s always their easy answer. But what if that’s just part of the marketing pitch for the pile of baloney they are selling? Just maybe, the world on which their 7 principles, or four factors, or six steps are based only exists in a Hans Christian Andersen Fairy Tale. In other words, perhaps the real world of education systems and business systems are much too complex for the simplistic thinking of gurus and the fads they bear with them.

In the end, it just might be that educational consultants, and business consultants, are only diverting us from the real truth. That truth is educational performance and business performance is uncertain and complex and not amenable to an application and engineering that brings about predictable outcomes” (Rosenzweig, 2007, p. 143). In other words, doing A and B leads to an infinite number of possibilities and outcomes, not C as the guru and consultant industry would lead you to believe.

There are certainly ideas that can be learned from gurus and consultants. I am not implying that it’s all baloney. However, being a critically-minded educational, and business leader, means realizing that our worlds are much too complex for easy answers and solutions. We should always question those claiming truth. We owe it to ourselves and to our stakeholders.

Rosenzweig, P. (2007). The halo effect...and eight other business delusions that deceive managers. New York, NY: Free Press.

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