The Forest of Complex Change

16035065065_ddcdae0270_bI doubt that anyone has ever described me using the phrase “he can’t see the forest for the trees”.  I think the opposite is probably true: I love the forest.  I can’t tell you a thing about the types of trees in it or what kind of animals live there, but I could still talk about the forest for hours.  I take pride in my ability to see the bigger picture when others get too mired in the details.  My wife probably feels a little different.

Take, for instance, the big idea that our home should be as organized as possible.  A place for everything, and everything in it’s place. Yet I’ll leave my dirty clothes on the floor.  I’ll forget to clear the table or unload the dishwasher.  I’ll ignore that mess in the basement because, well, we don’t use that space very much.  It’s the idea of order and efficiency that seems so appealing, but ideas absent action mean nothing…except more unnecessary work for my incredible wife.

Now extend that mindset to school leadership, specifically the task of managing complex systems change, and the areas in which I need to improve become glaringly obvious.  This graphic organizer, based on a presentation by T. Knoster (1991), hangs above the desk in my office:

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Vision is not my problem.  It’s the magnificent redwood tree.  No matter the initiative or issue at hand, I can paint a clear picture of where we’re heading.  The bigger question is whether or not the system is ready to head in that direction.  Timing is key.

My skills are strong too, but admittedly, I’m a self-assured guy.  Skills are like bonsai trees that require deliberate care and maintenance, and tools like Cognitive Coaching will certainly help the trees thrive.  The coaching process is especially valuable in helping to reduce anxiety in others.

Both incentives and resources vary, depending on my ability to provide them.  Think of them as the trees that turn beautiful colors every fall only to go dormant for the winter.  It’s those long, cold winters that are always the most difficult, especially when I can’t control the weather.

Which leaves only an action plan, all those details that I am so eager to overlook.  These aren’t even trees in my metaphorical forest.  They are the acorns that litter the forest floor.  I may spot a couple that can mature into mighty oaks, but like the dirty clothes, I’ll probably ignore the rest.

Image Credit: Wald by David Schiersner via Flickr

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