The art of leadership is studying the craft through an aesthetics lens.
Examining school districts from the perspective of organizational aesthetics is coming of age in a time when school leadership is being redefined by external forces shaping education. As these forces become more and more decontextualized, today’s leaders will need to rely on self-awareness and awareness of others as never before. Individual-centric leadership has given way to leaders skilled enough to create, explore and construct new knowledge with others within a political context.
On democratic leadership, Petrie (2011) has written, “Leadership development has come to a point of being too individually focused and elitist. There is a transition occurring from the old paradigm in which leadership resided in a person or role, to a new one in which leadership is a collective process that is spread throughout networks of people. The question will change from: ‘who are the leaders’ to, what conditions do we need for leadership to flourish in the network? How do we spread leadership capacity throughout the organization and democratize leadership?
Leaders in a postmodern age are informed by aesthetic sensibilities and a deep sense of the craft of leadership. Nested in organizational and management studies, organizational aesthetics is a new and different lens for today’s leader. It is necessary given a greater emphasis on connections, meaningful relationships, and building capacity and sustainability.
The art of leadership is all about being in the moment. Being present and attentive to what is happening, while it is happening. There is no shortcut that provides a quick path to problem solving. It takes time to make sense of what is going around us. As a leader new to my current organization, I pay attention to what my five senses tell me. They provide me with information about the outside world and within my own person. My senses tell me what is happening, in the very moment I am in. In the typical education organization, structured and defined by power relationships, relying on one's senses requires a certain vulnerability that not many leaders are accustomed to. The promise of organizational aesthetics as a tool for leaders to grow lies in the vulnerability of its approach.
Central to my work in the Education Leadership program at California State University, Fullerton is using arts-based methods to study leadership and the organizations that leaders navigate and lead. Epistemology, art, and the investigation of what distinguishes justified belief from opinion is central to a solid foundation in education leadership and how I approach examining and teaching leadership. It revolves around theory into practice and vice versa. I build on the principles of Systems Citizenship (Senge), Democratic Leadership (Petrie), and Stewardship (Block), all joint accountability models that provide a framework for leaders to learn through participation and relationships.
The erosion of emotional safety and trust is a reality in many education organizations. I am addressing this condition in my current position and I have in the past as well.
Educators and education leaders alike must be nimble and attentive to our senses to succeed. In “If they don’t work stop doing them” I called on school leaders to lead courageous conversations about the nature and quality of evidence and its impact on changing behaviors. Those conversations lead to an even greater challenge, exhorting adult learners to extend themselves to the edges of their competence. How well student learners develop and perform is dependent on how well the adults responsible for their growth do.