On Leadership and the Utility of Precepts

For several weeks have toted Michael Fullan’s Change Leader: Learning To Do What Matters Most, wondering what to make of it and what to do with it. It neither inspired nor engaged me. It is well-meaning and well-organized, written, one must surmise, from the best of intentions by an informed and intelligent man. It shares these admirable traits with the food pyramid – an equally well-considered document. But who uses the food pyramid when assembling a shopping list? 

Among the increasing number of writers on change in education, Fullan has secured a place of prominence because of his clarity, productiveness and enthusiasm. Fullan has long been studying and writing about change. First focusing on principals and schools, Fullan’s scope has widened to organizational change and leadership itself.  He has many important and worthwhile things to say.

Change Leader is organized into seven short chapters, each providing a precept supported by examples. Chapter One – “Practice Drives Theory” – offers the insight that “the effective change leader actively participates as a learner in helping the organization improve.” Doing is changing, and leading, Fullan proclaims, emphasizing that we can learn much of what we need from rigorously studying practice and implementation. Chapter Two – “Be Resolute; act with purpose and empathy” offers the insight that “effective change leaders combine resolute moral purpose with impressive empathy.”

“Motivate the Masses” is the heart of Chapter Three and “Collaborate to Compete” is the message of Chapter Four. The key insight of Chapter Five, “change leaders are more confident than the situation warrants but more humble than they look,” supports the title to “Learn Confidently.” Chapter Six asserts “Know Your Impact” and Chapter Seven advances the concept of simplexity, “salvation for an intricate world.”

Fullan’s precepts are solid, often supported through the scholarship of others, experience and the wisdom of common sense. But as to why these, and not different precepts, or when and how, the book remains mute. Perhaps the book is designed more as an abbreviated primer for the precept-less, or a reminder for the leader who has lost their way. For this academic leader, I expect more substance with my precepts, or at least some sophisticated seasoning.

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