In his book, “The Element” the late and truly brilliant educator, author, speaker and leader, Sir Ken Robinson wrote a rather bemusing story about Paul McCartney’s education. McCartney was a student at the Liverpool Institute and despite his prodigious talent and his love of music he never enjoyed music lessons at school. He went through his entire education without anyone noticing that he had any musical talent at all. It turns out that John Lennon was in some of the same music classes as McCartney.
Sir Ken makes the point in his book that there was a teacher back in the 1950’s who had half of The Beatles in his class who had absolutely no idea that either of these young men had an ounce of musical talent in their bodies! In “The Element” Robinson relates countless stories of prominent artists, performers, scientists and writers from McCartney to John Cleese, to author and academic Arianna Huffington, who literally ‘endured’ their educations without having any of their talents and expertise unearthed.
The challenges that Robinson lays at the feet of educators is obvious and clear. Whilst many, many schools work tirelessly to ensure that all students are engaged in their educational journey, the receptiveness of some educators, and system leaders, to act upon the core message of “The Element,” written in 2009, is what appears to be in question.
Can we all consider our workplaces for a moment? Is it possible that as we have dealt with the massive challenges of the past 20 months that we have missed something in regards my workforce? Are there people in my team who have talents that I could utilise, and in doing so more effectively engage them? Are there people in my team who are frustrated because they never get asked to share an insight or express an opinion? And if they do express an opinion, is it refuted almost instantaneously? How well do I know my team?
Do I talk about empowerment and yet my team don’t feel empowered?
Having worked as a teacher for forty years, twenty-six of which as school principal, I am now privileged to work with numerous teams across various workplaces in my work with Leading Teams. In doing so I often encounter leaders who are willing to do the ‘hard yards’ to open and build strong professional relationships with colleagues. These same leaders are courageous enough to work with their teams to create and live by a set of agreed behaviours. And, in doing so, the leaders and the broader staff teams, are willing and able to engage in genuine conversations with one another to celebrate when agreed behaviours are lived out, or challenge one another when we slip up.
When we start work with a team the only presumption that we have is that this team can improve. No matter where our teams find themselves on the continuum there isn’t a team, or individual, on earth that can’t improve, and our work is entirely centred in this space. Our work is to help individuals and teams improve.
In doing so I’d love to think we can tap into the incredible talent base that we all have in our respective teams. Who knows what talents exist within our work teams? We may not have the next Paul McCartney or John Lennon. We may not have the next internationally acclaimed economist in Arianna Huffington. We may not unearth the genius of a John Wilson (who Ken Robinson talks about in his book) who as a child was blinded, and yet went on to form the British Society for the Blind, now called Sight Savers International.
But who knows what we might unearth if we are courageous enough to engage with our teams, genuinely listen to one another and set about to improve our culture?
Robinson concludes his book with the following quote from Michelangelo,
“The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that our aim is too low and we reach it.” Long may we all aim to be the best leaders, teams and people we can be.