Gladwell and Innovative Leadership

One of the school boards that I spoke to this year (Sir Wilfrid Laurier), has an interesting focus on the objective of “Leadership and Innovation”.  The description is below:

Objectives:

1. To promote, support, and increase the implementation of innovative approaches in teaching, learning, and problem solving through leadership

2. To recognize and celebrate innovative approaches

The first point to me is imperative, as in my travels I have come to believe that innovative schools or districts are a reflection of leadership.  If the “leader” is not innovative or does not believe in challenging the way things “have always been done”, the ceiling for innovation is much lower.  If leaders are not comfortable with the inherent risk that comes with “innovation”, that will be reflected in organizational practices.

As to what “innovation” is, I love the definition provided by Notter and Grant in their book “Humanize” (one of my favourite books I have read this year):

Definitions of innovation vary by guru, but they revolve around two words: change and new. Innovation implies change and doing things differently, but it has to achieve some new level of performance, or create some kind of new value. It is not enough just to be different; it has to be better. It is about creation, not copying.

As I talked about this notion with Jesse McLean as his school undertook “Innovation Week“, I thought back to Gladwell’s book “The Tipping Point“, and thought about some of the key people that he describes that push forward “social epidemics”, I wondered how they fit into our notion of innovative leadership in schools.  The three people listed by Gladwell’s “Law of the Few”, as described in this Wikipedia article, are described below:

Connectors, are the people in a community who know large numbers of people and who are in the habit of making introductions. A connector is essentially the social equivalent of a computer network hub. They usually know people across an array of social, cultural, professional, and economic circles, and make a habit of introducing people who work or live in different circles. They are people who “link us up with the world … people with a special gift for bringing the world together.”

Mavens are “information specialists”, or “people we rely upon to connect us with new information.”[4] They accumulate knowledge, especially about the marketplace, and know how to share it with others. Gladwell cites Mark Alpert as a prototypical Maven who is “almost pathologically helpful”, further adding, “he can’t help himself”.

Salesmen are “persuaders”, charismatic people with powerful negotiation skills. They tend to have an indefinable trait that goes beyond what they say, which makes others want to agree with them.

As we are seemingly are at the “tipping point” in school reform, I wonder if leadership has to not only possess one of these characteristics, but essentially all three?  If we are actually moving to a place where people don’t just accept change but embrace it (as change is always the constant), I see all three of those elements being crucial in school leadership.  To effectively “promote, support, and increase the implementation of innovative approaches in teaching, learning, and problem solving through leadership”, those characteristics would be essential.

Thoughts?  Obviously there are other essential characteristics that make a good leader (value on relationships and building trust being the most important), but where do Gladwell’s “Law of the Few” now fit in where a world is more social than ever?

3 thoughts on “Gladwell and Innovative Leadership

  1. Steve Tla MacRae

    Excellent summary of the “law of the few” from Gladwell’s book Tipping Point. What might happen if hundreds of teachers (and thousands of students) read that summary? I’m collecting tidbits that should be seen by students before they leave high school (I’m a high school teacher). I invite your visit to http://www.VeryCoolSites.com and hope that you can recommend some sites and videos for the collection.

  2. Travis McNaughton

    Nice post. I think that sometimes leaders feel a pressure like they have to be “expert” and/or the most innovative person of the people they are leading. I agree that leaders should possess these traits but I think that it is important to foster a culture where others are able to take risks and be innovative in their area of expertise/passion. They may not be the “information specialist” in some areas but visionary leadership is reflective enough to recognize our own limitations while still placing high value on that particular area in order to empower others to drive innovation in a way that they cannot themselves.

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