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  • Writer's pictureAndy Hind

High-impact leadership - Building collective coherence

In the last blog, we explored the impact that the professional culture has on the success and effectiveness of any organisation, especially schools. It is so important to recognise, however, that leaders DO NOT create the professional culture within their organisation but, rather, embed the systems and processes that go to shape the professional culture.

In this latest blog, we explore further how leaders ensure that leadership does have a significant impact on the professional culture of an organisation.

Have a go at answering 2 questions. In fact, try writing your answers down.

  1. Which specific leadership practice do I find most difficult?

  2. Why do I find this practice so difficult?

Perhaps the most important competency of an effective leader is self-awareness and by being able to answer those two questions, you demonstrated a degree of self-awareness.

Now, consider the following.

If you asked every designated leader, in your organisation, the same two questions, would every individual choose a specific practice that comes from your agreed set of practices for high-impact leadership? Would they even be identifying a specific leadership practice or would they be identifying a competency or even something else?

The above raises two key issues:

  1. To what extent does every leader, in your organisation, know and understand your agreed practices for high-impact leadership?

  2. How are you ensuring that every leader has suitable opportunities to study and learn these practices?

In a previous blog, I have discussed the differences between being a leader and engaging in leadership. I suggested that being a leader requires the demonstration of a set of competencies to a high level of competence. Whereas engaging in leadership requires the skilful participation in a set of practices.

So…what are your organisation’s agreed practices for high-impact leadership?

In schools, as with other organisations, where leadership is strong and where it is having the biggest impact on the professional culture, and, ultimately on the outcomes of those being served, there is a significant degree of collective coherence.

Collective coherence - A key to leadership success and to establishing a strong professional culture.

So…how near are your leaders to functioning with collective coherence?

Collective coherence is built around 3 key principles:

  1. A shared depth of understanding around the nature of the work i.e. the work of leadership

  2. Taking time to make sense i.e. finding out what’s working and what’s not working when it comes to the work of leadership

  3. The shaping and refining of processes so they have a greater impact

Let’s begin with the 1st principle and the extent to which all leaders, across your school, are functioning with a shared depth of understanding...a depth of understanding around the core purpose of the work of leadership. Think back to earlier in this article and whether all leaders, in your organisation, know and understand the agreed practices for high-impact leadership. This is just one aspect of ‘a shared depth of understanding’. Remember, clarity precedes competence.

To ensure this shared depth of understanding, leaders, within your organisation, might need to take a few steps even further back! Consider the following 2 questions:

  1. To what extent does every leader, in our organisation, work from an agreed definition of the word ‘LEADERSHIP’? (e.g. For us, leadership is…..)

  • My definition? Leadership is a relationship that leads to improvement.

  1. Have we agreed, as leaders, as to what success looks like when it comes to our definition of leadership? (e.g. For us, success in leadership means...)

We can not be confident that we have identified the right leadership practices without, first, having a clear definition of what leadership even means.

There are far more questions that need to be considered, especially by senior leaders, around this 1st principle of ‘a shared depth of understanding’, but for now, let’s move to the 2nd principle.

How, as leaders, are you taking the time to make sense of what is happening i.e. what is working and what is not working when it comes to the process of leadership?

This principle focuses essentially on the designed systems and processes and the impact that these are having on their intended purpose, across the organisation.

Let’s consider one example, often used in schools…Learning Walks.

Learning walks is a process that has been introduced, in many schools, and all leaders should share the same answers to 3 questions:

  1. What is the single, specific core purpose of a learning walk?

  2. How effective are learning walks, based on this purpose?

  3. How do we know?

What do your leaders believe is the core purpose for carrying out learning walks? What about your teachers? Do they share the same beliefs as the leaders? In many schools, the beliefs of the leaders can be quite different to the beliefs of the staff, especially regarding these systems and processes, and these differences will, inevitably, begin to have an adverse effect on the professional culture of the organisation.

The author of this blog believes that learning walks have one core purpose, which is to increase the human capital of teachers and teaching assistants…to support our teachers and teaching assistants at getting better at doing their job. However, you or your leaders leaders might believe that the core purpose is to monitor what is going on.

Learning walks are just one example of a multitude of systems and processes that schools look to introduce and embed to further increase the overall effectiveness of the organisation and improve outcomes. To what extent are these systems and processes impacting on the professional culture of the school, both positively or negatively, and how do you know? The issue is how leaders are actually creating the time and space to make sense of these systems and processes. To evaluate them…to analyse them…to be able be able to say, with confidence, what impact they are having around the desired purpose.

Finally, we can consider the 3rd principle…the shaping and refining of these processes so that they are having an even greater impact i.e. continuous improvement.

Leaders should be looking to continually ask (and answer) 3 ongoing questions:

What is it that we are going to

keep doing

Stop doing

Start doing

when it comes to our systems and processes?

At no point are leaders looking to reshape and refine ALL the systems and processes but rather just one or two at any given time. Most processes will be maintained, but still to a high-level of effectiveness. Leaders will be looking to 'continue doing what we've been doing' when it comes to the majority of these systems and processes. However, there must be clear and deliberate intentions, by the leaders, in how they intend to further improve one or two of the current processes by 1% or 2% i.e. marginal gains.

How will learning walks be different, by the end of this term, so that they are 1% more effective at achieving the core purpose?

This shaping and refining of systems and processes enables leaders to gradually increase the amount of time invested in those approaches that have the greatest impact and, at the same time, reduce or even eliminate those that have less of an impact...that just don't work.

At the end of the day, surely it is better for our leaders and teachers to have the time and space to engage in just a handful of processes, throughout an academic year, but that have a significant impact on increasing capital?

*** Would you like to know more about high-impact leadership, collective coherence and other essential leadership approaches?

We are offering, for a limited time, a FREE 2 hour virtual leadership development session for a small number of senior leadership teams.

These sessions will be offered to individual leadership teams, on a first come first serve basis, and are guaranteed to have a significant impact on future effectiveness.

If you feel your leadership team would be interested in this offer, email us at

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