Immutable Commandments

Sometimes people misinterpret the latest thinking on leadership. And this can be easy to do – much of what we read on leadership promotes the need to empower people, and to involve them in decisions. Steve Simpson has a different view however…

Recently, we decided that some extra space needed to be created in my office. It was time for the big clean out!

Of course, that meant that I had to personally sift through the stock of files that had progressively built up over the years. As is often the case, I came across things I had totally forgotten about.

In one of the files I discovered an overhead (that shows you how old the file was!) which was headed: “The Simpson Immutable Four Commandments”.

This was an overhead I had used as part of the presentation I did for school leaders many years ago. It represented part of my early thinking on UGRs (Unwritten Ground Rules).

In essence, I was saying to this group that if I was a leader in a school, a lot would be up to negotiation. However, there would be some issues which were not up for debate. Hence, my four immutable commandments, which were as follows:

    • We constantly seek to improve, in the interests of improving students’ education.
    • Maintenance is not OK — for any of us.
    • We are committed to making the tough decisions in the interests of student and teacher learning.
      This means our decisions have real meaning, and they are made in a context where we demonstrate respect,
      and expect each other to listen and to contribute.
    • When we agree to action, we act.
    • Failure is to be expected from time to time and is OK, if we learn from the experience.

To be honest, I cannot remember the response I got from the group when I presented those “commandments”. I wish I could!

In my view, writers of business books and articles over recent years have helped a great deal. But it’s not all good.

A great deal of emphasis on leadership in recent years has focused on the need for leaders to empower staff and gain consensus on important issues. However, this can be overdone!

I see some of this when I work with companies to help them improve their culture. Sometimes, leaders are reluctant to impose on the group with their views. I think it is a leader’s responsibility to impose some imperatives on their people.

As an example, I often work with people to identify the type of culture they would like to characterise the team or organisation. This normally involves all people, wherever possible.

A true leader should not necessarily be happy with the final outcomes from an exercise like this.

Indeed, a leader abrogates their responsibility in not identifying cultural aspects that need to be in place to help ensure the success of the organisation into the future. Sometimes staff do not see the bigger picture. And while a leader should rightly work with people.