Sunday, 28 February 2016

Brendan Spillane: Shared leadership & 9 things winning leaders do

Can you fit your leadership vision into 144 characters and Tweet it ? 
That was one of the challenges put to leaders during the two day seminar at Holy Cross Convention Centre, Mosgiel. Special thanks to the PDA members who organised these valuable days for principals and Directors of Religious Studies from across the Dunedin Diocese.

These are the notes I took during the two day seminar with leadership guru Brenda Spillane. I took some photos and had access to some slides but not all slides. Hope this summary is of value to those that were there and those of you looking for leadership tips.
A few of Brendan's top tips for me:

  • Know what brings you joy - your special gift and share it with your community. You will find a passion and energy through this gift that can be contagious.
  • Leadership is about harnessing the energy of the team to make good things happen. You can achieve so much more when you create a trustworthy culture that enables everyone to share their gifts and talents.
  • Check if your vision and values are truly aligned to the everyday happenings in your school

My notes:

There was full representation from every school in the Dunedin Diocese, including parish priests on day one of the two day seminar on Shared Leadership by Brendan Spillane. Julian Ineson, principal from St Theresa's School, Invercargill, warmly welcomed Brendan. Here is the welcome video and some further information about Brendan.

Brendan Spillane is an acclaimed Australian educator, speaker and coach and Director of Brendan Spillane Consulting. A former teacher and principal, he has also developed and led substantial systemic change initiatives focused on organisational renewal and improvement in the Catholic education system in Western Australia. He is a Growth Coaching International accredited Executive Coach and works in a coaching capacity with a range of senior leaders from business, education and elite sports.  (from SPPA website

Brendan began by sharing a personal story. We felt connected to him straight away. He explained that leadership is about being connected. Our work is to find ways to bring the energy of a group together.
Although we all have differences, we have much more in common with one another. When we gather, we should gather as people rather than positions. When good people work together, good things happen.
As mindful leaders it's important we build renewal time into our daily practices. 

Brendan shared with us the fact that a twelve minute attention span is long enough for most adults. As a result, we stopped frequently during the course of the two days to discuss our thoughts and reactions with those around us.

High Performance Mindset
What do high performing people actually do ? 
They have superior habits and that frees up energy for other things that are exceptional. Energy for extra things. They work above the magic line.
Action is vital - moving from the head and heart to your hands is critical for leaders.
Our work is too complex to do it on our own – our time demands the genius of the group.
It can't be the 'leasers ship', it has to be leadership.

We need to break down our sedentary time – sitting is the new smoking.

We have energy when we are spiritually connected to our purpose. 

High Performing Schools 
We need to look closely and take away what do we do that's unnecessary.
The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing. It's a place where we bring young people to being.
Look at our calendars and take away what we don't need. Michelangelo took away the stone to reveal the angel.
Look at the Kaizen Culture and say where are we at now ? You have to have a disposition for this kind of leadership.

Bill O' Brien Hanover Insurance: What is the single greatest intervention you want to leave behind ?

Leaders energy can be contagious. Interior condition of your own energy is important.
Collective energy of the group is important. People buy who you are, not what you say.

Put your energy into what really matters. What are you here to do ?
What gives you joy ? What joy do you give ? What opportunities do you get to do the things you want ? Joy is important.
Vulnerability in professional sense is about passion - not being afraid to say what you care about and what you feel in your work. Passion and purpose...

Pope Francis - Says we are lowly and yet chosen.
I am good and gifted and I come to offer my gifts (2013) Lowney

As a leader, we are flawed but we come to offer our gifts.

How can what I do be turned into practice? How can I serve others? You life is not about you. You can help to create the future !! 

Levels of Perspective  
Your school from the daily events to behaviours should be fully aligned to your vision and values. Our front desk has to be connected to our vision and values. Brendan shared a visit to NZ Rugby headquarters. Brendan's front desk experiences were perfectly aligned to their vision. How do we support our front desk to be like that ?

Your workplace is authentic when it is aligned to your vision and values.
As the question - what are we here for ? Can we organise events that are aligned to our vision and values. You should see patterns and behaviour, systems and structures that infer directly to your vision and values. Most places are aligned on some things and not on all things.
Sometimes, there is a mismatch between what we do. As leaders we need to bring the place back into alignment. We have to work alongside our school families and ensure everyone is aligned with the vision and values of the school eg. parent association, sports teams ....

Is there anything that doesn't fit with our values at the moment ? For example, do we say we
love to hear staff voice and then we speak for the whole staff meeting !!

Vision Challenge:

Write your own leadership vision in a form you could tweet. What words and phrases would be there ? In 144 words (just like a tweet), put your personal vision into words. 
Here is Brendan's vision. 
Ensure we are switched onto our own vision and action it.
Steven Covey gets you to imagine what sentence you want people to say at your eulogy. Then that becomes your mission. That kind of clarity is helpful.

Only happy people have the energy to give out kindness. 

Inherent Gifts 
The things that give you joy are often things that use your own gifts.
What can you recall was your gift as a child ? Your gift might feel to you that it is nothing special, it is just the way you are. It could be a simple as listening. Often people come to you for coaching.
Joy and energy and authenticity are connected to your gift. Do we know our own gifts and the gifts of our staff ? Get our staff to share them. Sometimes we don't know what our gifts are.
We should be putting our gift at the service of the school.

Reflection: What is it like to be a patient in your hospital ? What is it like to be a parent or a student in our schools ???

Handy Hint: Good time to check emails is your least productive time, straight after lunch.
If you take interruptions during the day with emails it takes away 20 minutes at least of productivity time.

"This is not an era of change, this is a change of era", Pope Francis
What works in Complex times ?

Winning Leaders:
Stance is how we place our energy.

Horse whisperers know how to speak the language of the horse. Coaches learn to develop relationships. How conscience are we in taking a stance ?

Leaders give up, keeping up, speeding up and standing up. Brendan has been studying leaders whose people say they are standing up.

9 things that winning leaders do...characteristics of those who "Stand Up" in these fast times.

Everyone is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Always.
How can you be hard and kind ?
1. They all know their leadership is not about them. They are different but one among everyone else. Is it safe to talk around you in your meetings ? How do you ensure people can speak truth to talk around you ? Talk is indicative of culture. How ? Simple as the leader being the last to speak on everything. Critiquing your own ideas, asking others to think on things. Encourage risk takers. They have confidence and humility.
2.They don't mistake intention for IMPACT. Good at getting feedback from beyond the inner circle. We don't see ourselves easily. What is like to be led by you ? Work from the inside out and get feedback from outside in.
The average person speaks 16,000 words a day and 11,000 within their inner circles.
3. They don't plan for journey they will never take.
No plan survives contact with the enemy. The Anzacs weren't led from the ship, it was from the scrub. Plan lightly and iterate hard. Is your planning honest ?

Small cycles of action learning towards the outcome works better. Planning an iteration.
Canvas - you need the freedom to paint it. Freedom to move with the kids. The plan allows flexibility and freedom to do the great things we want to do. Planning is a means to an end.
Collaboration helps us to deliver something - its a means to an end.
4. They don't lose sight of what they are asking other people to do. It's important to remember the hard job our teachers are doing. The school is as strong as its classrooms. Would you flourish in the environment your leadership creates. What does the airspace around our teachers look like ?
Person & performance - the standard you walk past is the standard you accept.
5. They have all found ways to increase the total quantity of power - access to power. Genuine leadership increases. We want everyone to feel they can contribute. Leaders grow leaders and create the conditions for others to grow. Balance.
6. They have appreciative mindsets. More appreciation about seeing what's going right and then able to say what's not going well. We can be very judgemental in our roles as leaders. Positivity Ratio: An engaged employee gives you the stuff they don't have to give you. The oil of the engine of Catholic education is discretionary efforts.
Just to survive 3:1 Employees need 8 times more positive feedback to flourish. We need to be drawn to the positives much more than anything else. 
7. They achieve and protect strong narrative clarity. The place knows what its all about. They have the story right for the place. 
6 questions of organisational clarity - 
Why do we exist ?
How then do we need to be behaving ?
What's our work ?
How do we know when we are successful ?

The most demotivating circumstance is that they don't know they are making progress at something that matters. Progress success markers termly would be good.
What's most important right now and who needs to be doing what  - operational clarity ?
To be everywhere is nowhere and too many things is a bad thing.
People are taking pot luck if you don't have narrative clarity.
Stories give data a soul. The numbers have to have faces and names. That makes it more powerful.
8. Great at asking outrageous question ? eg. How would my leadership be if I had to lead volunteers ? Will our organisation got to heaven ? What is good about this organization. What is our patient experience. Do we have invisible children here ? Children who ask for very little and get just that. They called those children amber. The ones that are doing well are green and those with learning needs are red. What about the ambers ? Track amber children and make sure every child had a champion.
If you find a question that drags people in, then much energy can come from a great question.
What question would outrage your team ?
9. They have professional health and wellness. What could you do to help people to get a balance ? Sacrifice and renewal. Model it yourself and take care of those you work with.

Day 2 Trust and skilful conversations

God comes to us, disguised as our lives.
How do we be radical with less ?
We are radical, regardless of the resourcing we may not have access too.

You can't call yourself humble.
Level 5 leaders (Jim Collins) - characterised by deep resolve, determination, deep humility.

If your knowledge could be held in a golf ball - contact with ignorance. As you grow..humility travels with competence.

Do you work through questions rather than answers ? Coaching needs to be done through better questions.

Leadership as a disposition rather than a position

Enable rather than empower (you are not giving power to others)
Kouzes & Posner 5 exemplary practices of good leadership
  1. model the way
  2. inspire shared vision
  3. challenge the process
  4. enable others to act
  5. encourage the heart 

Shared purpose and trust are fundamental to high performance.

Leadership needs to be subtractive at times and take things away.

What should we STOP doing around here ? Follow the process and narrow them down to just the top three.
Trust looks like:
When you are not in the room here, you will be,,, protected (gossip).
'Guys we are better than this and we are trying as a company to be better than this. It takes courage.
We need to get past the culture of triangles and talk directly to each other.
High Performing Teams - high trust, high quality conflict, high engagement, high peer accountability, high teamwork & results,  Lencioni, 2012
Peer accountability is great to see. Campfire ( purpose)

Positive deviant -things that vary from the norm. We must study our own successes - we have achieved it in our time with our resources.
Negative deviant - something that's not working

Individual excellence loses the power of the group.

Leadership in Catholic schools is relational, emotional and very visual.
Our effect on learning has to be mediated through the teachers if we are not in the classrooms.

Trust -character and competence, belief in and ability and integrity of each other.

When trust is high... speed of execution is fast. Important our staff meetings are safe places to talk. When trust is high constructive conflict is possible
Conflict continuum.

Ideal conflict point is about 4.5 to keep it about issues.
Upskill in competence but hard to upskill character.
Leaders who are skilful extend trust.

Skilful Conversations:
Bring conversation to a specific place eg. relating it directly to the actual issue (like listening).

It's about knowing how to say difficult things in skilful ways.

Our dysfunctional perception - confirmation from ourselves.  These are the facts as we see them and the truth as we see it.

Ladder of Inference (slide) Need to get it right. Reflective loop. The moment you have beliefs about the data that's what determines what we notice. Talk is the most valuable way to make a difference.
Data - what are we paying attention to ?
When you look at something it is a framework, when you use it, it becomes a tool.

Use the ladder with the staff - as a leadership team for example as a check for difficult decisions to make as a leader.
Use it with the school board and it becomes a tool in our leadership toolbox.

The stance we take for a difficult conversation is vital
The stance is simple, forward and tell, back foot and listen. Timing is important.
Dance between those energies in crucial conversations.
What is our preferred default stance ? advocacy or inquiry ?

Message Delivery crucial conversation. Initial stance: Advocacy
Awareness - you must raise the issue and give the data. You must be clear on the critical message.
Acceptance - come back and listen for acceptance
Action - as soon as you have acceptance then move to action. Enough action will give momentum. Summarise the agreement verbally even follow it with a quick email.

Actionable - it can actually be changed
Specific - connected to behaviours that you have seen

CPR to scale it up. In the same framework but lifting the stake.
Evidence is if we start the conversation off well then it will go well.
Language counts eg. focus on the issues rather than on anything personal

Invite them to say it again - I'm not clear, I want to be really clear
Breathe and this helps with adrenalin (Yahweh)
M  This is what I need to say. It's not about you, lets come forward and deal with this

Turn it from a concept into a tool. "I need to have a professional conversation with you.."

Special thanks to Brendan Spillane for allowing me to share some of his slides and for an inspiring two days of leadership and learning.


  1. Thanks for the feedback Paul. It might be handy to look at with our staff and board as well.

  2. Yes indeed I sent it on to my board chair a couple of days ago and our PP Fr Aidan was keen to see it as well as he wasn't able to attend Brendan's session. I've also shared it with staff on the Appraisal connector as well.