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"Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than one's fear."  -- Ambrose Redmoon

In my work, I frequently hear profound trepidation about the big, wide world of social media. The chorus of voices bemoans the ubiquity of Facebook and issues cautionary tales of how social sites are diminishing our personal connections to others. And on and on...

Underneath this reluctance, I hear a genuine sense of fear -- fear of our world spinning out of control. In an effort to regain some semblance of control, there is a tendency to react by wanting to "shut it down." Instead, I'd like to urge us to be courageous in our leadership and move forward in the face of fear.

As Redmoon's quote suggests, being courageous does not mean "the absence of fear." Rather, it is "the judgment that something else is more important that one's fear." As educators, I would also add that our ability to prepare our students for their future and to engage with our communities to accomplish that goal, in a world that is growing ever more complex and fast-paced, is more important that our own fear.

open leadership

I recently revisited Charlene Li's book, Open LeadershipCharlene Li (@charleneli) that provided me with a bit of a road map to begin grappling with my own uncertainty. While the book is not geared specifically for those of us toiling in the field of education, I think educational leaders will find plenty of resources here to get started.

At the outset, Li assesses the new terrain which has been characterized by the "fundamental shift in power" from institutions (like schools) to customers (such as our students, parents, and community members).  With new social technologies, more people are online, using of social sites and sharing digital resources like never before. Li points out that conversations that used to take place in more private realms of offices, phone calls, and even the parking lot, are now taking place online. While these developments may make us squirm, we are powerless to stop them.

The question, then, is how do we manage our fears as we navigate forward in digital spaces to connect more meaningfully with our communities? Li offers four key take aways for educators.

New model of leadership -- Li argues that a new approach to leadership is needed to engage in authentic, transparent relationships through social media. "Open leadership," which Li defines as: "having the confidence and humility to give up the need to be in control while inspiring commitment from people to accomplish goals" (Kindle Location 466).

Open leaders are humble enough to acknowledge that they do not have all of the answers as well as deeply curious and constantly seeking out new learning. In doing so, they work collaboratively with others. While humility, curiosity, learning and collaboration are certainly not new attributes, open leadership is:

...a mixture of mind-set, temperament, learned behaviors, and skills that build on and amplify good leadership skills (Kindle Locations 2568-2569).

By being open -- and giving up control -- we stand a better chance of inspiring the commitment of others to accomplish the organization's larger purpose.

It is all about relationships -- Social media is, first and foremost, about relationships. It is not about the digital tools for connecting; it is about listening, learning, dialog, and collaboration with real people. Social technologies can enhance personal connections; they do not necessarily replace them. 

A shift in relationships -- Social media offers a way to enhance community engagement. The more traditional forms of communication relied upon broadcasting messages from the school to parents through  newsletters, static websites, and announcements. Embracing new social technologies provides opportunities to create "a new type of relationship, one built on multiple shared experiences—a relationship in which trust is developed and flourishes" (Kindle Location 2693). Instead of telling others, we open up avenues for listening, engaging in authentic conversations and being truly responsive to those we serve.

"Sandbox Convenants" -- While creating new kinds of relationships within the school community offers openness and new learning, this does not just happen.  Li insists "the new relationships you create with openness and social technologies need structure." Such structure and processes are provided by "Sandbox Convenants" that establish clear boundaries within which new ways of connecting can develop and take shape (Kindle Locations 1771-1772; 1785-1786).  For those looking for practical, hands-on tools for beginning this process, the Openness Audit and action plan provided are useful tools.

What benefits or challenges do you see in adopting an open strategy? Your comments and feedback are welcome.


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