All at Cs re Leadership

Background image by Matt Hardy on Unsplash

“ Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom”


In an earlier post I wrote about the 4Cs of Transformational Leadership. That post received a lot of feedback in the various forums I posted to to – and in the form of emails sent to me personally. Many suggested, very helpfully, a number of other characteristics added to my list – many starting with C. These included:

  • Cultural capability
  • Communication
  • Compassion
  • Creativity
  • Critical reflection
  • Challenge
  • Connection
  • Community
  • Agility (sorry – that person didn’t offer it as a ‘C’ word)

I’m sure with a little more time even more words could be added here (particularly if we open up more of the alphabet 🙂 because all of these things are inarguably, characteristics we can agree are seen as the traits of effective leaders. I certainly wouldn’t argue with anything suggested here – many of these words are already included in the list of competencies identified in our own curriculum document as being important to develop in all learners – a necessary requirement for living and thriving into the future.

So why did I choose the four I did, and not extend the list to include all of these others? Surely they are all things we should see exhibited in an effective leader? My answer to this is absolutely yes – but I believe an additional set of intrinsic dispositions set a transformative leader apart from an ‘effective’ one. these include clarity of purpose, unwavering conviction, courage, passion, determination, and a deep sense of responsibility towards a cause or mission.

While effective leaders focus on achieving goals and managing day-to-day operations, transformative leaders go beyond that and bring about significant change and innovation within their organisations or communities, drawing on these intrinsic dispositions to guide their decisions, actions, and behaviours.

One only has to look at the content of many leadership courses and programmes available to support new and experienced leaders to be effective in their role. They are peppered with reference to the sorts of competencies listed at the top of this post – and rightly so. These things can be taught and developed over time. They can be observed and measured, and when evident in practice, they most certainly contribute to the effectiveness of a leader’s ability to lead and her/his impact and influence within the organisation.

A transformative leader is also concerned about being effective, but they are more likely to operate from the position of a deeper self-knowledge, and take bold actions based on their convictions and self-understanding to bring about significant change. Transformative leaders may be characterised by their unwavering commitment to a vision or purpose and their willingness to challenge the status quo. They will possess the courage and determination to enact transformative initiatives, even in the face of opposition, resistance, or adversity.

Of course, these characteristics are not mutually exclusive, and there can be overlap between effective and transformative leaders. However, transformative leaders exhibit these qualities to a greater degree and use them to catalyse profound and lasting change in their organisations or communities.

My attempt to capture the ‘essence’ of transformative leadership in the Four Cs (clarity, conviction, courage and commitment) was an attempt to focus in on the thing that differentiates the two types of leader. My four Cs were focused very much on those innate, personal qualities that cause ordinary people to do extraordinary things.

Consider this example from my personal experience…

In my early career as a lecturer at the Christchurch College of Education I was given an opportunity to design and implement a distance education pre-service teacher education programme that ended up being offered across all of New Zealand. Almost as soon as we had it off the ground, I had a call from an education leader from Pangaru in the Hokianga region of New Zealand, asking if it might be possible to provide a pre-service programme to a group of people living in the area, many of them already working in schools but without any qualification. The district had been facing a critical teacher supply issue for many years.

My first instinct was to say ‘yes’ – as we’d just launched the distance programme and I was thus confident we’d be able to deliver what was required. Through the whole design process I’d had to communicate with a wide range of staff and colleagues at the College, I’d used my creative and critical thinking capacity to resolve issues and concerns that arose when considering how to effectively teach the programme at a distance, and I’d initiated all sorts of connections with people across the College and the country to get it established. The programme itself was well designed and met all of the requirements of the qualifications authority for conferring the status of a teacher, and was supported by the experienced staff of the College who were responsible for teaching each of the modules at a distance. In other words, I was confident that I’d been effective in the role I’d been given to get it all off the ground.

As the conversation with the Pangaru group developed, however, I soon discovered that all of the planning and design work I’d done as an effective leader of the programme was not going to suit the potential candidates in this area, and so for a variety of cultural, social and family reasons I would need to ‘re-think’ how I could alter the design of the programme, without affecting its integrity and purpose, to better serve the needs of this group of people.

It was during an early visit to Pangaru where I met with some of the local education leaders that I was brought face to face with the reality of what they’d been explaining to me in our phone and written communications. I came to understand that this was not simply a request to provide a programme of initial teacher education to just another group of students. This programme, if designed to meet their local needs and the local context, would be about more than simply providing an opportunity to gain recognition as a qualified teacher. It would open the door for many of these people to realise their dreams and aspirations for way more than simply their role as a teacher. And not only for them, but also for their family and wider whānau.

That was my ‘mirror’ moment, where I was forced to look deep into what my motivations were for wanting to provide the programme, and to examine why I was making the decisions about the programme design in the way I was. It was profoundly impactful – it was my moment of clarity. I realised that I had been focused primarily on developing a programme that would meet all of the requirements of a successful/effective distance education programme in terms of the quality of service delivery, resource production and teaching etc. But my clarity came when I reflected more deeply on what my well-designed programme could do for people in a place like Pangaru.

As I listened more to the people in Pangaru, and came to understand more of their history, their context and their needs, that clarity provided a conviction about what needed to happen, and what I’d need to do to make it happen. The changes to the basic design would require a different level of conversation with my colleagues, and would ‘test the limits’ of some of the decisions that underpinned the existing design. But from that conviction I gained the courage to return to Christchurch and to make the case for some changes to the delivery model, based on what I’d seen and heard. And by delivery model I’m not simply talking about the structural elements of the programme – but also the cultural and contextual aspects. It meant ensuring there was a recognition of the local tikanga in aspects of the programme, and that this would be reflected in the kaupapa of their on-site meetings etc. It led to some of the ‘options’ modules in the original programme design being co-constructed with local educators and kaumatua to provide Te Reo as a core component of the programme at all levels.

I’d have to say that, aside from some initial hesitations, I was supported very well by my College colleagues as that point clarity enabled me to make the case for change in quite a different way to what I’d done when leading the design of the original programme.

Suffice to say that I am extremely proud of the efforts of all involved, and that those who graduated from that experience, many of whom had to overcome considerable personal challenges to do so, have gone on to become leaders in all sorts of roles in education – including principals, deputy principals, team leaders, special needs support teachers etc. I met with most of them at a reunion to celebrate their 20 years since graduating, with the majority of them having taught for almost all of that time. Needless to say it was a wonderful reunion!

Of course there’s a lot more to the story than what I’ve written here – but what I’ve tried to demonstrate is how my 4Cs are really about a different dimension of leadership to the other Cs listed above. The moment of clarity I achieved (more like a few weeks than a moment!) from that visit to Pangaru, and the subsequent visits to work with the group, profoundly shifted my thinking – and my heart. That has provided the motivation for me to engage with subsequent opportunities I’ve been given very differently, I’d say transformatively, approaching them not simply in order to be effective in what I do, but to achieve much more than that.

This post started as a response to the many suggestions I received about what could be added to my list of 4Cs. What I hope I’ve done is explain why I believe these four stand apart from the long lists of other characteristics and attributes we would hope to see in our leaders.

I read and hear lots of talk about critical thinking, communications, cultural competency and the like – all of which is important in terms of the core competence of leaders, but that alone isn’t producing the sort of leadership we so desperately need in our education system at present.

We need leaders who engage with more mirror work to develop personal clarity, and on that basis begin their work from a personal conviction (not just because it’s something new) combined with the courage to make the change and the commitment to see it through. This is what will drive transformation.

One thought on “All at Cs re Leadership

  1. Your humility and receptiveness do you proud Derek. Also two key characteristics of subtle and effective leaders.
    Your series help keep my retired brain active because its far from diminished!

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