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Leadership in Covid19 – Obstacles

In my previous posts, I raised the crucial role leaders play in times of crisis to manage the mental state people are in, and lead them through these difficulties (Post 1). I also discussed the importance for leaders to “CHOP the FEAR’ of uncertainty and non-clarity through constant communication to staff and stakeholders (Post 2).

In this post, I’d like to touch on how can leaders get their business out of the maze of obstacles created by the Covid19 crisis.

The global shutdown and lock-down impacted the economic situation of many corporates, organisations and government entities. This will influence the financial stability of individuals as well as companies.  What can we, as leaders, do to overcome the obstacles and turn them into stepping stones for growing the business?

I have learnt that the way we view things is how we do things. When people played the Tetris game for hours and then went and looked at the world, they viewed the world differently, impacted by the way the game forces your mind to match different shaped tiles together. We can also change our thoughts pattern to view things differently. (Starting, for example, by changing “this is impossible’ to ‘how can we make it possible’).

Thinking creatively, may be easier said than done, especially when our mind is in stress and constant worries due to cash flows, employees ’salaries etc.

Some tips to use different methods to change the way we think about the problem:

  1. Talking to people (not only from our industry), the more diverse, better opportunity to ‘think out of the box’. Staying away from our ‘box of network’ and reach out, even to distant acquaintances.
  2. Asking questions, using our inquisitive minds; ‘what good can come out of it’? How can we turn this obstacle into opportunity? “What a brilliant opportunity is disguised in this impossible obstacle?
  3. Crisis moves us; does it move us backwards or forwards? Asking different questions in different ways and discussing them also with our employees and stakeholders may create a breakthrough in our thinking of the situation.

ORT SA, is an educational NGO and part of a global network ORT, we have had long impact on people’s lives through education, since ORT was established in 1880. We have been asking many questions since the Covid19 crisis, as it impacted the schools, the youth and businesses we are working with. One of the question we still ponder about is; “How has this crisis and its’ emergency response to COVID-19 will impact the future of education and re-imagining of schooling?” This question keeps moving us forward to redesign our programmes and our offering to move remotely so to ensure we can reach each of our beneficiaries wherever they are. We have the opportunity now to draw the picture of education of the future, narrowing the gap with the less privileged communities, while doing so. It is not Impossible until it is possible.

Leadership in Covid19 -Clarity

Imagine you have been given a gift of 1000 puzzle pieces, alas, the puzzle pieces came in a box with no picture and you have to guess the final outcome as you assemble the pieces together. This is how many of us felt in light of the uncertainty Covid19 brought with it. Due to constant changes in the state of health indicators and fluctuations in the information provided by authorities, leaders found it extremely difficult to find clarity in the chaos and to lead under these circumstances.

Communicating to your employees, stakeholders and beneficiaries, repeatedly and frequently can help getting the haze out of uncertainty and non-clarity.  

How you communicate is also important. “CHOP the FEAR of uncertainty by Communicating”

Use the CHOP FEAR Mnemonics:

Clear Goals- be clear and convey clarity about the steps ahead, even if you’d be discussing the steps to be taken the next day.

Humility – we are all on the same boat. It is not about “I” or “You”. If a hole occurs on one side of the boat we are all going to sink… Using ‘We’ in communication makes everybody feel in accord with the leader. 

Optimistic yet Realistic- define reality using fact based information and embed optimism and positivity based on past history.

Purpose driven not pressure driven, remind people of “why” the organisation exists and utilise the opportunity of the lack of clarity to bring clarity on the core of your organisation and what keeps it going, especially in crisis like today’s.

……………………

Frequent- things are changing all the times, the more they change the more you communicate. Very important to keep all stakeholders informed continuously on actions you taking to deal with the current situation.

Examine team- be there for your team, address their insecurities and be proactive in seeking them out. Listen to them, be empathetic, contain their anger and fear so you can lead them. Show confidence, not in yourself, but in the team’s ability to get through the crisis.

Authentic- your communication style needs to reflect who you are. What you say and what you do is aligned. Check your body language and tone of voice when communicating. Especially when trying to communicate calm and ease yet your body language shows tension and tightness. 

Repeat – the pandemic threw our mind into stress and worry. Therefore it is recommended (and not a waste of time) to repeat messages you conveyed in the past.

Leadership in times of Covid19

This is the first post of four, based on a talk I gave at the World ORT Educator Forum May 2020 on leadership and management in times of crisis.

Source: Touchbasepro

This post is about the implications of the crisis on people’s mental health and the role of a leader in addressing this challenge.
Feel free to subscribe and follow me in the journey of leadership. Hope you can find it beneficial. Please share your comments, ideas, suggestions and your own stories and experiences.

Source: Founder Institute

Although the Covid19 pandemic is a matter of public physical health  we found ourselves, as  leaders, having to deal with the mental health implications of this crisis.

The lock-down restrictions thrown many into a turmoil of emotions, mostly negative, some even found themselves going through stages of grief. Grieving the loss of freedom, routine, normal life, our coffee at Startbuck with a friend. Learning to accept those loses was part of the process of coping. ‘The strongest survives’. And who is the strongest? The crisis highlighted the need of resilience in leaders.  Resilience is like a roly-poly toy that whenever is pushed, no matter how hard, will always stand up, many times in unpredictable ways.

How do we do that? How do we, as leaders, continue leading when we may be stuck at one of those stages of grief of denial or anger or depression and cannot find ourselves able to stand up?

On a personal level, leaders have to ensure that they start with themselves so that they are able to make decisions and communicate in a calm and relaxed manner.  

  1. Look up for leaders that are ahead of the game. Even observing political leaders that may be stuck on one of the grief stages, is a reminder that we are all human. But there were some shining stars. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand and the President of South Africa Cyril Ramaphosa delivered harsh news on restrictions and drastic lockdown in a warm and somehow humoristic ways. The manners in which they communicate during this crisis is something to learn from. 
  2. Reach out to your close network of friends, family and mentors for the mental support needed in this times.  
  3. Utilise the crisis as an opportunity for self-growth. All these courses/ podcasts/ books you kept on postponing due to lack of time. This pandemic and lock-down has given us time. So instead of filling this ‘space’ with non-conscious ‘binging’ on Netflix, utilise it for learning you always wished you’d do ‘if you only had the time’.

On a professional level, there are challenges of leading a team that some may be working from home and others not working, without knowing when they can come back to the office. Use this time to strengthen the organisation’s purpose and values;

  1. Remind yourself and team ‘why we are doing what we are doing’. Use the organisation’s vision and purpose as the “Northern Star’ to guide you through the uncertainty. At ORT SA, we reminded ourselves that ORT, which was established 140 years ago, went through crisis worse than today’s’ and yet it endured and evolved carrying on impacting the lives of people through education.
  2. Re look at your Values. Strong organisation’s values will serve you as anchors at this difficult times. If one of your values is increasing revenue and returns, you may need to review it as you may be setting your team for failure.
  3. Reflect on the organisation mission. What is the organisation doing? is it still relevant? how can the organisation provide solutions to Covid19 challenges? If the organisation is pivoting from the core purpose and changes how and what they are doing, it needs to be reflected in your mission statement. Create a ‘Covid19 Mission Statement’. ORT SA Covid19 Mission statement was the same with the addition of ORT2Connect the unconnected so we can continue fulfilling our mission which is making people employable and creating employment opportunities.

The fear and stress from catching the virus (especially if you are at high risk), fear from losing your job, fear from the unknown. People react differently to fear, some thrive under pressure and create amazing things but some find themselves paralysed without the ability to think, act, work, and make decision.

Be aware of this as a leader and be present. People are looking for leaders, not superheroes. Be the leader for others that you wish that you had.  

Its all about ANA

19 September 2015

This article was written in response to the news re postponement of the ANA (Annual National Assessment)

“In a last-minute move, the Department of Basic Education (DBE) on Friday announced that the 2015 Annual National Assessment (ANA), which was scheduled to start on Tuesday and be written by 8.6 million pupils, has been postponed until February next year,” News24 reported on 13th September: This news raises some questions and controversy regarding the DBE allegedly giving in to pressure by teachers’ unions: the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu), the National Professional Teachers Organisation of South Africa (Naptosa) and the South African Onderwysersunie (SAOU).

There is a sense reflected in the media of the discontent from this decision, although it was clear from previous reports that academics, schools and teachers’ unions were dissatisfied with the standards of the ANA and there was a need to re-examine and review the benchmark testing model.  Why the disappointment?  I think it is based on three main elements:

Leadership (or lack thereof) – the announcement was originated two days before the ANA exams were supposed to be administered. Some schools testified that they had already collected the exam papers and were prepared for the 15th of September. Why did negotiations between the two parties break down at the very last minute? And why were sms’s sent from the unions notifying schools of the expected cancellation while no notification from the Department of Basic Education was sent or received? This government body, whose role, according to its mission is  “ to provide leadership with respect to provinces, districts and schools in the establishment of a South African education system for the 21st century”, should be calling the shots, not the unions.

Accountability (or lack thereof) – the announcement by some of the teachers’ unions demanding that the assessments be done in three-year cycles in order to create time for remedial action, as published by IOL on the 14th of September, is worrying. If this statement is any indication of what is expected ahead, the purpose of administrating such benchmarking assessments collapses.  A period of three years for remedial action is excessive, unnecessary and defeats the role of assessment in education.

Opportunity (or missed one) – ANA caused tremendous debate in the scholar, academic and political world and many agreed that the way ANA is designed, administered and checked is not credible, not-authentic and not valid. The energy and efforts should focus on improving this benchmark assessment in order to use it as information for improving rather than auditing performance.

According to Grant Wiggins, an assessment expert, we must recapture the primary aim of assessment; to help students better learn and teachers to better instruct.  Teachers’ job is to teach to the outcomes, not to the test.

Students deserve a credible, relevant and user friendly assessment, they deserve timeous feedback and opportunities to practice and improve.

To achieve this, I believe that the DBE should focus also on teachers’ professional development, incorporating assessment.

In the ORT SA-Bidvest Math ICT programme, we include in a teachers professional development programme, the practice of planning, scoring, analysis and recording of pupils’ assessments on an on-going basis. Feedback to pupils and parents is practiced as well as adjusting teaching in alignment with the analysis of results. Assessments have the power to improve teaching and learning and teachers must be empowered to utilise it rather than be intimidated from it.

Albert Einstein reportedly had a sign on his office wall that stated: “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.” Tests don’t just measure; they teach what we value.

Innovation in schools

This article was published in The Jewish Life Magazine August 2015

In the past few months worldwide, the broadcast and print media have covered taxi driver protests objecting to the operations of Uber. Uber is an online taxi application which allows one to order a taxi using a mobile device. You are given the name of the driver who is collecting you, the registration number and type of car, the time you will be picked up and all this is done at a very competitive rate. This innovation has created huge resistance from taxi drivers in countries where Uber operates, as their livelihood is threatened by this system.
However, Uber may not be the ultimate disruption in public/ private transportation. We may find that another innovation such as the driver-less car will soon take precedence over both Uber and Taxis. Fantasy? Google, Volvo and other well-known car brands have already produced the first prototype of cars that cruise the road without a driver! One can only imagine the implications of such innovation, not only on our own lives, but also on the lives of the future workforce.
Globalization, skills shortage, escalation in the unemployment rate, leadership crisis, the need for a sustained plan to look after our natural resources and the climate crisis are all challenges that motivate us to transform education. The perception is that any future growth and prosperity will depend upon the education system -systems that theoretically are meant to provide our students with 21st century skills that will equip them to adapt to an uncertain future.
This requires schools to become leaders in innovation and to embrace and adapt it as part of their values and culture. I believe the three main components to drive innovative leadership in education are curriculum, pedagogy and leadership. What we teach, how we teach it and the leadership to do so in an innovative manner.

“If you are not changing your curriculum, you are saying that nothing is changing” Heidi Hayes Jacobs.
ORT Argentina realised the importance of entrepreneurship for the future of the economy and incorporated it as a part of their school curriculum. They have adopted the approach that although entrepreneurship can be taught, they do not guarantee to produce a Bill Gates or a Donna Karan, any more than a physic professor can guarantee to produce an Albert Einstein, or a tennis coach to produce a Venus Williams. However, by getting students with a suitable aptitude to start a business, ORT Argentina guaranteed to make them better entrepreneurs.

“If we teach today’s students, as we taught yesterday’s, we rob them of tomorrow” – John Dewey
How we teach must echo how our students learn and it must also prepare them for the future. Education systems are more and more adopting an approach to teaching that takes into consideration the learning and teaching that will be required in the 21st Century.
In Israel, Kadima Mada has implemented Smart Classrooms in schools at the periphery of the country, simultaneously training the teachers on the new pedagogy. The Smart Classrooms are technology enhanced classrooms that foster opportunities for teaching and learning by integrating learning technology, such as computers, specialized software and audio/visual resources.

“Innovation distinguishes between a leader and follower” Steve Jobs
Becoming innovative schools leaders, who promote innovative teaching and stimulates innovation amongst students and teachers, requires a proactive approach from school principals and school management teams. Innovation cannot be delegated and has to be modeled by the leaders of the schools. This can be done, by embedding it into schools’ values, promoting programmes such as exchanges students/ teachers with other schools to learn and explore other successful models, by continuous learning of future trends and by modelling creative thinking and communicating.
The World ORT ICT Seminars are held globally. In South Africa it is hosted by the South African Board of Jewish Education (SABJE) and driven by ORT SA. They assist Jewish Schools to learn about cutting edge technologies and trends and to actively learn about new pedagogies which support 21st century learning.

We all need to be able to learn to operate in a challenging, unpredictable environment. Change cannot be avoided and unfortunately cannot be predicted either. We therefore need to adopt an approach of innovation and leadership that will assist us with adopting change and gaining skills to help us cope effectively in unfamiliar and complex situations.