Decision Making and Values

Most leaders in schools are people of high integrity who believe their decision making is driven by the values that guide their practice. However when I ask middle managers in schools what are the values that guide their practice your rarely get a spontaneous response that suggests they have thought this through. Rather their response seems to suggest that they are intuitive in their decision making.

Leaders are constantly asked to make decisions that are not clear cut and their responses could vary according to the values they apply to the situation. Take, for example the following scenario.

A well-respected teacher asks to depart on vacation a few days before the end of semester as she and her family can save considerable money on the cost of flights by leaving early. Do you grant the request?

This is a scenario I present to middle managers in schools at my leadership courses and it provokes considerable debate. There are those who are driven by values around equality and fairness and would not allow this request in any circumstances, as it could never be granted to all teachers. They also argue that given the extended nature of teachers holidays how can you justify extra leave. However, others believe that the “well-respected teacher” should be rewarded by generously granting the leave. They see granting the leave as being flexible and compassionate and a way of acknowledging the excellent service of the teacher.

Each response can be argued effectively and neither is a better response. What is crucial is that the leader can effectively articulate why the decision was made and that explanation needs to be values driven. In the absence of such an explanation the leader risks drifting into what I call “flip flop” decision making where each decision is driven by circumstances rather than values and hence the decision making risks lacking consistency. The leader’s team then becomes confused and could lose confidence in the leader.

I would urge all leaders in schools to be thinking about the values that guide their practice. Just like a vision statement should be able to be articulated, so should the values that guide you as a leader.

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