Dr. JoAnn Sternke, Superintendent of the Baldrige-winning Pewaukee School District (WI), recently shared a valuable tip at our What’s Right in Education event in August. This tidbit has resonated with our team as we have been reflecting on the work we are doing with emerging leaders in various partner districts. Developing as a leader requires that we embrace contradiction and that we open ourselves to conflict and discomfort. It also requires us to honor opposing perspectives. Examples of this include:

  • A leader beginning a crucial conversation and listening to varied opinions and responses
  • An emerging leader genuinely hearing a different perspective on how others may perceive her words
  • A teacher in a new role acknowledging how uncomfortable it feels not being the expert she was in her former role
  • Parents and teachers openly discussing the difficulties of new instructional content that differs from what we knew as students

Embrace Dissonance

Dr. Sternke says that dissonance leads to innovation. When we cannot all agree on something, it forces us to argue, collaborate, or build consensus. In doing so, we often arrive at an innovation we’d have missed without the battle; we also grow as a person and a leader. Amazon includes “Disagree and Commit” as one of their Leadership Principles: Leaders are obligated to respectfully challenge decisions when they disagree, even when doing so is uncomfortable or exhausting. Leaders have conviction and are tenacious. They do not compromise for the sake of social cohesion. Once a decision is determined, they commit wholly.

So try this tip: Embrace dissonance!

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