Essentialism in a World of Nonessentialism

essentialismAfter reading Creativity, Inc. earlier this summer (blog thoughts here), I took a dive into Greg McKeown’s new book, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less. This is a terrific read, particularly if you feel inundated with work you don’t want to be the highest priority. While I learned quite a few new strategies I will personally use to focus more on the essential, I was struck by how our world as educators is so “Nonessentialist.”

What is “essentialism”? From the book….”Essentialism is not about how to get more things done; it’s about how to get the right things done. It doesn’t mean just doing less for the sake of less either. It is about making the wisest possible investment of your time and energy in order to operate at our highest point of contribution by doing only what is essential.”

Can you see how disconnected our world is from this? Sounds like education doesn’t it? Common Core, Educator Effectiveness, SLO, PVAAS, data, data, data…etc. Not so much… Is this what we want to be focused on? Is this what we really should be doing? Most of us would probably agree that there are plenty of things we should be doing that are not on the radar of education. How do we as leaders create a culture of Essentialism – doing only what is essential – when the current culture is screaming “Nonessentialism”?

In the appendix, McKeown connects his earlier theory to leadership. How many of these do we actually do in education?

  • Be ridiculously selective in hiring people. “A Nonessentialist tends to hire people frantically and impulsively – then gets too busy or distracted to either dismiss or reskill the people keeping the team back.”
  • Debate until you have established a really clear (not pretty clear) essential intent. – “Without clarity of purpose, Nonessentialist leaders straddle their strategy: they try to pursue too many objectives and do too many things.”
  • Go for extreme empowerment. “The Nonessentialist disempowers people by allowing ambiguity over who is doing what. When people don’t know what they are really responsible for and how they will be judged on their performance, when decisions either are or appear to be capricious, and when roles are ill-defined, it isn’t long before people either give up or, worse, become obsessed with trying to look busy and therefore important instead of actually getting any real work done.”
  • Communicate the right things to the right people at the right time. “The Nonessentialist leader communicates in code, and as a result people aren’t sure what anything really means.”
  • Check in often to ensure meaningful progress. “The Nonessentialist leader is not great on accountability. A primary reason and somewhat obvious reason is that the more items one pursues, the harder it is to follow up on all of them.”

I loved this book and highly recommend it for educational leaders! After all, if we don’t get the idea that we need to stop being forced to be Nonessentialist leaders, how will our organizations ever focus on the essential?

 

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