Category Archives: vision without execution is hallucination

Why a Compelling Vision is Not Enough in Leadership

Early in my career, I remember a math teacher who was brilliant in the subject. His knowledge and understanding of the subject was astounding, yet his students struggled. Concepts that were easy to him, his students struggled with, and it seemed that he struggled with understanding why they had a hard time.  He struggled connecting his knowledge to his students.  Great understanding of content, does not make you a great teacher.

The same can be said with leadership.  Having a doctorate in the field of leadership does not necessarily equate that you are a great leader.  Although it is admirable to go through such a process, knowledge about being a leader, doesn’t make you a great leader.  Connections are key.

Yet something that I have seen often in education is “Dine and Dash Leadership”.  The head of an organization, or a political figure, will come to an event and share an amazing “vision for the future of education”. They will share their thoughts to try to inspire the group or set a direction, and then as soon as the rest of the learning begins, they leave.  Often the reason shared is that they have so many other commitments and are busy, but isn’t everyone in education?  Can you imagine a learning environment with students where we said we are too busy to make time to connect with them?  What value does that show to the people that they serve?  If we are not able to connect with those they serve, no matter how amazing the “vision” is, it is unlikely that it will ever come to fruition if we do not build relationships with those that we serve.


The past weekend at #TDSBCamp (put on by the Toronto District School Board, the largest school board in Canada), John Malloy, the Director of Education for TDSB (highest level in Ontario School boards),  shared a wonderful vision for education that both celebrated and pushed educators within the room.  To me though, this was not the important part of the work.  John then stayed and learned alongside teachers, tweeted his thoughts with the rest of the group, made connections both online and offline (while sitting in the room and also earlier in the day when he was not able to be there), and talked to every single person in that room that wanted to connect.  He was not only there to share his thoughts, but to learn from the thoughts of others as well.  The vision was compelling and impressive, but not as much as the execution of leadership.

What we have to realize for leadership is that creating connections is the work.  No matter the knowledge, the accolades, the position title, administrators will not be able to lead, if we do not create those connections and model the servant leadership that is so needed in our schools today.

You might be ready to lead, but is anyone ready to follow?


What is innovative leadership?

In 2014, I wrote about the “8 Characteristics of an Innovative Leader“, and listed those characteristics as the following:

  1. Visionary
  2. Empathetic
  3. Models Learning
  4. Open-Risk Taker
  5. Networked
  6. Observant
  7. Team Builder
  8. Relationship-Focused

Although these characteristics are obviously a part of the equation, could the idea of an “innovative leader” be simplified?

In the book, “The Innovator’s Mindset; Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead a Culture of Creativity“, I define “innovation” as the following:

innovation as a way of thinking that creates something new and better. Innovation can come from either “invention” (something totally new) or “iteration” (a change of something that already exists), but if it does not meet the idea of “new and better,” it is not innovative.

So what does “leadership” mean? Many people have different definitions of the word (this is a great article on “30 Ways to Define Leadership“), but for the sake of this post, I would say leadership is the ability to influence others to move towards positive results.  What is crucial about this idea is that leadership can happen from any position, in many aspects of what any organization does.

So what does combining these two ideas look like?  Here is a first definition:

Innovative leadership is the ability to both think and influence others to create “new and better” ideas to move towards positive results.

Here are the elements that are essential in this definition:

  • The ability to think differently.
  • The ability to create something from thinking differently (“Vision without execution is hallucination.” Thomas Edison)
  • The ability to model this in your own leadership practice.
  • The ability to also influence others to do the same.
  • That these actions lead to “new and better”, not just new.
  • “Results” should not simply read “test scores”; it can be providing opportunities for students to find and solve meaningful problems, finding positive ways to develop community, developing more effective assessments that serve student learning, developing positive inclusive practices in school, or a myriad of other positive ideas.

Leadership is not about “self”, but others, yet what one models to others is essential in leadership.  We cannot expect others to think differently without embracing this ourselves.

Just some thoughts on the idea of “innovative leadership” and how “The Innovator’s Mindset” below is embraced at all levels of our organizations.

Image created by @SylviaDuckworth

Image created by @SylviaDuckworth