The concept of Professional Capital, as written about by Michael Fullan, made a big difference for my understanding of leadership in 2016. I followed up my reading of the book with an action plan, and it interesting looking back how much of this has happened in my practice due to a shift in philosophy rather than returning to this document like a checklist. Fullan presented at uLearn16 on new pedagogies in a heavy and provocative keynote, which was reinforced by a breakout on deep learning. Leading in a Culture of Change was written in 2001, and contains a lot of timeless content about leadership and change. Here are some thoughts from the book:
Leadership Development is more of a tortoise not a hare proposition: “leadership must be cultivated deliberately over time at all levels of the organisation” (vi). Change is a double edged sword: “when things are unsettled, we can find new ways to move ahead and to create breakthroughs not possible in stagnant societies” (1). Change can create fear, anxiety and danger; but also exhilaration, risk-taking, and excitement. Fullan’s model (below left) introduces the way that successful change through leadership can occur. The five areas are broken down in five chapters in the book. I’ve captured some reflection below on those five deep theoretical reasons why change occurs.
“Moral purpose is about means and ends” (13). The why we do things and the how we do them in closely linked the moral purpose and value underpinnings. In education I think this is evident in the way that schools are part of a community and not working in isolation. Nor is any one student treated as if they are isolated from connections. The lives of people within the organisation must be treated holistically with a view to not just making a difference to one individual, but to society as a whole.
Moral purpose is related to the idea of doing ‘good’. However, it needs to be acknowledged that there are multiple ways of going about ‘doing good’ – therefore reconiliation between views and perspectives is a fundamental part of leadership. Fullan argues that moral purpose will surface as a matter of course, but he warns: “although moral purpose is natural, it will flourish only if leaders cultivate it” (27).
Change is inevitable; we live in a change society. There are no shortcuts to effective change:
- the goal is not to innovate the most
- it is not enough to have the best ideas
- appreciate the implementation dip
- redefine resistance as a potential positive force
- reculturing is the name of the game
- change is not a checklist, it is always complex.
The way we approach change in terms of leadership style is important. Fullan suggests six styles (above, right picture) but 1 and 5 have negative impacts on educational climates. A convergence of styles is needed for effective change.
3. Developing Relationships
“The single factor common to every successful change initiative is that relationships improve” (5). Fullan here talks a lot about purposeful interaction and problem solving, balanced with being wary of easy consensus. The emphasis on the micro means of developing relationships (in my context I think of corridor conversations, morning teas, the weekly raffle) was a key takeaway – something I haven’t previously explicitly placed within a leadership model. Emotional intelligence (EI) was unpacked and heralded as a fundamental component of leadership.
4. Knowledge Building
We live in a knowledge society, and knowledge is a social process. The example I responded to here was the notion that we can identify and share best practice fairly well. This occurs naturally in most PL programmes. But the breakdown is how this best practice is transferred or assimilated by the rest of the staff. Knowledge sharing and collaboration needs to be a value, but what mechanisms activate this value?
5. Coherence Making
Coherence making is a perennial pursuit. Leadership is difficult in a culture of change because disequilibrium is common (and valuable, provided that patterns of coherence can be fostered) 
Fullan argues that disturbance a good thing. There were echoes here of uLearn’s gone-by with Lichtman’s ‘get comfortable with discomfort’ and Spencer’s ’embrace discomfort’. The job of the leader is to create the learning context for the coherence to be made – not to solve the issues – but to bring them to the surface and address them in a collaborative space. The leader must pick their moments, but also remember that “unsettling processes provide the best route to greater all-round coherence” (116).
Fullan concludes with three powerful interrelated lessons from the book: “the vital and paradoxical need for slow knowing, the importance of learning in context, and the need for leaders at all levels of the organisation” (122). I would offer a fourth: understanding and mastering convergence. Isolated skills on one specific mindset is not an appropriate leadership model. The modern ecology requires a convergence and understanding of the connections between the five capacities Fullan covers. The digital age makes this necessity more visible, and arguably more important as adaptability is key in response to exponential technology change.
Fullan, Michael (2001) Leading in a Culture of Change. Josey-Bass: San Francisco.