‘Seven Sides’ to ‘The Ceannas Index’ – a journey

Twenty years ago I was doing some research into school leadership and asked a teacher to describe her school in a single metaphor. She did so as follows:

“This school is a woman lying in bed with a blanket that isn’t quite big enough to cover her. Every time she turns over a different part of her body sticks out from under the blanket.”

What was remarkable was that everyone else in the room immediately nodded their heads in agreement, for this was a school that no matter how it tried it always managed to leave some part of the school excluded or ignored.

It was from that moment that I became convinced of the power of metaphor to capture very complex concepts in a manner that is jargon free and immediately understandable.

However, the world of leadership theory fulfils neither of those two latter characteristics – for it is jargon laden and is often anything but understandable. And so it was that I set out on what has been a remarkably long and fascinating journey to research, test and develop a model of leadership based upon a series of inter-related metaphors, which would enable people to better understand their own leadership behaviour, the leadership behaviour of others, and the culture of their organisations.

The metaphors which have evolved over these years that cover the entire range of leadership characteristics are: the sculptor; the scientist; the builder, the gardener; the parent, the conductor; and, the villager.  Each of us will have elements of all of the above in our day-to-day behaviour and certainly we will feel more comfortable in some of these modes than in others.  The metaphors that have been selected reflect a particular view of leadership, and one, which is focused upon enabling and supporting innovation and improvement.

Emerging from the fields of behavioural finance, systems thinking and personal leadership experience, the model provides the leader with a ‘decision making framework’ with a variety of integrated perspectives – and in so doing reflects more accurately the practice of exceptional leaders.

The model adopts an optimistic and appreciative view of people, as opposed to a deficit view that focuses on people’s weaknesses and deficiencies. It recognises that we are all different and that we bring our own strengths to any given situation that can complement the strengths of others. 

By allowing the leader to consciously view such challenges from different perspectives, it frees them from their default position, which is often an intuitive and automatic response to a situation. Daniel Kahneman, the Nobel Laureate in economics, described this as the difference between thinking “fast” and “slow”, where “slow” thinking is conscious, rational and rule-based. By applying a “leadership decision framework”, the leader can begin to develop a slower and more rational approach to leadership problems, while providing them with the building blocks with which to identify and implement powerful solutions.

The initial working title for the model was “The Seven Sides of Educational Leadership”.  However, my eldest son told me, as sons tend to do, that the title was ‘rubbish’; and so the term “The Ceannas Index” was born – ‘ceannas’ being the ancient Gaelic word for leadership.