Ive recently finished reading ‘The Infinite Game’ by Simon Sinek and it has really resonated with me in terms of how I view Education and also how I want to be as a potential School Leader. He speaks of leaders who have a finite mindset and play a finite game, these leaders base their ideals on winning and losing and justify their success on tangible metrics such as profit made or in the case of Education… results. Alternatively, he shares stories of infinitely minded leaders who pursue a Just Cause which is a purpose or a mission that is greater than oneself and powers you to outlast your competitors and propels you forward in the face of adversity empowering you to persevere in the face of adversity. I know which mindset I want to adopt.
Throughout the book Sinek provides a framework for companies and its leaders who want to play an Infinite Game. Sinek offers stories and guidance on these key areas which I will elaborate on through my view of Education: Just Cause, Trusting Teams, Ethical Fading & Worthy Rivals.
More than your “why” or purpose, a just cause is what motivates you to get out of bed in the morning. It’s the passion or hunger that burns inside that compels you to do what you do. Your just cause is what powers you to outlast your competitors. It propels you forward in the face of adversity and empowers you to persevere when you feel like giving up.
I could argue that there is no greater just cause than that of being a Teacher and working in Education. Where else would you have the opportunity to really make a significant difference in the lives and future of our young people. I absolutely love my job and get out of bed each morning with a clear purpose which I am sure I share with thousands of other teachers up and down the country. To investigate further the just cause of Education I really liked this quote from the The Voices of Youth:
“The purpose of education is to help instill curiosity and a love for learning in every child, so that they develop into young adults who contribute to humanity, follow their passions, and think for themselves, such that they leave school with a purpose and have the confidence to fulfill that purpose.”
Each School has their own values and mission statement. I would love to discuss this further with fellow educators to try further explore our own just causes.
What isn’t in doubt is that Education is a cause like no other in the world and as the great Nelson Mandela said “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
Sinek argues that a trusting team is one where it is safe to be vulnerable, it is ok to ask for help and make mistakes. He argues that trusting teams allow employees to take risks without fear of retribution or retaliation.
This one is an interesting concept for schools. In my experience I have always been trusted to do my job and with that I am creative with some of my lessons (to a certain extent) and am afforded time and opportunities to pursue my interests within the school community. However, I do know that people talk about toxic schools and toxic leaders where staff aren’t trusted to do their jobs and are micromanages by Heads of Departments and School Leaders. Sinek notes that if your employees don’t feel safe then it is the leaders fault not theirs. It is important that you set your culture to allow teachers to do what they are trained for and enact exactly why they came into the profession.
Sinek describes Ethical Fading as “a condition in a culture that allows people to act in unethical ways in order to advance their own interests, often at the expense of others, while falsely believing that they have not compromised their own moral principles.”
Sinek notes that if a team is not trusted and that structures are put in place instead of human leadership it could result in Ethical Fading. Finite leaders often hide behind processes and cite that a process is easier to trust than a human, apparently. In toxic schools where staff are not trusted this could lead to exclusively teaching to a test so that you are not singled out due to poor results. Where marks are awarded internally staff could also add a few here and there if they are judged solely on their results to avoid confrontation with their leaders. For me Schools should never be judged entirely on their results as there is years of hard work and stories behind every single result. If a school has an infinite mindset and develops young people with the necessary skills and attributes which will allow them to be successful in whatever form they choose post school then we have done our jobs and then some. Creating young people who will make an impact on the world should be our just cause with results simply one of many metrics from years of excellent teaching.
In the infinite game, adversaries are acknowledged and treated with respect, but our success or failure isn’t measured against them. Ultimately we are competing against ourselves, and our success or failure should be measured against our just cause. Our adversaries may push us to improve our service but in the infinite game we are constantly striving to become a better version of ourselves in order to fulfil our just cause.
This is an interesting concept for me and one that I think school leaders should take seriously. In some policy documents we are encouraged to ‘look outwards’ to identify and share best practice. Through ‘Insight’ (a benchmarking tool in Scotland) we are compared to a virtual comparator which is for the sake of comparison is our worthy rival. We should use this to push us to continually improve. If we set the right culture with a clear vision based on our just cause we should then produce trusted teams who will go over and above each and every day. This over time will lead to the results which will set a school apart and allow our young people to achieve anything they can set their minds to.
I would recommend this book to any teacher and school leader. It is important that we set our sights on creating a just cause for our schools that will encourage people to join our mission. Secondly, we must provide a culture that sets the tone for success and enable all of our staff to want to come in to work every single day. Finally, we must trust one another, a trusted staff member will do more and go over and above regularly because they will have the frameworks and support networks that will not only allow them to but encourage them to.
We all became teachers to make a difference, too somehow matter in the lives of young people and be that one person that tells them that they are brilliant in their own way. Far too often teachers leave the profession because their fire burns out and they no longer feel trusted. Sinek would argue that this is due to leadership being too results focussed and micro managing staff, having a finite mindset.
As I move forward in my career I want to advance with an infinite mindset and to make sure that the culture I set in my classrooms and school is one of trust, compassion, discipline and energy. I believe in all young people and also believe that I can make a positive difference in their lives.