This was the sign on the door. This was the day 1 chair with 3 legs bewildered 10 leaders.
Around the boardroom table in a regular urban primary school was the headteacher, senior leaders, governors, and external “important” visitors. Strategy, progress, and school improvement were the items on the agenda.
All staff had been briefed. The meeting was written up on the daily events board in the staff room. It’d been emailed to all staff earlier that morning as a reminder. And the sign on the door said, “Do not disturb unless urgent: important meeting in progress.”
Then came the knock. Well, perhaps less of a knock and more of a scraping as someone fumbled at the door handle.
The conversation stopped.
As the door opened, a blue plastic chair came into view. A standard primary school chair – with a difference.
Three chair legs pointed downward towards the floor. One leg stuck out horizontally.
Behind the chair emerged a member of staff. 10 people around the table looked at the chair in silence, waiting in expectation to learn of the urgent nature of this interruption.
“I found this chair. Shall I put it in the skip?”
Senior leadership involves being prepared for the unexpected. “It’s the curved balls that will get you!” was what a former headteacher always told me.
The 3-legged chair incident has never left me. What learning can be taken from this curved ball?
Was it that the member of staff had no concept of other priorities – a bigger picture greater than that of a broken chair?
Was it that what leadership considered to be a trivial problem was in fact a big problem to the member of staff?
Or was it something about the organisation that did not empower staff to be decision-makers at every level?
Since this moment, I have been a strong advocate of enabling staff to take ownership of their daily jobs and become decision-makers, rather than micro-managing.
Coaching staff invariably takes longer than just firing off the answer – but for those who want to lead real growth rather than taking a sticky plaster approach, creating an empowered staff with leaders and decision-makers at all levels is how to build a sustainable business without papering over the cracks.
If you want to develop your leadership culture and skills, contact here.