Is the metaphor a leader is like a parent valid?

I have been contemplating a leadership metaphor used by Simon Sinek on a recent Ted Talk:

“great leaders are like parents wanting to give their children (employees) opportunities to try and fail in safe ways and to discipline when necessary”.

I’m struck by the use of the term “discipline” in the metaphor when applied to leadership in a school. As a practicing principal is discipline synonymous with difficult staff conversations?

Recently in reviewing a series of whole day planning sessions with some of the key facilitators we discussed why a few teams did not seem make as much progress in using standardised data sets as other teams. We posed some questions around were the teams “on the bus” – e.g. use of evidence to inform decisions or where there other factors in play e.g. external factors or lack of teaching experience or too few opportunities for training and development. Of course it’s usually a combination of factors.

That’s not to say that people in other teams at times didn’t appeared to struggle with the use of evidence.

An example of one such struggle was where one team began discussing when to teach handwriting. Some teachers saw a natural connection between teaching handwriting when they were introducing sound symbol relationships. On the surface this sounds a logical connect however handwriting, which is basically motor patterning skills doesn’t necessarily relate to sound/ symbol concepts.

There’s a lot more to that discussion and the question I eventually posed was when are young people ready to learn handwriting and what evidence might you collect to make that determination?

In the end we agreed that modelling correct letter formation was a positive thing in a variety if contexts but to insist on children practicing these letter formations could lead to a general reluctance to learn through writing if correct letter formation became the intended or even unintended expectation.

This led the team to discuss the need to collect student samples to decide who might be ready for learning and practicing correct letter formation. From that discussion teachers then perceived that handwriting might need to be taught in groups at the stage of readiness not as a whole class lesson as was the previous practice. This discussion was essentially the start of an inquiry into a teacher problem of practice.

Is this team correction (the question I posed about the use of evidence) discipline? I’m not sure. Discipline is commonly defined as getting someone to follow the rules and there is some implication of punishment if you don’t.

Did all in the team agree (from the feedback, no) but a decision was reached and the team and children can move forward in consistent ways.

Perhaps if people don’t follow the team decision that provides for consistency then discipline is applied – usually a one on one conversation between leader and in this case teacher. But is it then about natural consequences of not following the decision (e.g. children becoming reluctant writers or being shunned by others in the team) or punishment (e.g. unsatisfactory performance review?).

I know that this discussion is a slight tangent to the leader creating a safe place for learning concept however this is the second time this whole discipline/punishment idea has been raised and applied to people in organisations who are “not on or subverting the bus”.

My wondering is how others view this whole discussion.

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