Do we need managers or leaders?

September 21, 2021 | Craig Doerksen


The pandemic has disrupted a lot, right? A lot in the workplace, and a lot in schools.

And, when things get stirred up, we notice status quo features of life, school, or work we had not seen before. They were always there, but once we see them in the light, we realize—that’s not a feature, that’s a problem!

One such thing is the work world—managersThis piece in The Atlantic illuminates the outsized role managers have in our workforce, and how remote-working has revealed the bloat. Chuck Blakeman of the Crankset Group years ago pointed out that work in what he calls The Participation Age doesn’t need managers as much as it needs stakeholders at every level of an organization.

What does this have to do with schools?  The industrial factories of the 19th century formed schools in their image just as much as they did businesses.  Companies are run by managers, managing middle-managers, managing workers; schools are run by administrators, managing teachers, managing students. It is a perfect arrangement for companies that want good, obedient employees—a school culture that, regardless of the content it teaches, conditions compliance, doing your homework, and keeping track of ‘assignments’.

In such schools and businesses, though, who are the stakeholders? Employees? Teachers?  Students?  None of the above. If the actual creators aren’t the stakeholders, what are the odds we’re creating the most, the best, we can?

Employees, teachers, and students should be stakeholders.  They should be participating in the outcomes of their energies, creating out of their God-given talents and skills and on-the-ground experience.

They need not management, but leadership.

Not ‘assignments’, but agency.

Not, permission to take a break, but permission to (as a coach might say) ‘bring it!’

Business leaders, do you give your staff permission to solve problems, or do they need to run ideas through management?

School leaders, do you give your teachers ownership of the means and outcomes of the school mission, or is that held by administrators?

Do you believe in your employees, your teachers?  Your students?

What might happen if we do?

Craig Doerksen

Craig Doerksen

Craig Doerksen

Prior to becoming the director of Waterloo School, Craig provided leadership for a number of prominent institutions, including Regents School of Austin; the Bluetower Arts Foundation in Eugene, OR; and Trinity School in Raleigh, NC. Craig holds a master’s degree in English from the University of Ireland and graduated from the University of Oregon with a bachelor’s degree in English.