• Andrea Paulakovich

Motion Leadership by Michael Fullan


"The skinny is about the unadorned facts - the core unobscured essence of the matter."


The Skinny

As I pondered the unadorned facts about systems change, I began to revisit the analogy to the Food Network. In the beginning of prepping and preparing great recipes, you would open a French chef's cookbook and feel overwhelmed by unknown ingredients and steps that felt overwhelming. Upon try number one, you give up and feel defeated. Walking away from this experience you were determined to never, ever try this again. What the Food Network did, oh so eloquently, was find the skinny. The unadorned fact that if anyone can be a chef (mind wanders to the movie Ratatouille), you must make the complex simple. This is step number one of Motion Leadership.


The skinny is about "simplexity" - finding the smallest number of high-leverage, easy-to-understand actions that unleash stunningly powerful consequences."

Once you find the unadorned facts, and figure out how to make the complex simple, you can begin to work as a team. The key is to build capacity. A top-down approach will never, ever work. As leaders, we must jump into the trenches, pull up our sleeves, and immerse ourselves in the day-to-day work. It is our job to model life-long learning and encourage risk-taking (while staying focused on the skinny). It is not our job to micromanage, to make judgments, or believe we have the power to change everyone/everything.


A change-savvy leader:

  • carefully enters a new setting

  • listens to and learns from those who have been there the longest

  • engages in fact finding

  • engages in joint problem solving

  • carefully diagnoses the situation

  • forthrightly addresses people's concerns

  • is enthusiastic, genuine, and sincere

  • obtains buy-in for what needs fixing

  • develops a credible plan for making that fix

This list is not about finding someone who has all the answers, or a magical solution, it is about a leader who believes in relationships first, relationships always. Once we have developed strong relationships, we have to be the guide on the side who will continue to encourage when the implementation dip occurs, and it will hit you hard. Any change comes with moments of questioning, resistance, frustration, fear, and an insatiable desire to give up when it feels like it is too hard. As a motion leader, your job is to "...demonstrate persistence with flexibility but never stray from the core purpose."


As you immerse yourself in change, beware of fat plans. Fat plans are the beautifully written 46 page long plans that have the answer to everything. Research has shown the well-served school plans are clearly focused and sufficiently simple so that everyone can understand their role in the execution of the plan.

"Research on attitudinal change has long found that most of us change our behaviors somewhat before we get insights into new beliefs."

Within this book, there is a story of Nora, the head lunch lady who was frustrated by her new leader, Jamie Oliver. He wanted to dump her current system on its proverbial head. She resisted and shared her frustration through her words and actions. She was not going to allow someone to change her well-oiled machine. Although Jamie could see the need for change, he decided to reserve judgment and instead take Nora to his famous London restaurant to receive training from his acclaimed chef, Arthur Potts. Nora learned through this experience the importance of basic skills, ensuring you don't overcook food, and the rule that you never, ever send a dish out without tasting first.


"Gradually these new behaviors began to make sense to Nora, and she started to alter her beliefs (but not before a few dozen more change obstacles)."

"Behavior before beliefs." The reason Nora was able to change her beliefs was because she was immersed in the change. She was experiencing the behaviors Jamie Oliver believed would positively impact the lunch system. A key takeaway is that you cannot spend inordinate amount of time on beliefs...instead, you need to "...give people new experiences in relatively nonthreatening circumstances, and build on it, especially through interaction with trusted peers...."


If we truly desire change, we must understand that the skinny goes like this:

  • to get anywhere, you have to do something

  • in doing something, you need to focus on developing skills

  • acquisition of skills increases clarity

  • clarity results in ownership

  • doing this together with others generates shared ownership

  • persist no matter what

  • resilience is your best friend

As you grow collaboratively, what "...seemed impossible at the beginning was truly not that hard in retrospect." Leaders (which come in many different capacities and without official titles) must learn to become "...savvy by reflective doing..." This continuous process of reviewing, refining, and reflecting will allow the group to develop capacity and begin to believe in themselves and see results. The entire group becomes comfortable with the difficult. You go skinny by "...focusing on the smallest number of things you can describe clearly to others and that have amazing simplexity power."


A connection is made with purpose. Individual teachers begin to see their collective purpose. My students becomes everyone's students; however, we cannot stop there. The next step is a little friendly competition. As the bigger picture comes into focus, with a common endeavor in sue and a greater moral purpose, we need to thrive on a little competitive collaboration. When we look to each other to learn and grow, we become a team. In large school districts, it can be easy to become an island; however, education is not an island business. My kids should be our kids. Each school should be working together with a common vision and set of beliefs. There should be "...high expectations where no excuses are acceptable, with a shared focus for action." Together we have an allegiance to each other.


"If they can do it why can't we...it is not the kind of competitiveness that leads to boasting about your school's accomplishments. It is more about competing with yourself to be as good as anyone else."

A final note on motion leadership, an allegiance will not carry the system if we don't have empathy and respect for people who have not had the opportunity to develop the capacity to become effective. As we focus on the skinny, we must always focus on building capacity. For in the end, "...the skinny is that nothing succeeds if only leaders are working on it."

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