We spend the first part of our lives having little or no say and we accept this because we are raised to think it is the only way. But is this really true? Should being a dependant mean having no autonomy? Should being a child mean you have no choice or voice?
When I was a kid, I was that little rebel, that kid that cherished the invite to participate in the decision making. I didn’t always like being told what to do. And when I felt the rules of our house and family were restricting my independence, I would argue and fight to have my voice heard. I felt that I was far more mature than people perceived me to be. My mum would often remind me that there are other children in the household that have to follow the same rules. I would argue that I am an individual and that certain rules shouldn’t apply to me or make sense to me. Needless to say this did not go down well with my African parents.
I remember being in my teens and watching this tv show that had a scene where a family meeting was called by the parents. I remember being so fascinated with the concept of family meeting. I laughed thinking the kids rule in that house and how that could never happen in a Somali household. In my mind the parents’ actions equated to them giving up their power to their children but I later realised that was not the case. It was about empowering their children and giving them a choice and a voice. My husband and I decided to add this to our parenting style. We have regular family meetings where everyone adds to the agenda. My five years old loves it and her older siblings use it to negotiate their chores, curfew and the responsibilities that come with becoming young adults. I believe our children feel that they have a voice and they know we value their input. I believe one of the reasons why our children are flourishing is because they have a level of autonomy which is vital for them to become who they are meant to be or want to be.
Like my children, I flourish when my autonomy is nurtured, when I am left to get on with a task, a project, my role. To me autonomy means freedom, it means independence, it’s having the opportunity to soar and to explore my strengths and my weaknesses. It is having the chance to discover how I lead and to learn from my mistakes. Like many people, having autonomy is very important to me. This is true for my professional and my personal life. I struggle working in schools, departments or teams that practice micro management. I find this type of organisational culture stifling, soul destroying and detrimental to mental and physical well being as well as my personal growth and development as a professional.
During my 13 years in education, I have been line managed by individuals who I would call leaders and others who were not leaders but managers. And you can imagine which of these line managers I found suffocating and suppressive. I am a confident and independent individual, I do not respond well to being micromanaged and this has landed in hot waters on a few occasions. I don’t understand why organisations employ someone to do a job but yet can’t trust them to get on with that job. Everyone should have the right to some degree of autonomy in order to function in this world. I can accept that there are times where leaders may need to closely manage staff and situations. What I cannot accept is being stripped of my independence and disempowered because of someone else’s ego, fear, insecurity or incompetence in doing their role to lead.
Have you ever had to manage up? Now try to imagine managing up the same person who is trying to control you and dismiss your experience and skills. And although you can make them look good, they choose to see you as someone who can make them look bad, someone who is a threat. How does one overcome this? Thank GOD for coaches, those wise people who talk you out of those emotion driven actions that could land you in a disciplinary hearing. I am happy to report that I remained professional in this situation. I fused my coach’s advice and my own strategies to deal with the situation and that poor insecure soul.
Then there is that time I had a line manager who micromanaged everything I did. I was told it was because I was new and once she sees what I am capable of then she will take a step back. I later found out that this particular line manager had dealt with a few post holders who were inept and that her new style of management was born out of these circumstances. So, I was the victim of a reactionary strategy that this leader felt it was essential to effectively do her job. To be fair to her, once we had an honest conversation and I understood her ‘why’ and she told me the context, everything changed. I saw her humanity and she saw mine. She ended up being one of the best leaders I’ve had the pleasure of working with. I learnt from her and she learnt from me.
We work in a very high-stakes accountability sector that can often be riddled with systems and policies which stifle individualism, originality, identity and diversity of thought and leadership. People come into teaching because they want to make a difference, they want to use their passion, skills and experience to enrich the schooling experience of the young people. However in order for us to do our profession justice, we require autonomy, we require trust and our leaders to find the balance between: control/compliance and autonomy/self-governance.