A Review: The Six Secrets of Change

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I finished reading The Six Secrets of Change: What the Best Leaders Do to Help Their Organizations Survive and Thrive by Michael Fullan (@MichaelFullan1) when I attended the Quest conference in November. An added bonus? While there I was also fortunate to have Mr. Fullan sign my book!

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It has taken some time to reflect upon what I wanted to say about this book, but it was a timely read as much has been said lately about the importance of culture in the workplace, and that was essentially what this book was trying to emphasize: to impart large-scale, effective reform  you must build an effective, culture that engages the majority of the organization.

The six secrets are “synergistic”, (p.10) meaning the secrets are not to be focused on in isolation but as part of the larger theory of action for big system change. The six secrets are meant to work in harmony, much like the many individuals who balance each others strengths and weaknesses and collaborate in a thriving organization.

As a whole, the six secrets are not by themselves revolutionary, in fact they are based on seemingly common sense. The fact that the six secrets need to even be identified perhaps provides the greatest insight into the issue of [education] system change as a whole. Have we stumbled so far as to forget these basic values that build and support a culture that can adhere to its core values, create the best conditions for success for its employees yet be flexible enough to meet increasing demands for change?

There is nothing complex about the Six Secrets of Change. They are as follows:

1.Love your Employees

It is simply not enough to be caring and thoughtful towards your employees (although that cannot be stressed enough), a forward thinking organization also allows its employees to thrive and take creative risks that will positively challenge the thinking and process of the system in an effort to improve the system as a whole without fear of professional consequences.

2.Connect Peers with Purpose

Systems that value the power of the group know the power behind collaboration and connectedness and support and encourage this thinking among its members. By connecting the group the intent will shift from selfish, single-mindedness to a positive, larger-scale purpose. As educators do we not have an obligation to not only improve from within but to assist those outside of our organization to thrive as well so that in the end we all “thrive and survive”?

3.Capacity Building Prevails

I really liked Fullan’s definition of capacity because he went beyond the acquisition of skills, which is what I had normally defined capacity building as. He defines someone with capacity as also having the ability to attract and use resources wisely and one who invests time and energy into getting things done collectively and continuously (57). Most powerfully Fullan suggests that organizations look for “system talented” (71) people who can leverage the power, motivation and knowledge of the group. Imagine the impact that this definition can have  on the system overall if we leverage all the strengths of the group rather than the strengths of the few?

4.Learning is the Work

If an organization can provide conditions in which the 6 Secrets exist, then a culture of learning that is steeped in connectedness and reflection will allow the system as a whole to move forward.

5.Transparency Rules

Transparency goes beyond simply sharing the results of assessments. Thriving systems share the effective practice behind the results. By making a connection to the practices that informed the results and by having a moral responsibility to move all parts of the system forward (classroom, school, Board, province, global education) we all benefit as learners and as a culture.

6.Systems Learn

Systems must demonstrate and model a growth mindset. By providing leadership opportunities for its members, the collective capacity to “get it right” increases. Creating leadership that is expected to know it all will most definitely ensure that they do not and the culture and organization will be impacted.

As Fullan clearly states throughout, the Six Secrets of Change is not a foolproof plan.  As you read through the Six Secrets of Change it becomes clear that Fullan is not providing the reader with a directive for successful planning, but for a recipe for creating, or improving a culture so that change occurs organically. I recommend this book for anyone who wants to be a part of the bigger discussion on change leadership and wants to have a positive impact on the culture of the system from within.

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