Monday, August 18, 2014

Time Travelling Monday at the Multiplex

As I ate a pizza prior to showtime I noted the clutch of kids lingering outside the multiplex.  A sign that the doors were closed and that the venue and the product were aimed at them at this hour, 1pm on an August Monday.  Looking ahead to the movie I meandered here to see, I wondered which of the movies on the screens today would mark this summer for them.  When I was their age, I'd likely footnote E.T. and Poltergeist from the summer when I was 15.  The other details -- my parent's ailing Buick Century wagon, the house, the food of the day, the paper route -- all come back, but only with a bit more effort than either of the movies brought, or even those respective trips to the theatres.  I still distinctly recall the spill that resulted from trying to lug three drinks with their straws already installed. The decay of the Buick and the gamut of repairs that piled up, however, escapes me in its entirety.

This afternoon, this 47-year-old father of a 2-year-old (okay, he's closer to 3) looked back at various pasts and into the future as I occupied the back row of cinema 6 for Richard Linklater's Boyhood

There were maybe a dozen viewers in total, all adult and probably a decent turn-out for the time of day. Given Linklater's reputation for pushing the envelope on the narrative of his films with the Before series he has done with Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy and by adapting the non-fiction book Fast-Food Nation into a feature picture rather than a documentary, the notion of him taking 12 years to make a coming of age picture does not come as a complete surprise or a viewing experience that would lack reward.  As the film moved from limited release to gradually wider release this past weekend, I was eager to take it in before it slipped away from the local screens.

From the moment Eller Coltrane's Mason begins dialogue with his mother, played by Patricia Arquette, as the two drive home from school and discuss his homework, it is clear that Linklater cast the lead role brilliantly, if not perfectly. Coltrane's performance from these opening moments one that is unguarded and nuanced with a realism that throughout the movie that left me feeling more like a bug on a neighbour's wall rather than a popcorn-eater in the dark.  The movie was a constant invitation to meditate on the era that has just passed, my own youth and look ahead to the rites of passage that my son will go through and lead me through as the years ahead fly by all too quickly.  There were occasions throughout the movie, where I reflected on my own experiences dealing with peer pressure and as a parent think of how precarious a situation may unfold if my son does not have the sense of direction and moment that Mason had in most instances.

The drama in the movie was realistic and did not resort to more substantial traumas that might unbalance other characters in other stories and leave them scrambling to rediscover equilibrium by the end.  Instead, the audience is asked to follow the path and thoughts of the quiet, thoughtful dreamer splayed on the lawn in the first shot and grapple with the ever-lingering question, "What do you want to do?"  It is not an unfamiliar question but the story of Mason's growth is presented with such a degree of intimacy that the characters feel familiar in ways that they do not when the drama is more contrived to suit formula.  There are dramatic elements on the home front throughout the movie: changes of homes, careening marriages and the trouble that kids find their way into when they are finding their way and testing themselves and their boundaries but the main question that lingers in the audience is the opening one.  What is Mason going to grow up to be?

With this film, Richard Linklater has invited the audience to meditate on the gradual growth of his character in a film with novelistic depth.  Its poignancy, eye for the era that has passed and for the rites that all boys go through in one way or another resulted in a movie of quiet, confident brilliance.  As the story closed on this chapter, I thought about the years that lay ahead for my wife and I until, as Mason's mother put it on the day he leaves home, "The worst day of my life!"  This movie is more likely to resonate with me 12 years from now than it may with the boys who lined up for Guardians of the Galaxy (probably the 3D version) but it will be one that I will dust off for my son at a certain moment in our lives to let him know that -- even if he may find himself out of his element at some point in his life -- his experience is a common one and that he'll get through it somehow.  Really.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014


It is a privilege to recall Robin Williams' brilliant career from that meteoric rise in the late 1970's to all that has transpired since.  There is a stock photo of Williams' as a street performer in New York, complete with the grease paint of a mime in the 1977 World Book Encyclopedia Year Book.  The publishers' assumption may have been that Williams still had the anonymity to pass as just another bit of local New York street colour but by the time the volume was in circulation he had already appeared on Happy Days as the alien Mork and spun off on to Mork and Mindy (and made a leap into the present) shortly after that.  The attire was much the same template that Mork wore the blue and orange striped T-shirt and suspenders so there was no denying that Mork was Williams' The childlike energy and sense of wonder that Mork possessed was convincingly alien to me and Garry Marshall's casting of Williams as an alien may have been the only way to bring Williams' talents to the large audiences that he achieved with his previous sitcoms.  It was the first of countless revelations as Robin Williams matured.

As the spark of inspiration that fed Mork and Mindy ran its course and Williams took his talents and his profile onto the concert stage that energy was unbound and there was a sense at the time that he was where he belonged and that the movies like Popeye and Moscow on the Hudson were either respectable efforts or bombs because they just didn't get Williams or make the most of the talents that he had.  The stand-up routines where he spun off moments such as Elmer Fudd singing Bruce Springsteen's "Fire" or conjured the notion of Pavarotti working a night club with a "two Jews walk into a bar" riff that are firmly deeply etched in my mind.  If there was such a thing as stand-up karaoke there are countless wannabes (myself included) who would revel in the opportunity to bring their best tribute to Williams to the stage.  In that medium he was unbound by script and expectation and improvised at will.  The results were brilliant, profane and profound.  In his 1987 A Night at the Met, Willams emphasizes his concerns about raising his kids and poignant concerns about whether he or any of us for that matter can do it in a world that has given him the material that it had during the Reagan era.

Could any of us have imagined Mork was a mere 20 years away from an Oscar?

The serious work was always there, whether as that respite during stand up work, the efforts such as the adaptation of Saul Bellow's Seize the Day (for PBS no less) and the touches that he added to those more manic film roles he was expected to perform his shtick in.  Good Morning Vietnam had acknowledged the war rather than merely used it as a backdrop for Williams and that indicated the transition to "more serious" work and his performance in the face of the street warfare was on-key and the transition to the role in Dead Poets Society gave him the platform and space to do what was familiar to audiences while bringing a complex character to the screen.  Was John Keating doing right by his students to inspire them as rebelliously as they did?  Was he giving those students that proper opportunity to think critically by having them tear pages out of the texts on day one? He made teaching literature cool.

Awakenings. Robin Williams had the quiet, introverted, awkward part while DeNiro had the role that let him cut loose.  It may have been the most stunning moment of his career, a revelation of the depth he invested himself in a role or a performance.  (I should not overlook the curiosity that Penny Marshall, sister of Garry, directed him in this role.)  There was never a moment in the movie where he turned manic with one of those signature riffs that left me wondering how in the hell the animators on Aladdin managed to adequately animate the vocal performance he provided without massive doses of coffee or a hair transplant or how everyone else on the set of his other performances could keep a straight face.

The energy that went into those broader performances was present in the calm, restrained roles such as Malcolm Sayer in Awakenings and in that you could see the professionalism and commitment to his craft and the ability to immerse himself into his roles as deeply as actors we are more apt to laud and lionize.  It was a commitment that made Williams succeed, regardless of audiences' expectations and it may have challenged writers and directors to ensure that he had plenty of material to draw on to make a character. Each time he performed he took those around him to a new and unexpected place and the results were breathtaking. In Awakenings, however, he did so much with his hands in the quietest most private moments to communicate the vulnerability of a brilliant character he played in that movie.  He was capable as packing as much into the slightest, most minimal gestures as he did into his entire body when doing improv or stand-up.

That vulnerability that he exposed in Awakenings and in Good Will Hunting was at the heart of his work throughout his career and life. There was so much more left in him, but maybe I'm assuming that with the selfishness of the audience when he actually left us when he was truly and finally spent. Farewell and thank you.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Step

Today marks the 45th anniversary of Neil Armstrong's first steps on the moon.  It is undeniably remarkable that the Age of Flight accelerated from the first flight at Kitty Hawk to this apogee in the space of a mere 60 years and despite the other events of the day it may have been the most optimistic moment for the United States of the second half of the 20th Century.

It seems odd that, despite those halcyon days of the 1960s and early 1970s, the era of American space travel is all but over.  Whenever I look at my 2-year-old's picture books with their images of Saturn rockets and space shuttles, it strikes me as odd that they are ultimately relics of a bygone era. That something so laden with technology and ambition to shape the future is a museum piece because the ambition itself has been rendered moot by the economics are questions about the return on investment seems incongruous.  Telling him that the space shuttle is in a museum but not because it has been replaced by more modern technology flies in the face of our long-standing assumptions about progress.

And that may be a good thing.

During the 1960's, there was probably a gee whiz glee and the possibilities of what's next and a belief that progress itself was an immutable or even an immortal thing that would never stop rewarding us with new awes or gadgets and that challenges could be met merely by pouring more energy, money or effort into something.  There is still the occasional murmur about heading to Mars on a mission, but given the distance that would have to be covered and it is more likely to remain science fiction or fantasy.  NASA no longer has the fleet or perhaps the talent that it once had so their progress toward a Mars mission is likely proceeding at a much slower pace than they would like.  Today, however, few people can trace direct links between the benefits of the technology that went into the space program or the research that was done.  There were achievements but they have likely been taken for granted or diminished to the snarky response of, "Tang?"

We have heard less and less of the "if we can put a man on the moon" confidence-builder in recent years and it may be due to a loss of hope in solving problems or meeting the challenges that pose themselves to us as a society or a civilization.  It has become more evident that the cliche shows a limited approach to problem-solving and an unrealistic faith in technology as the answer to all problems.  The rocket to the moon mindset is as obsolete remnant of an all-too-linear way of thinking.  Poverty, the drug war, equity are just some of the challenges that had at one point or another been met with the same approach that was adopted when pursuing the moon shot.  Many of these problems are right where they were before the "solution" of more was put forward.

If, over the course of time, we have developed a greater sense that progress has been a mixed blessing and that there need to be solutions that integrate the resources that we have to apply to them rather than just pile them onto a problem without giving too much thought to the way those resources are mixed and calibrated to address the challenges that we are trying to address.  Merely throwing as much as possible or available at a problem is no longer as feasible as it use to be.  Look no further than the cuts that have come to NASA as the American government has struggled with its budgetary restraints.

Beyond that, there have been the possibilities that have emerged when wider ranges of stakeholders have been involved in contributing their insights to problem-solving, creating a more comprehensive approach to problem-solving and moving toward a more rational approach to achieving goals rather than seeking great leaps that never deliver what was advertised.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Opt-Out

Lebron James' decision to explore free agency early is not a surprise whatsoever.  The challenges facing the Miami Heat as the Big Three tried to carry a shallow bench leavened the schadenfreude of this year's NBA's final with a sense that the Big Three actually did as much as they could but the other key players, namely Mickey Arison and Pat Riley did not bother to meet James, Bosh and Wade halfway.

When Lebron gave his pre-game pep talk leading into Game 5 of the finals with the Spurs this year it seemed to be an underwhelming effort at motivating his teammates and it was not the first time that he had struggled to do that during these playoffs.  It may have been a matter of not knowing what else to say or perhaps a superstar's ability to rise to the occasion on the court is something that he finds it difficult to put into words.  The promises of "we'll get it back to Miami" and the insistence that the Heat follow his lead were backed up by his performance through the first quarter of the game but James' voice at that moment and in the post-game press conference as well seemed constricted, less rich with expression and emotion than it normally is.  By the way, when do leaders actually use the word "lead" or go as far as to say "follow my lead"?  Time for a speechwriter, no?

Whether following a narrative that spans the last 12 months to the previous Spurs-Heat final or a longer story going back 47 months to the formation of the Big Three, something about James' voice during that pep talk and during the press conference that followed the game that night revealed that the strain on James was perhaps something other than the wear and tear of four straight seasons to the finals with an Olympics thrown in to burn off a good portion of one of those summers.  Chris Bosh as his wont to as the reflective Iron John of the trio, disclosed that the season was not particularly fun and that was easy to tell from the strain in James' voice.

It had been clear throughout the 2013-14 regular season that the Heat lacked the depth that helped it to its two championships.  During the headier days of the Big Three in 2010, there was the bemused speculation about Penny Hardaway interest in coming out of retirement to join.  Given how little the bench contributed this year, the more sardonic might suggest that Penny could have made the team this year.

Heading into 2013-14 the additions of Greg Oden and Michael Beasley - each Webster's calibre entries under the heading reckless gamble "reclamation projects" were all Riley stocked the bench with.  The Heat have been hamstrung by the CBA, but Pat Riley's press conference at the end of the season did little to acknowledge the responsibility that ought to fall to him for the results of the 2013-14 season. Did Riley roll the dice on the rest of the league imploding the way the Pacers did?  It had to be tempting to write off the Spurs this time last year and assume that the Thunder or Clippers would be the challengers coming from the West.  A badly played gamble on Riley's part perhaps and his ploy of putting the pressure on the Big Three to stick it out and take the pay cuts to allow him to re-stock is more bluster than Riley has the grounds to come up with and James by opting out has called him on it.

Lebron knows he has more options than Riley, Bosh and Wade and that there are likely 6-10 teams that have better talent in spots 4 through 12 or even 3 through 12 given Wade's rate of decline that surpass what Riley has at the moment and conceivably what Riley could put together over the summer, especially if Bosh and Wade choose to opt into their current contracts.  Jurgen Klinsman would gladly point out the issue the Heat are going to have with Dwyane Wade's contract if he opts in and the consequent challenges for their salary cap.

While on holiday before announcing to opt out, Lebron likely asked himself if he saw the chances for the Heat improving and also asked himself if the 2013-14 season was an experience that he would likely to repeat.  If the challenges of leading an undermanned team were what left the strain on his voice before and after Game 5 he likely concluded that he would be better off looking beyond Miami.  He may still opt to stay put but he is definitely putting the pressure on Riley and Arison to put a little more skin in the game.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Leadership Beyond Attribution

There are many occasions where titles and positions are given to people who are unable to exercise the leadership that would be expected in such roles.  I referred to my experiences in these situations a few weeks ago on this blog.  In some instances this may occur because there is a desire to be "at the table" or "in the mix."  Other situations may be in synch with the old Peter Principle where one has been elevated to the proverbial position of their incompetence or they have been assigned a parcel of responsibilities and the commensurate salary with the hopes that those trappings would impart the leadership skills or the motivation to lead because of the expectations of the position.

Sometimes those gambles when assigning leadership pay off, but the likelihood of this as far too infrequent for it to be considered a reliable strategy.  Instances where leadership is attributed are cited in Japanese organizations where leadership roles are often and easily attributed on the basis of age rather than merit.  Despite these assumptions about Japan, there is ample place for merit to hold sway and there are occasions where the talent does get recognized or asserted and is given the chance to develop.

In the Japanese school system, leadership is very carefully attributed based on seniority and it is an opportunity for students to get their turn developing their potential and their skills in these capacities, but leadership roles are not as strictly distributed on the basis of seniority.  While seniority maybe the deciding factor when individuals with similar skills are in competition for a promotion, there are many instances where leadership roles are not assigned on the basis of this.  When individuals demonstrate the capacity or the willingness to lead, it is easily assumed by those who are willing to take those roles on.  Those with the talent and the capacity to lead are given more opportunities to demonstrate their abilities and develop their leadership skills and eventually surpass those who may have seniority and a position that goes with it in the short term.

The capabilities that earn an individual a leadership position can be demonstrated by taking on volunteer roles, which in Japan are available in a wide variety of areas of interest in schools, communities, their workplaces and other groups.  However, I may risk getting ahead of myself by saying that leadership can be assumed by volunteering, when in fact it is an opportunity to demonstrate it, develop it and gain confidence from within and from others.  People earn the respect that can foster a confident leader by making their interest in a variety of roles clear and using their talent to deliver on the objectives of an initiative they get involved in.  That can be enough for a person to begin to grow into a leadership role if the support, structure and models of leadership are in place for an emerging leader to draw upon to develop their skills.  Having the infrastructure in place to nurture leaders and give them the opportunity to gradually take on more involved responsibilities is the key to developing leadership. Without that support nor a clear sense of the growth that emerging leaders is capable of throughout their development.

What is lacking in our current approaches to leadership is the support system and infrastructure for leaders to model their skills upon.  There are countless books trying to point the way, but there is every chance that the authors of those books are more interested in packaging a few superficial pointers into their next book deal than they are in providing substantive and constructive direction on how to build a leader from the foundation up, starting with the resources, talent and knowledge that each individual brings to their roles.  Leaders are not something to be foisted upon the minions.  They need to be recognized early and allowed to develop those skills naturally and at a reasonable pace.

This is part of the reason why a distributed leadership model is beginning to gain the toehold that it has as an approach to developing leadership.  As an educator, it is easy for me to draw upon the examples from the classroom.  At the start of my career, I taught in a multi-level classroom where there was a certain amount of undue deference to the oldest student in the class.  She was not a gifted student academically, in fact there was a chance that she had learning disabilities that had remained undiagnosed even in her late teens. Her command over the class was such that it even challenged my ability to teach and do what I was mandated to do.  Her age and personality earned her followers (or coerced them) but she had no interest in leading the class, at least not in a positive direction.  Whenever she was absent, the younger students in the class had the opportunity to fill the vacuum she had left.  To one extent they each took on more leadership of themselves and became more willing to become more accountable for their academic performance and for the atmosphere in the classroom as well.  Over the course of time those younger students developed the confidence to remain accountable even when that older student was there and eventually take enough ownership and responsibility to reduce the impact that girl had at the start of the school year.

If leadership were distributed to several people rather than attributed to a smaller group or even one person, a larger number of individuals will have a vested stake in the outcomes of the activities the group engages in.  There is also the likelihood that those responsibilities will be negotiated in a manner that makes everyone more accountable for their contribution and more engaged in achieving the goals that we normally expect a single designated leader to guide everyone toward.  The key to achieving success with this approach is to ensure the infrastructure to support this leadership and further nurture it is in place.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Ah Yes, Sequel Season: A Plea for the Anti-Blockbuster

With the coming of the Memorial Day weekend in the United States and the appearance of X-Men Days of Future Past vying to dethrone Godzilla from its lofty position atop the film box office charts, another round of sequels, reboots, adaptations, prequels, tent poles, and fast food tie-ins moves from "in earnest" to full throttle.

I will forego the schedule/list of weekly box office contenders out of the risk of advertising anymore of the overhyped summer dross.  I'm assured that rabid movie fans have already filled out their schedules, booked Friday nights weeks in advance to get the gang together and vowed to render themselves critic-proof.  Other have opted out already, turning an eye to more independent fare or are already committed to a binge night of Mad Men or Walking Dead via Netflix.

Over the last few years there has been an ongoing to lament among some about the recycling that Hollywood has been indulging in over the last decade.  Film franchises have been resurrected after coming to logically conclusions just a year or two before or rendered unprofitable by an unappealing combination of rookie leading man and out-of-genre director that just didn't satisfy the fan boys or stay true to the source material.  The spectacles continue and will continue to come as long as they continue to turn a profit, regardless of the laments about the absent of originality in the motion picture industry.

The fact is that adaptations and rehashing of the type so many lament coming out of Hollywood right now is not new.  It precedes the recent reboots of Star Trek, Bond and Batman by decades if not centuries.  West Side Story's lineage to Romeo and Juliet is well documented and Shakespeare himself could be cited for its use of earlier materials.

There was a sense about a decade ago that there was an aesthetic or cultural need for these recycling of recent familiar sources.  There was a sense that times had become more serious and that the grit and realism of those movies were a reflection of the times that they were being remade for.  Christopher Dolan brought a seriousness to Batman Begins in 2005 that attempted to reflect the times that it was made in.  "More serious" films are always trying to do that regardless of the times that it is made but about 10-12 years ago, the popcorn fare was occasionally making forays to reflect the times as well.  The uncertainty surrounding the dusky armour of the Dark Knight was something that reflected the ambiguities in the 2000s, but it seems that commerce and the fixed components of the blockbuster formula as it has come together over the nearly 40 years since Jaws hit the theatres has won out.  All of the iterations of the comic book heroes and of course Star Wars, which is not only going to spawn sequels but spinoffs as well, seem to have put diversion and cross-promotional opportunities ahead of the opportunity to provide something that reflect the times they were made in or for.  Perhaps all we are seeking is escape once again, at least that's what the receipts are saying.

Are any of those films having the impact of their forebearers did?  Will any of them impact the culture to the extent that Star Wars or the original Star Trek series did on television?  Has Avatar been of any cultural significance since Ben Stiller's appearance in blue makeup at the Oscars in 2010?  It is less likely, despite the effort and expense that have gone into upping the special effects ante, the volume and the promotional campaigns each summer, than any of these movies have a lasting cultural impact.  As long as the profits exceed the investment, the model will hold and the possibilities of making the CGI and the spectacle appeal to global audience will further entrench to commitment to glossy bedlam that will unspool this summer.  Hollywood producers have narrowed and will continue to narrow their vision to the very escape that the comic books and the sequels provide.

Those "smaller" movies or boutique stories that strike those small audiences in ways that are unique and powerful to their audiences are still being made but the question is how many of those possible stories are being overlooked and left unmade because so many filmmakers are gunning for the $1 billion home-run of a box office tally at the expense of giving people opportunity to see something that reflects the time they are living in, make them reflect on where they are in their lives or in their relationships and risk conjuring up that Grade 11 Language Arts concept of catharsis.

Looking beyond the handful of current sources for adaptation (or original material for that matter) has often served Hollywood well.  It has even been profitable from time to time and even reflect the time in which it was made.  At the risk of being labelled puritanical or stodgy I recall what is probably my most memorable movie-going experience and the opportunity to connect with audiences in profound ways by pursuing a wider range of stories.

I had the opportunity to see film adaptation of The Crucible in 1997 while travelling on holiday in Europe.  I should have had the opportunity to read the play in Grade 9, but that is another story.  It would be half a lifetime later, at the age of 30 rather than 15 that I would see Arthur Miller's tale of the Salem witch hunts written during the McCarthy era and brought to the screen at a time when it may have been merely considered an exercise to appeal to school marms or some niche of the literati who wanted something more high-brow in the cinemas.  My good fortune, on this occasion was to watch it in Prague, a few blocks away from the castle where Vaclav Havel resided as president after a long, successful commitment to his principle of Living In Truth (both as a way of living and a manifesto against the oppressors who gave him opportunity after opportunity to cave in to comfort.)  As the credits rolled upon John Proctor's granted wish to die with his good name, I was stunned by the stillness in the theatre and the audible sobbing that took hold throughout the theatre.  A moment I would never forget and one that made me thankful I was spared earlier exposure to the play despite my wishes that I were in the "enriched" class in 1982.

The opportunity for Hollywood to vary from its successful template in not likely to occur anytime soon.  While changes in the TV industry have diversified or stratified audiences away from the old "big 3" and resulted in a greater willingness to risk and innovate in the story-telling that occurs there, the motion picture industry has seemed a bit more complacent over the last decade and perhaps even out of touch because of its efforts to retain the large audiences of popcorn eaters.  There have been signs that audiences are starting to consider other alternatives over the last few years and hopefully the industry will move away from the reliable template that has spawned so much imitation and duplication over the last decade or so and bring more diversity of stories in the years ahead...

but when?

Friday, May 16, 2014

Leadership: The Twinning of Authority

The shelves of the business sections are brimming with books on the topic of leadership and there are ample numbers of coaches, professors and facilitators will and able to hold forth on the subject, but in many instances the answer to developing leadership can vary dramatically depending on the individual and the situation that there are placed in.

At the start of my career as a teacher leadership in the classroom pivoted on the application of two types of authority: the authority that one had as a part of the position or role that they had and the authority they were as someone knowledgable in their field.  Both were required for a teacher to have the full opportunity to play a leadership role in their class.  Teachers had to demonstrate their authority and wield it as well if they were going to assume the respect and presence in their classrooms that was assigned to them.

Throughout my career, however, I have seen instances where both of these types of authority needed to be demonstrated by a person in a leadership position.  The lack of knowledge and ability to demonstrate the authoritativeness required in those positions substantially hindered the organizations that they worked within and became major obstacles to these respective organizations achieving their mandates or goals.

The first instance of this was at the start of my teaching career.  The principal of the school was given the position because of the power that it held.  The school was in a First Nations community and the principal was a member of the community.  He did not have the professional training required to do an adequate job as an educator, but it was hoped that he would be able to leverage the position in a manner that would give the community a bit more say about its destiny.  He had the position of authority and the title to go with it but his lack of skill or knowledge pertaining to the position and his inability or unwillingness to exercise the authority he had in his position greatly undermined the potential that he actually possessed as principal of the school.

There were probably colonial or cultural issues that made him reluctant to assert a certain amount of authority over the teachers that were on his staff.  He know that the "white" or "southern" teachers in the community had more education than he did and after spending much of his lifetime being taught by the predecessors of those teachers, it was difficult for him to presume he could indeed start telling them how they ought to do their jobs.  As time progressed and he continued to retreat from the opportunities to assert his authority as it was assigned to his title or recognize his ability to recognize his invaluable expertise as a member of his community and advise the staff on the specific needs or backgrounds of individual students or the generalities of the entire village, he squandered the authority he could have offered from his position.

In the 1990s notions of distributed leadership were not as well articulated and developed as they are today and further to that the cultural dynamic in the village was quite difficult to navigate as well.  The school had been in the village for about 30-40 years and students had been taught almost exclusively by southern teachers throughout that time.  In more recent years teachers from the community became more involved in teaching during the early grades of elementary school and some other courses related to the culture of the community as well.  Still, despite that progress, there was probably still a willingness to defer to the southern teachers because of the perceptions about their culture or the massive technological advantages they had inundated the community with ever since they first made contact a century or so before.

My generation of teachers, however, fresh from watching Dances With Wolves and coming away a bit more sensitive to or wary about the cultural politics between their community and the First Nations were less willing to take the opportunity to take an approach to leadership in the school that reflected a more modern approach to leadership or acknowledge the habits that formed as a result of a long, long history of having the upper hand.

Under these circumstances, leadership was merely assigned and titled rather than used and demonstrated in a deliberate manner.  Principal and Teachers shied away from the responsibilities that their titles carried.  The people subservient to each of those titles waited and demonstrate some respect for those titles but without anyone fulfilling their roles to their full potential, there was an arbitrariness to the structure or distribution of leadership that dissolved.  There were occasions when the leadership structure responded and became vibrant in the face of crisis, but all too often those crises were a consequence of nobody playing their roles to their fullest potential in the first place and the responses were too slow to achieve the desired results in the face of crisis.  Unfortunately, when those situations were brought to a simmer there was little self-awareness of the satisfaction that came with the accomplishment of addressing problems.  Instead of learning how things could or ought to be, there was a reversion to the more reluctant postures and the underlying problems and issues challenging the school continued to fester.  

A vacuum in leadership continued to dog the school and the community.  Teachers were replaced rather than tenured and ultimately the principal of the school saw his authority eroded with the addition of a vice-principal who would take on more of the leadership role in directing the teachers properly and getting the principal to provide the knowledge and expertise that he had been so reluctant to provide in the first place.

If the principal had a clearer understanding of his own potential and the knowledge he brought to the school, he and the school would have had a much greater chance of success.  In recognition of Marshall McLuhan's old adage that a fish is the last to realize what water is, the principal likely needed an outside source to advise him of what he already knew but may not have valued.  That outside source may have also needed to know what questions to ask the principal to extract, organize and value the knowledge that he had.

One problem may have been that a more monolithic model of leadership was assumed in this situation.  It is easy to argue that the principal failed because he simply did not lead or act in a manner that wielded or demonstrated the types of authority he brought to his position.  His position was assigned to him along with significant expectations in a position that loaded with challenges.  Because of the extent of his role and the impact it could have had, he needed more resources, training and opportunity to reveal his weaknesses than he was ever allowed.  If he had any one of those three things (resources, support or opportunity to admit weakness) it would have help him and the team that never came together to fill the yawning leadership void that he and his staff carefully strived to avoid.