Bureaucracy and Leadership — what I’m learning at the Peter Drucker Forum 2020.

It’s been a long time since I wrote…. The pandemic and some health issues got in the way. Now I’m back! Thanks for staying with me.

I have always believed that it can be useful to attend a conference that is NOT in one’s field. You never know what you’ll learn!

With that in mind, I’ve been attending a conference in Vienna, Austria — alas, virtually. I’m sitting in my own kitchen, sipping my coffee alone — not in a breakout meet and greet. While I wish the conference was actually in Europe — it is not this year. Maybe next?

The conference is the 12th Global Peter Drucker Forum 2020. Peter Drucker was the American-Austrian management guru who spanned the 20th century (1900–2005). The conference in his honor is filled and with amazing folks from around the world — CEO’s, international companies, business school professors, consultants, authors, thought leaders, musicians, etc. You get the picture.

So what am I doing there? I work in the US public schools — as an attorney who represents public schools and formerly as a junior high school teacher. I’m not a business person. I don’t run a company. And, as I looked at those ZOOM boxes that traversed the globe, I didn’t see anyone from the US public school space — except me.

Yet, it’s been wonderful, enlightening, and fun. As I listen to the presentations and even participate in the chat room, it dawned on me that so many of the issues and challenges raised here are easily transposed to the K-12 public education arena. Can it be that large organizations have universal challenges and needs? It appears so.

Take the title for the conference’s first day: Dismantling Bureaucracy, Activating Leaders. I can relate that to our arena and leave as is, or change one word: Dismantling Bureaucracy, Activating Leaders or — a new word, Activating Learning.

Bureaucracy raises similar issues in these two worlds. We in K-12 education also are trying to dismantle the bureaucracy that smothers educators and administrators, that has a life of its own (can one really say that it ispurpose-driven?), and keeps on keeping on, unabated even during COVID! I heard one expression that laid out the challenge: “Bureaucracies are built to be replication machines.” So true, but that can’t possibly continue in the time of COVID. And yet, bureaucracies are still here doing their thing — in our schools, in business, and in large multinational organizations.

I heard discussions about the overriding need for trust, the need for purpose-driven policies, for empowering employees and customers (read: teachers and students), the need to “stop paying for activities and start to focus on outcomes.” I love this last one! And I love this one: “Empowerment without trust doesn’t work.” We talk about it all the time in our schools. Same issues seeking solutions. We can learn from each other.

Is there any hope? I do think so. Just putting the issues out there — is an important start and I was gratified to realize how many of these business ideas resonated with me, coming from the public sector.

The second and third days (tomorrow) were entitled Leadership Everywhere. For sure, we need leaders in public education to deal with today’s challenges — COVID, closed or opened schools, children falling behind, social and emotional needs, teachers reluctant to teach in schools, declining enrollments as parents pull their children out and try alternate means of education, and declining resources — as the tax base has been decimated by closed businesses, folks not traveling, etc., etc., etc. It’s overwhelming! Schools (and businesses) will have to deliver more with less.

Sessions included Leadership in Hard Times, Is Leadership Rising to the Occasion?, Led by Data, Algorithms, and AI?, and Leading in Times of Fake News, Activism and Rebellion. You get the picture. They are relevant to the business world — and also to our schools.

Attending a conference in a field far removed from mine is both fun and eye-opening. One quickly realizes that people are people all over the world and that organizations often struggle in similar ways. They can learn from each other. It’s been great to see what the rest of the world worries about. What amazed me is that our challenges and solutions track each other so much.

Is there hope? Will we find the leaders we need? I heard much optimism and believe that we will find ways forward. The current moment is an opportunity for new ideas and new paths — and there are many out there. Having music along for the ride helped. A cite to Les Miserables with its revolutionary songs was inspiring!

Let’s hope that together — in whatever field one works — our future will be bright, purpose-driven, with trust and empowered participants — creating a better life for the world’s citizens. In short, as discussed in one of the sessions quoting Ghandi, let’s hope that we can Be the change you want to see.

Miriam Kurtzig Freedman is an attorney, reformer, and author. Her latest book is Special Education 2.0. And, check out her pandemic medicine bottle art!

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store