In Good Boss, Bad Boss, Robert Sutton writes that one characteristic of good bosses is that they carefully balance the amount of control they exert over versus the freedom they provide for their subordinates. Too much control stifles creativity and enthusiasm. Too little control leads to less productivity and focus.
Sutton uses a comment by former LA Dodger manager Tommy Lasorda to illustrate the importance of leaders balancing control and freedom. The Lasorda Law says, “that managing is like holding a dove in your hands. If you hold it too tightly, you kill it, but if you hold it too loosely you lose it.”
Sutton calls this the Lasorda Law because, as he writes, “it captures the delicate balance that every good boss seeks between managing too much and too little.” Sutton backs up his belief in Lasorda’s law by citing Daniel Ames and Frank Flynn’s hypothesis, which pretty much mirrors the Lasorda Law. Sutton summarizes Ames and Flynn’s research as follows:
Managers who are too assertive will damage relationships with superiors, peers, and followers; but managers who are not assertive enough won’t press followers to achieve sufficiently tough goals.
The Lasorda Law, I think, also has implications for work in the classroom. Just like a good boss, an effective teacher maintains control in the classroom while also ensuring that there is sufficient freedom. Too much control damages relationships. Too little control leads to too little learning.
Students don’t want to be bullied or bossed around, but they want structure, respectful interactions in the classroom, and someone who will resolve conflicts and maintain calm.
As part of being appropriately in control, teachers must exude a respectful level of confidence. Again, Sutton’s ideas about bosses help us understand effective leadership in the classroom. For example, in Good Boss, Bad Boss, he asserts that good bosses exude confidence even when they don’t feel confidence. Sutton writes:
Faking it until you make it can trigger a self-fulfilling prophecy: by acting as if you know what you are doing and in control, even if it isn’t true at first, such confidence can inspire you and others to achieve great performance.
This is sage advice for teachers. Indeed, I’m certain that many educators would be quick to admit to employing the “faking it” strategy. In part, this means that teachers need to remain calm no matter what craziness descends on the classroom. Books on conflict resolution and relationship building such as Difficult Conversations by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, and Sheila Heen orFierce Conversations by Susan Scott, although designed for the corporate world, can teach us a lot about remaining calm and in control under pressure.
But, in addition to remaining calm, a second, important, part of being in control is being aware of what is going on in the classroom. This heightened sensitivity to what is happening was given an incredibly appropriate name by Jacob Kounin, “withitness.” Withitness has been described as:
the ability to at all times be perceptually and cognitively aware of what is occurring in one’s classroom. Teachers who are aware of what was occurring during class time, in terms of student behavior and work, and who made their awareness apparent to their students had high work involvement and low misbehavior from their students. (you can find the full document on withitness here).
Confidence and withitness are a critical part of the Lasorda Law, but that does not mean that teachers need to control every students’ every action. Kids need to play; they need to have fun, and that’s just as important in the classroom as it is on the playground. Indeed, when teachers create a setting where students know that their teacher has things under control, they are much more likely to genuinely enjoy and get the most out of their learning—the ultimate goal of effective teachers everywhere.