For many years, I always thought Ethos sounded like one of the four musketeers. Which of course turns out to be true! Athos was indeed one of that famous fictional foursome – he was the oldest, noblest, secretive and most handsome…and he liked to drink. Interesting – but nothing to do with Ethos…
Ethos tends to be used to describe ‘character’, or better yet, our guiding beliefs. As such ethos can be used when talking about teams, units, companies, industries or even countries. The guiding beliefs that characterize a community or a nation, or even ideology. Much more interesting – but nothing to do with 17th century French literature…
Many industries are highly regulated. Ours is for sure. And rightly so. We are pivotal players in the development and advancement of new agents that will be studied and used in humans. We should be regulated. And we are – by government bodies across the world – governments who need to ensure we operate to necessary standards of safety, quality and performance.
I am pleased about this. Safety, quality and performance are really important. I believe in safety, quality and performance. They characterise what we do. They guide what we do and how we operate. They would be a good way of describing our ethos.
This same requirement for safety, quality and performance applies across many aspects of life…and education is but one great example. The three most important policies for any politician were always education, education and education (at least up until recent national elections and referenda). And inspectors – school or education inspectors – rightly play a key role in assessing and improving safety, quality and performance in our schools.
A school inspector’s focus is on the children. Yes they seek opinions from parents, leadership and teachers, but above all they are interested in the substrate and output of the school – the pupils. They meet children in schools and they ask them all sorts of questions.
And a favourite question? ‘What is the ethos of your school?’
An intriguing question…not least since many adults would struggle (see French literature above). But the inspectors know just how much there is to learn from the responses. Compare a school where the most common answer is ‘mutual respect’ to ‘I have no idea’. Or where there is no consistency in response. Or where pupils give a different answer to teaching staff!
So the quality of responses and the degree of alignment gives data and information about the school, how its run, and its likely performance.
But it’s not just about quality and alignment – if it was then then any obscure question would work just as well. The key of course is ‘ethos’.
Being and feeling part of a community – a community with a common ethos – gives us sense of belonging and feeling of trust for those around us. Over any period of time, in any community, behaviours adjust and reflect a well understood and well role-modelled ethos. Accepted behaviours can be obvious or subtle…explicit or implicit… but once we have clarity on our community ethos…then everything that happens follows that ethos.
Ethos, behaviour and outcomes are inexorably connected. Therefore change in accepted or expected behaviour in a community will change ethos because everyone in a community shares that responsibility.
Above all it is leaders – senior leaders – in our schools, countries or companies who are accountable for living, breathing and symbolising an ethos.
Leaders who want to or who are expected to induce change will seek to create new and consistent experiences – experiences that are reflective of their values and beliefs…experiences that are apparent to everyone in and around their ‘community’.
Leaders embody ethos…