I’m in the middle of one of the busiest times in my work year. While others in education are starting to slow down, our department fires up. We offer professional development for teachers and administrators, and the first couple weeks of summer are one of our biggest times.
All of these classes, sessions, institutes, and meetings have given me the chance to see some of our best leaders in action. I work with amazing people. And while the content has been fantastic, it is the interpersonal relations that have given me the most on which to reflect.
I think sometimes we make things more complicated than they really are. When you have the chance to reach large numbers of people at once and to use that time to build or enhance relationships with those people, take it! These opportunities to interact informally, in a non-evaluative setting, can change the dynamics when we are doing our work. This is the chance to get know the people, not just their work.
People respond to leaders who are charming and charismatic. Make eye contact whenever possible. Say hello in a way that makes others feel like you know them. You do not have to remember every name in order to make people feel known. (Although knowing someone’s name is a powerful way of connecting.) Give high fives. Smile.
People do their best thinking when they believe what they say matters. We need fully engaged people who seek to understand issues deeply and who are willing to share their best ideas. Effective leaders listen. Effective leaders have an ability to make others believe that they have a voice in decisions, big and small. When people feel like they have influence on the vision and the execution of the work, they are able to do their best. Listen. Really listen. Be willing to be influenced.
People need to belong. I have been reminded of this time and time again. Children need it. Adults need it. Effective leaders find ways to connect with people and make them feel like they belong. They know when there is a big event in someone’s life. And they find time to show up.
One of my favorite motivational reads is Jon Gordon’s book The Energy Bus. It is about the importance of finding, maintaining, and generating positivity our lives. Effective leaders design positive environments where people can thrive. Our superintendent speaks beautifully about getting back to zero in our work and our lives. He acknowledges that our work is hard. But the best among us find ways to do what’s hard and to do what’s necessary while staying positive…or getting back to it as quickly as possible.
I’ve spent time this year reflecting and trying to isolate just exactly what it is that makes a leader effective. Of course there are countless skills and abilities that go into the equation, but it starts with being personable. I know people can point to leaders who have been effective while being anything but likable, but I think that’s the harder path. To motivate and inspire others, start by being amiable.
When my husband read this draft, he said “Haven’t you said all of this before?” Yes, yes I have. What I think I’ve reflected on most this year is that WHAT we are doing is incredibly important. But HOW we are doing it matters as much.