Education Opinion

Leaders Who Can See and Hear Others

By Jill Berkowicz & Ann Myers — November 02, 2015 4 min read
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As human beings, and as authors, we hold biases. It is a rare opportunity of human relationships when we meet and enter a conversation with someone who can help us identify where we have been blind. It is even more rare to meet those who want help to see what they have not seen before. So, we were impressed when CBS news anchor Scott Pelley recently asked Lonnie Bunch in an interview “The Slave Ship": “What does a black man see that I can’t see?” That is a remarkable question. It is the one that opens eyes and can only be asked by one who wants to see more fully. What if we were to incorporate it into our leadership repertoire with sincerity?

In this blog, we most often speak about the “why” or the “what” but often not the “how” in our writing. There is a reason for that. We have both confidence in and respect for our readers. That drives our desire to identify issues and encourage action and sometimes offer a possible avenue to begin a conversation or a journey. But most often, telling people how to do something seems limiting to us. Yet, here we are talking about how. We are all in different situations, with different assets, different readiness levels...and the idea of saying “how” pushes up against our belief in the human spirit and its ability to find its way once ignited. We also know that those who lead are strongly connected to the organization and community in which they lead; decisions and actions always happen in a contest. So it was with respect and attention we read this email from an unexpected reader of our blog.

Hi, I’m not an educator and I am clearly not familiar with all of your work, but I had a reaction to your See Each Other post. While I totally agree with everything in the post, I had the same feeling that so many have about President Obama- that is the beauty of the rhetoric, but the absence of doing it, how to do it. I would suspect that this could be taking place in meetings with teachers, principals, parents’ associations, etc. How does it get from your expressed thoughts to implementation?

Thinking that we may have been misled by our bias we are taking this opportunity to return to that post, and talk about how to lead schools in which people “see each other.”

It Must Begin With the Leader
The leader’s capacity to be a “seer” is key. The leader’s responsibly to make decisions sometimes contributes to filtering out as a survival technique. If lives are to be changed and disrupted, then it is easier not to think and feel about how others may be hurt or disappointed by our actions and decisions. Yet, it is precisely the capacity to make the tough decisions while holding the consequences with care and attention that makes us the strong and compassionate leader. It isn’t easy. Some think that compassion and empathy make a leader weak. We believe otherwise. We believe it is this capacity that increases followership and supports decisions that can be delivered with integrity and transparency. This requires a sensitive, open listening. It means listening deeply, past the manner with which someone is expressing themselves, past the words, and looking and listening to the person. It means being able to understand the premise upon which the person is operating, and connecting. It means making the decision that must be made, the right one for children.

In this work, some reading may help. David Rock’s explains in Quiet Leadership.

Quiet Leaders listen for people’s potential. When a Quiet Leader listens, they listen to people and believe in others completely. They encourage and support others in being the best they can be, just in how they listen, without saying a word (p. 76).

Carol Dweck’s book, Mindset, can offer better understand into the nature of one’s own fixed thinking about things and people. Parker Palmer’s writing found in A Hidden Wholeness, The Courage to Teach, Let Your Life Speak, all are resources in which leaders can explore how deeply the “who” matters and how critical questions are to growing and knowing ourselves.

So many issues and situations can become contentious and quickly spin into chaos. What if leaders asked the Scott Pelley question? What do you see as a teacher, a parent, a man, a woman, a business leader, a twelve year old, a senior citizen a transgendered person that I can’t see? What might change if we could bear to really listen to the answer? Maybe our hearts would break as ours did when we watched the you tube video of Pelley’s interview. But, once hearts break open, everything floods in and washes out. Then, we are in an exchange with the world and the community of other living beings. Then, we step into the leader’s seat and carry responsibility into our core. It isn’t easy to be the best we can be. It hurts sometimes to see and hear and feel that much but, in the long run, it gives us authority that is not just from position but from also from personhood. This genuine ability to walk in another’s shoes affords us the courage to lead. It also spawns a life giving force in which others can also walk taller, stronger and with more integrity and respect. Everyone rises up when leaders take the risk to see and hear life stories and perspectives that are outside their view. The sincerity is in the question and the courage is in the response. Relationships transform this way. And what are schools except a system of relationships existing to help children learn and grow? In all learning, questions matter especially the ones a leader asks.

Rock, D. (2006). Quiet Leadership. New York: Harper Collins

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The opinions expressed in Leadership 360 are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.