Situations don’t have feelings; they just are.
What makes situations challenging are the people involved and whatever perceptions we bring to the table before, during, and after actual incidents.
In my first year of leadership, I often struggled with having difficult conversations because I assumed that people would hear my feedback in a certain way, and then I escalated those conversations before they even happened. If I had walked into each of those situations with an open mind, just looking at the facts, not personalizing any of it, they probably would have gone a different way.
As more time has passed, I realize my attitude about dealing with various aspects of leadership impacts the way our team responds or reacts in different situations. Much like when my son was a toddler and fell, his reaction often relied on mine. If I got really upset or looked worried, he cried and fussed, but if I didn’t make a fuss and just picked him up and dusted him off, he was fine.
As educators, our attitudes matter, and the way we approach each situation must be with a positive assumption and an expectation of growth. How else will our teams feel and adopt that same attitude?
So here are some things we can do as leaders to help make the most of our interactions with our teams:
- Approach every opportunity to talk with team members one on one as a learning opportunity for both of you. These conversations have the potential to make a real impact on what the rest of the day looks like, so be positive and seek out solutions rather than dwelling on challenges.
- Be curious instead of accusatory. Rather than go into a situation assuming ill-will, ask questions, learn more about the situation before judging what you thought you saw. Assume the positive.
- Lead with the attitude you hope your teachers will adopt or share. For example, I walk around with a smile on my face as much as I can. I try to be aware of it. Keeping positive when working with everyone maintains the message that I’m here to help.
- Listen. Sometimes people just need to talk. Maybe asking, before a conversation starts, “What do you need from me right now?” might be helpful in how you listen and/or respond to a request to have a conversation with a team member, colleague, or supervisor.
- Hear feedback when it comes as a way for you to adjust your own approach with each individual. We are all professionals, and the way we treat each other is dependent on what we know about each other. It is great to adopt an attitude of equality, but as you get to know the team better, use what you know about them to better serve each of their needs. Differentiate for your learners.
- Let the team see you as a learner first. Transparency is key when working with adult learners. Be honest, tactful, and take the risks alongside them. It’s very hard to do new things, and if our team doesn’t see us investing the same way they do, the challenges will outweigh the opportunities. Help them see you as human and willing to fail forward publicly.
Leadership is hard and helping adults develop into their best selves takes time and patience. Not everyone will be ready to hear the message or take the risk, but we can’t give up on them. We need to meet them where they are (just like with our students) and help them grow from there. Differentiate your approach based on what you know and continue to learn about your team members and share feedback regularly.
How does your mindset help you lead your team or your class? Please share.
The opinions expressed in Work in Progress 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.