I have had the pleasure of working in over thirty different school districts in two different countries over the past nineteen years. Those experiences, coupled with my passion for student-driven educational environments and strong leadership practices are what fuel my work today. One chief aspect of my work is to work one-on-one with leaders coaching them on how to leverage technology to produce more engaging and effective instruction while tapping into readily-available data to guide decision-making for classrooms, schools, and entire districts.
Recently I was asked what I do when I get pushback from teachers or administrators with whom I’m working. That’s a very relevant question, because, of course, it does happen. What I have learned is that if I want people to buy in, I have to form a relationship with them first. To do that in these types of situations, I start by listening. I listen to the words they are saying and observe the nonverbal cues they are giving off. The main purpose of listening is to discover their fears. Usually, pushback is rooted in fear of some kind. It can be fear that they will be left behind – unable to learn whatever the new initiative entails. But it can also be a fear that this is just something else that will eat up their time. After listening, and asking questions, and spending time discovering, then I can start doing the work of alleviating those fears so that we can move forward.
Asking questions, and truly listening is a leadership best practice that is rooted in building relationships. The best leaders take time to get to know the people working with them. And I prefer saying working with them, as opposed to for them because that is the mentality that relational leaders have – one of collaboration. Time after time, organizations that have negative cultures or weak teams can trace the problem back to a leader who hasn’t taken time to build relationships and foster a culture of team-building.
Another important leadership practice is to have a well-thought-out plan in place before implementing any new initiative. This seems obvious, but I’ve seen too many school districts buy technology without a clearly defined reason behind the purchase, or a plan on how to effectively use it to benefit all stakeholders. Strong leaders spend time with other people determining the why first. They tap into the experience of others who have had similar implementations and learn from them. They seek input from people at all levels of impact to garner other perspectives. A plan is created collaboratively, and revisited often for reflection and planning the next steps of the initiative.
That segues nicely into the third practice I’d like to highlight: reflective practice. Leaders at every level, from teachers in the classroom to CEOs in the boardroom, need to make intentional time for reflection. This actually needs to be scheduled on the calendar. Of course, informal “reflection-on-the-fly” can occur randomly, but intentional time needs to be scheduled on a regular basis. Some people can process this time individually. My regular reflections happen through writing. It works for me. I process while I write, and do this even during the times I don’t feel like writing. The bonus for me is that I don’t have to count on someone else being available for that time. Other people, however, need that accountability partner. They need someone to make them talk through their work and process verbally. It doesn’t matter how it happens, it just matters that it does happen. Most learning and growth occurs through reflection on the practice. Having specific questions to think through each time can help serve as a guide. They can be as simple as: What’s working? What’s not? What do I need to change? Whose input do I need? What’s a next step I need to take? Not all of these questions will need to be answered each time. Additionally, others might naturally surface during your time of reflection. It doesn’t need to be rigid, just regular.
A colleague recently asked me to be a thought partner with her. This will be a bit more structured and will be in addition to my own personal reflection. I’m eager to tap into her mind power on a regular basis to stretch my own thinking to reflect in a different way.
Finally, the last key best practice I’ll mention is the importance of continuous growth. Leaders must be the models of what they expect to see in their teammates. We are never done learning.
Find ways to learn something new, a way to challenge thinking, people who push you further, books that add value to your personally and professionally. I most frequently learn through reading (articles, books, tweets, blog posts), but I am most energized by learning from peers in person. I have colleagues who prefer learning via podcasts or webinars. There is no right way. Find what works best with your lifestyle, and what you enjoy most.
To build a positive culture that results in a strong organization, leaders need to take time to build relationships, plan strategically, incorporate reflective practice, and maintain an attitude of continuous learning.
My favorite way of sharing best practices in leadership is face-to-face, (coaching, keynoting, presenting at conferences or in-house) but virtually, I do this by writing about leadership regularly on my blog, sharing tips and relevant articles on Twitter and LinkedIn, hosting virtual learning sessions with people who want to go deeper with a group of other leaders in a more personal environment, and leading virtual one-on-one coaching sessions with leaders from the comfort of our own offices. If you love to learn with other people, let’s connect, and share other best leadership practices.