Monday, May 27, 2013

School Leaders Need to Be NICE

Being a school leader is a challenging role to play. The  change and vision we desire most for our school organizations may take years if not a career to truly achieve. The frustration for being a place holder and not an innovator can be extremely demoralizing when the best of intentions are at the forefront of your progressive thinking and intentions. 

Leaders that attend to their organization with the philosophy of "It's my way or the highway." may tend to create faster change, but at what expense? School organizations are human service companies. They cater to the needs of people, whether they are students, staff members, parents, or administrators. The "bottom line" in these companies are people, and to effectively lead change, school leaders need to shepherd people.

From Doug Johnson's May 2005 blog in Head for the Edge he writes a wonderful list of suggestions focused around the theme of niceness, something that is truly missing in our schools due to the crunch to test, test, test.

"Here are some traits I admire in others and try to cultivate personally.

1. Having great listening skills.
This is tough for guys. (We are, after all, guys.) I can offer advice even before I know the dimension of the problem. But I know that hearing people out is sometimes even more important than being able to help. Harvey Mackay, a business columnist states:  “You’ll know you’ve attained your goal (of being a good listener) when you can utter two sentences in an hour-long conversation, and the other speaker thanks you for input and adds, ‘You always have so much to say!’” That’s my goal.

2. Being empathetic.
A former principal who had been a guidance counselor had this system for dealing with people who were upset. He would paraphrase their statements and ask if what he just said was what they meant until they would respond with, “Yes, that is exactly what I mean.” It was only then that he knew the other person was listening and there could be a conversation. Try it sometime – it works.

3. Assuming any request is possible.
I love people whose automatic response to an idea is “anything is possible.” Now the following conversation might involve the nitty-gritty details about while although that idea may be possible it may not be advisable or describe some of the implementation challenges. But I appreciate the positive attitude. (I also like being treated as though I have a functioning brain and being given the respect of a good explanation when something can’t be done. Citing “policy” does not qualify as a good explanation.)

4. Responding in a timely manner.
We coach our tech staff to always respond to e-mails and phone calls in as timely a manner as possible. Even if it is only to say, “I got your message and I will be there on  _________” or “I don’t know the answer to your problem, but I am working on it.” Putting off responding to people never makes things better, only worse.

5. Looking for the win/win solution.
This is still the best of Covey’s “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.” As he reminds us, a good course of action is never giving in or even compromising, but continuing to talk it over until both parties agree that the action is a “win.” Keep searching for the “third way.”  It is always there.

6. Giving the benefit of the doubt.
Library media specialists who give kids the benefit of the doubt have a special place in my heart. The response to the assertion “I brought the book back last week” should be a trip to stacks, not a dirty look. I’ve found too many books that somehow failed to get back checked in to suspect the veracity of any student.

7. Passing on compliments.
The teacher, the administrator or parent who lets me know when one of my staff did something nice for them puts the person offering the compliments on my list of nice people.

8. Analyzing before emoting.
I’ve found that a short temper has never worked in my favor – ever. In fact, when somebody gets me mad, they have “won.” Diligently practice the common definition of a diplomat: A person who thinks twice before saying nothing  - and then tells you to go to hell in such a way that you actually look forward to the trip."1.

1.Johnson, D. (May 2005). A Secret Weapon- Niceness. Head to the Edge. Retrieved May 27, 2013 at