Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Your Staff's Work = Your Leadership

What does your staff's work tell you about your leadership?

At a recent conference, one of the speakers posed this question: What does your staff's work tell you about your leadership?  It's a great question and needs to be shared.

As leaders, it is easy to look at the work of others - our staff - and feel any of a number of things.  These could easily include pride, anger, admiration, frustration, respect, ...and the list goes on.  However, when we feel these things, do we link the feelings back to our own leadership?  If we feel pride, admiration, or respect, do we think about what our leadership practices are that would support a member of staff to be successful?  Equally, if we feel anger, frustration, or other negative emotions, do we look in the mirror for answers?  If a member of staff is not doing a great job, what is our role as leader in supporting that person to improve? 

As you wander through your school/organization and you feel different things, take a moment to consider what your role is in each individual's success or struggle.  As leader, you have responsibility for the well-being of the the organization, the individuals in it, and the results.  Shift some of your thinking to yourself and your own practice and see what you come up with. 

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Shared and Distributed Leadership

As a leader, do you share and distribute leadership...and why?

If you do an online search of terms like shared leadership or distributed leadership, you will literally uncover hundreds of thousands of links.  There are likely as many understandings of these terms as there are people who use them.  But what do they mean to you? 

As leaders, we are exposed to a great deal of leadership terminology and we often bring it into our daily vocabulary.  However, do we have an understanding of what these terms mean for us and our practice?  Shared and distributed leadership are great examples to work with.  What do they mean to you - the same thing or different things?  What do they look like in your practice?  Do you use them in your work?  Do you use them intentionally for a particular purpose?  The questions go on....

The issue here for leaders is this: When it comes to shared and distributed leadership, can you explain your understanding of these terms, how you display them in your practice, and for what purposes?  Too often, leaders may be tempted to hand unappealing tasks over to colleagues under the guise of sharing and distributing leadership. This is simply dumping jobs the leader doesn't want to do into the laps of others.  Staff members can see through this type of behaviour.  The impact of this is that leaders can appear to be in power positions to unload work they don't like onto others. 

The next time you think about passing a task along to a colleague, or to share and/or distribute your leadership, ask yourself if you are doing this in the best interest of the person and the organization.  If you have solid and purposeful reasons for sharing/distributing leadership with others then you're probably setting up a valuable learning experience for this person.....and your integrity as a leader stays intact.

Monday, 28 November 2011

Recognizing and Celebrating Successes

As a leader, how do you recognize and celebrate the successes of your staff?

In the end, people will forget what you said, forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.
Maya Angelou

As a leader, recognizing and celebrating the successes of your staff can be very motivating.  Kouzes and Posner (2002) speak about encouraging the heart and its significance for people.  As leaders, we often focus on the front-end deliverables related to planning, implementing, resourcing, and managing.  It can be easy to forget about the power and energy that comes from sincere recognition and celebration of actual accomplishments.  Emphasis here is on the word 'sincere'.  If it's not coming from your heart to their hearts, it's meaningless.  People see through insincerity very easily.

In his book Drive (2009), Daniel Pink cautions us that an excess of recognition and celebration can actually de-motivate people.  Staff learn quickly that if there is no 'reward' on the way, the work is either not important or it's not worth doing because recognition won't come on the heels of completion.  When recognition becomes routine, isn't sincere, and doesn't recognize truly worthwhile work, it means nothing.  

For you as a leader, it's a case of knowing your staff and how much recognition and celebration are appropriate.  Here are a few questions to guide your thinking about when and when not to praise.

  • How often will it be given?  In what forum?
  • Does it always come from you?  Can it also come from colleagues?
  • Is it done publicly or privately?
  • Is everyone recognized at some point?  Is anyone left out?
  • Do people know what merits recognition or does it appear to be arbitrary?  Does recognition come when school/organizational goals are met?
  • Are people praised for results, effort, or other reasons?  Why?
  • What have your staff told you about what they'd like in terms of praise, recognition, and celebration?
  • Is it sincere and honest?

From:  Leading Every Day by Joyce Kaser, Susan Mundry, Katherine E. Stiles, & Susan Loucks-Horsley
Published by: Corwin Press

Friday, 25 November 2011

Stop Complaining

As a leader, do you have a tendency to complain?

As leaders, we face daily challenges.  These challenges can be difficult for us because they draw on our skills, our knowledge, our beliefs, our values about the work we do, and in some cases, our patience.  We can handle challenges that demand skills, knowledge, beliefs, and values.  We can learn the skills and knowledge we need.  Beliefs and values may be tested but if we hold them dear, they won't weaken.  Patience, though, can be tough.  At times, our patience is tried by the range of challenges we face.  When patience is tried, we can slip into complaining.  When patience is often tried, we can slip into complaining often.  In fact, complaining can become a habit. 

Is complaining just blowing off steam?  That might be a convenient excuse to use to justify our complaining.  However, we need to consider those whom we serve (students, parents, communities) and those who follow us (our staff).  What is the impact of our complaining on them? 

As leaders, we hope to inspire both those whom we serve and those we lead but if we slip into the habit of complaining, the impact on staff can be far-reaching.  When leaders complain, staff can become demoralized, unmotivated, cynical, even fearful.  Worse, staff may not want to bring forward important issues for fear of the impact on you as leader.  The potential for a downward spiral in the culture of the workplace is evident. 

Next time you feel like voicing your complaints, consider who's listening.  What impact might your complaints have on them?

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Too Much Listening or Too Much Talking?

As a leader, have you found the balance between listening and speaking up?

Listening is a critical, often underutilized skill.  Sometimes for leaders there is a temptation to do a lot of the talking.  In recent years, there has been a growing awareness of how important it is for leaders to be effective listeners.   But if listening is already your forte, you may need to do more talking. Speaking up is a good way to demonstrate your expertise and gain the confidence of those around you.  As a leader, too much listening can come across as a lack of confidence or knowledge.  Staff need to hear from you - in measured amounts.  If you're hesitant as a speaker, find a safe place to try it out first. Talk shop with your friends or colleagues to test your ideas. Then, refine them to share in a meeting or with your colleagues. Try to say something early on in a meeting, even if it's something small, to establish yourself as part of the conversation. The challenge here is to support your staff by speaking up enough to set the stage for the conversation without creating an environment where your staff will feel they need to echo your ideas.  It's a fine balancing act.  Listening is important, but so is speaking. Success depends on doing both.  Finding the right balance - to ensure you bring out the best in your staff - is the place you are aiming for.  It will take some time but the rewards of building the capacity of your staff are worth the effort.

Adapted from "Keep Listening, but Start Talking" by Whitney Johnson.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

The Elephants in the Room

As a leader, do you name the elephants in the room and ensure they are dealt with?

Every school/organization has its own 'elephants in the room'.  There are always issues that hover beneath the surface that impede improvement efforts.  In a school, these may be issues related to why certain groups of students are not being successful, whether we truly believe that all students can learn given sufficient time and the right supports, whether consequences are punishments or are designed to restore relationships, why certain staff members appear to be privileged, and....the list goes on. 

The job of the leader is to summon up the courage to name these 'elephants' and then to provide a forum for these to be worked through.  Sound easy?  It may be if it's done superficially or if it's done from the stance of 'the boss'.  It's not so easy if you - as leader - truly want to address the issue at hand.  It's tough because it demands courage.  It demands comfort with uncertainty about how discussions will unfold.  And in particular, it demands skills in being able to facilitate a discussion so that all voices are heard and differing perspectives can be surfaced in a respectful manner.  This is the toughest part of all.  In fact, it is often seen as so difficult, leaders will sometimes let the 'elephants' remain in the room and not address them at all because the challenge of dealing with them is just too great.  However, as a leader, can you ethically let this happen?  You have been entrusted with the leading of a school/organization with confidence in your knowledge and skills to lead.  Dealing with challenging issues like the 'elephants' demands a lot of you but avoidance of issues sustains the status quo when improvement is possible if the challenges are faced. 

What can you - as a leader - do about this?  Dealing with difficult and complex issues requires confidence on your part as well as the skills of facilitation.  The confidence needs to be summoned up from inner strength.  The facilitation skills can be learned. 

If you don't face these 'elephants', true and important change can't happen.  The critical conversations won't take place.  Most significantly, those who rely on you - students, parents, staff - are being let down because they aren't being provided with the leadership that's needed.  It won't be easy the first time.  You might even fail.  However, choosing not to act should not be an option because it's a guarantee that nothing will change.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

As a leader, are you thinking strategically?

As a leader, are you thinking strategically?

Leaders need to think.  We need to think all the time.  It’s one of the reasons we need to be engaged in continuous learning.  But for what purpose do we need to do all of this thinking? 

Leaders need to think strategically.  If you are leading a school/organization, you have a significant level of responsibility to ensure that you are leading for continuous improvement.  People are placed in roles as leaders not to maintain the status quo but to bring about improvement.  But improvement doesn’t happen simply because we want it to.  It happens because we have thought strategically about all of the factors that influence a school/organization.  One by one, we analyze these factors in terms of how they contribute or distract from the important work that needs to be done.  Furthermore, we analyze how these factors relate to each other.  Factor X is important.  Factor Y is important.  But what is the relationship between these two factors.  Are they mutually supportive or mutually exclusive? 

As a leader, you need to think strategically so that your thinking serves the best interest of your school/organization.  But how do you know if your thinking is strategic or not?  Think of it this way.  Strategic thinking leads to decisions that bring about improvement.  Ask yourself, Will my decision make a positive difference to our work?  Will my decision make a change in what we are hoping to accomplish?  Will my decision maintain the status  quo – and is that a good thing?  

Truly skilled leaders engage others in discussions that benefit from strategic thinking.  Engaging others in strategic thinking is an indication of your strength as a leader.  You call on the best thinking available to help guide decisions.  There is always wisdom in the building if you allow it to surface in a safe conversation.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Leaders as Gatekeepers

As a leader, do you protect your staff from distracters by serving as a gatekeeper?

As a leader, one of the important roles you play is that of gatekeeper.  Every school/organization has an endless number of distracters that can take your staff off course from the core work.  When you serve as a gatekeeper, you keep these distracters at bay so that your staff can focus on the important work they do.  Some distracters are things that come from outside your school/organization.  Others come from higher up in your organization.  Others are brought into your organization by members of staff when they get an idea for something that is of interest to them personally.  Most disturbing is when the leader himself/herself is the one who brings in the distracters. 

As the leader/gatekeeper, it is vital for you to maintain the focus on the work of your school/organization.  You need to filter all distracters to determine if they will support the focus of your work or if they will funnel the energy of your staff into busywork that does not contribute to the fundamental purpose of the work. 

You need to be able to determine just how important that special field trip is to the learning of your students.  You need to be able to sort out which special event  - that uses up instructional time – really serves the learning needs of your students.  Most importantly, you need to be able to engage in dialogue those who bring forward the distracters to find out how the ‘special event’ serves the core business of your school/organization.  Staff may get tired of hearing you ask, “How does this support student learning?” but you need to do it.  If you don’t, you aren’t leading.  Leaders know how to engage people in conversation to sort through what supports the core work of your school/organization and what doesn’t. 

Friday, 18 November 2011

Espoused Theory vs. Theory of Action

As a leader, how do your espoused theory and your theory of action align?

As leaders, we each have some essential beliefs and messages that we deem to be important.  Part of our work is to ensure consistent messaging of what is important in the work we do in our schools/organizations.  This consistency helps staff to know what the focus of the work is and that it is not changing frequently.  No one works well when they are aiming at a moving target.  The essential beliefs and messages that you speak about are your espoused theory.

The problem with espoused theories is that they don't always align with our theories of action.  For example, in schools, we may claim that we believe deeply in student learning and ensuring that every student is successful.  However, does our theory of action align?  In other words, do our actions align with what we claim we believe in and what we stand for?  This is tough to answer for ourselves.  We may believe we can but how accurate are we?  In truth, only those we serve (students, parents, clients, customers) and those we lead can truly shed light on how well our actions align with our words.  Do our espoused theories align with our theories of action?  Does it matter to you?  If so, you'll want to determine some ways to find out.  Anonymous surveys are very helpful.  Nothing breeds cynicism more quickly than leaders who say one thing and act in a different way. 

As a guide, remember the old saying: Don't worry whether they are listening to you or not.  Worry that they are watching you.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Learning Stance or Performance Stance

As a leader, what is your stance?  Learning? Performance? Boss?

As leaders, we can take any of a number of stances.  Historically, leaders assumed more of a 'boss' stance.  That is, they assumed the role of the person in charge and then gave direction to staff in accordance with what they - and more senior levels of their organizations - believed staff needed to do in order to meet the goals of the school/organization.  Thank goodness the days of leaders assuming the boss stance are rapidly becoming memory.  It's a paradigm of leadership that may have worked at one time but it certainly doesn't address the reality's of today's workplace or the needs of the broader community.

Increasingly, we see leaders assuming one of two other stances.  These are the learning stance or the performance stance.  It's pretty evident by the term used that a performance stance is more about how a leader performs.  It's a lot about appearances and being seen to be doing things.  Leaders in a performance stance are always busy and always doing things.  Are they getting things done?  Likely, in some cases.  But it's more by luck than by design. 

As the nature of the workplace changes and the nature of how the public wishes to interact with schools and organizations, we see a different leader stance emerging.  This is the learning stance.  Leaders in a learning stance position themselves less in a hierarchical position and more along a continuum of responsibility where they - along with all members of staff - are engaged in learning while conducting their daily work.  Think about Peter Senge's 'learning organization' or Michael Fullan's statement that "Learning is the work".  Leaders who flatten the hierarchy, position themselves with staff along a continuum of responsibility, and actively co-learn with all colleagues are the new leaders in the current workplace paradigm.  Shared ownership and responsibility for school/organizational outcomes are the order of the day.  Gone are the egos, the performances, the bluff exteriors, and the hierarchy.

What's your stance?  Think about your own leadership.  Does it speak more to being the boss? Performing? Or learning along with colleagues?  Beginning to shift your stance just might help bring about some of the elusive results you are seeking.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Improving or Declining?

Are you leading an improving or declining school/organization?

As a leader, you are responsible for setting the direction of your school/organization and then mobilizing efforts to bring about improvement.  Many years ago, Larry Lezotte offered a very thought provoking comment about this.  He said, “There is no status quo…you are an
improving school or a declining school."

Lezotte tells us that our schools/organizations are either improving or declining and that there is no middle ground because the middle ground is the status quo - and status quo means declining.  Could you, at this point in time, identify whether you are leading an improving or declining school/organization? 

If you're declining, what is your plan to turn things around?  If you're improving, to what do you attribute your improvement?  Can you - and your staff - articulate specifically what is it that brings about this continuous improvement?  And very significantly, how are you sharing your improvement strategies with others so they too can improve? 

This is urgent work!  If you're improving, you need to share your learning with others.  If you're declining, you need to identify quickly what you're going to do about it.  As a leader, this means it starts with you.  Do you have the skills to bring about continuous improvement?  If not, you have some serious thinking to do about your valued added to your school/organization.  Harsh words?  Perhaps.  But consider the alternative.  The future of young people is in your hands.  They don't have time to wait for the adults to figure things out.  This is urgent work.  No child should lose a high-quality education because the adults are not yet well enough equipped to provide them with what they need.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Leading Meetings

As a leader, how do you lead open, honest, productive meetings?

Meetings without outcomes are a waste of time. Yet, many meetings fail to produce results because the conversation circles around the issues rather than focusing on them. To make sure decisions happen and people take action, you need to have a productive dialogue. Here are five things every meeting
should be:
  1. Open. The outcomes of your meeting should not be predetermined. Questions like, "What are we missing?", "Who else needs to be here?", "What voices are not represented at this table?" signal honest searching for a range of perspectives and more broad-based thinking.
  2. Candid. Encourage people to air conflicts. When people express their real opinions, productivity increases.  A quick 'go round' of the table to ask "What;s working for you and what isn't?" can help surface issues that need to be tabled. 
  3. Informal. Keep it loose. Conversations should be unscripted with honest questions and spontaneity...yet with meeting processes in place so that it's not unending.  This in itself takes lots of practice as the leader of meetings.
  4. Conclusive. Everyone should leave knowing exactly what they are expected to do.  A quick check-in helps.  Again, a quick 'go round' of the table to ask, "What's your action coming out of our meeting?" helps solidify the actions and confirms that the meeting had purpose. 
  5. Reflective - a few days after the meeting, check in with a few people to ask how it went.  Are meetings helping us accomplish what we want to accomplish?  Being sincere in seeking this input helps staff know that you're serious about their opinions and that you value both their opinions and their work.  

Adapted from Harvard Business Review on Making Smart Decisions.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Where are you spending your time?

As a leader, where are you spending your time?

As leaders, it matters a great deal where we spend our time.  Why?  It matters because where we spend our time indicates to our staff members - and others - what we believe to be important.  For example, if a school principal spends the majority of the day in the office - face glued to a computer screen - it's a clear message that 'office work' is job number one.  Alternatively, if a school principal spends a good portion of the day inside classes seeing what is happening and how students are learning, it's again a strong message.  This time the message is that what happens in the classroom, with students, is at the heart of the work to be done.  Keeping with the same idea of a school principal, consider the students and their families.  If they see the principal in the office most of the time, this conveys a message that the managerial aspects of the role take precedence.  Conversely, if the principal is in classes, or even out and about the school property, there is far greater opportunity to get to know the students and their families, who they are, and what's important to them.  Thus, this becomes seen as important. 

Where you spend your time tells people what is important to you.  As a leader, what's important to you needs to be important to them.  Otherwise, why would you be doing it?

Think about your day today - or any day for that matter.  Consider where you spent your time.  If you can accept the idea that where you spend your time conveys a message to people, what might people think is important to you based on where you are spending your time?

Friday, 11 November 2011

The Questions Every Leader Should Ask

As a leader, are you asking questions that can bring about improvement?

Asking the right questions is an essential skill of any leader. Yet many fail to inquire enough. Here are three types of questions you should be asking:
  • Questions about yourself. Good leaders ask themselves and others about what they could do better. Ask in a way that invites constructive, candid responses and allows those to respond to feel safe about responding.
  • Questions about plans and projects. These should both advance the work and develop the people. Tough and direct questions are OK, as long as they are in the interest of progress.  Better yet, ask questions that inquire and stimulate thinking.  For example, 'What was it about this approach that seemed the best approach?' ......or......'What might be some ways we could measure our results?'  When you ask a 'What might....' or 'How might...' question, you are opening up thinking.  Try it and see what happens.
  • Questions about the organization. Look for ways that the organization can function more effectively by questioning practices, processes, and structures. Ask: Why do we do things this way? Is there a better approach?  You need to ask yourself these questions first.  In the right setting, these are great questions to ask your staff....but ask them when people can respond as groups...until the culture exists where staff understand that you really want to know what works best and you're not testing them.

Adapted from "The Art of Asking Questions" by Ron Ashkenas.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Alignment of Your Beliefs and Your Actions

As a leader, do your actions align with your professed beliefs?

Many people feel that any decision is better than no decision. After all, you can always change direction at a later date. But, in an attempt to appear decisive, leaders may prematurely push for an answer. And if there isn't a clear conclusion, they'll provide one. This undermines a team's ability to make a collective decision. Pretty soon people stop participating because they assume you've made up your mind in advance. If you can't agree, don't impose an answer. Instead, end the discussion by putting a process in place that yields decisions—even slowly-made ones—that everyone can accept. That way you won't lose your staff's goodwill next time around.

Many of us profess to seek and honour collaborative decision-making.  However, if your espoused beliefs don't align with your actions, your staff will soon figure this out and may begin to disengage.  Remember, as a leader, people are watching you.  And they are often watching for the alignment between what you say you believe in and what you actually do. 

Adapted from "How to Cultivate Engaged Employees" by Charalambos A. Vlachoutsicos.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

As a leader, how do you engage your staff?

Engaged employees are essential to a leader's - and organization's - success. Without staff who care about, participate in, and take ownership over the work, even the best leader will flounder. Here are three ways to win your staff's engagement:

  • Be modest. Share both your mistakes and your successes. Staff will see that you're both human and don't have anything to prove.
  • Show that you're listening. People tune in to body language. Manage where you look and what you do with your hands so that staff know you're paying attention.
  • Don't have all the answers. Leaders should catalyze problem solving. Be willing to admit that you don't know what the answer is and invite your team to toss around ideas.

Adapted from: How to Cultivate Engaged Employees by Charalambos A. Vlachoutsicos

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Confucius and School Leadership

As a leader, how do you demonstrate Confucian leadership?  

Guest post by: Benjamin Law

School leaders demonstrate leadership and leadership capacity in many dimensions. What relationship do you see between the moral standard and the leadership of the school leader?

There were five classics of the Confucian canon in ancient Chinese. “Book of Rites” was one of the Five Classics.   It described the social forms, governmental system, and ancient/ceremonial rites of the Zhou Dynasty (c. 1050–256 BCE). The original text is believed to have been compiled by Confucius himself, whilst the edition usually referred to today was edited and re-worked by various scholars during the Han Dynasty (202 BCE – 220 CE). (Wikipedia)

In one of the chapters of the “Book of Rites”, called “Great Learning”, it has been mentioned that:

The ancients who wished to illustrate illustrious virtue throughout the world, first ordered well their own States.
Wishing to order well their States, they first regulated their families.
Wishing to regulate their families, they first cultivated their persons.
Wishing to cultivate their persons, they first rectified their hearts.”
                                                                                             (Great Learning, Book of Rites)

“Rectifying the hearts” can be interpreted as having a high moral standard. If a person would like to lead a country or state, the person’s heart should be rectified at the beginning.

This philosophy is significant because it ties into many themes of Chinese philosophy and political thinking and it has been influential in both classical and modern Chinese thought. It correlates individual action and higher goals such as ultimate world peace. 

Monday, 7 November 2011

Comfort the Distressed and Distress the Comfortable

As a leader, how do you bring about change in the best interest of your school/organization by both 'comforting' and 'distressing' your staff?

Last year, an educator I greatly respect used the phrase, "Comfort the distressed and distress the comfortable."  I liked it very much at the time and as I've reflected on it, I have come to realize how very important it is for leaders to do this very thing.  We need to distress the comfortable.  If we don't we're likely supporting the status quo and there aren't many places where the status quo is truly accomplishing what we need to accomplish. 

Equally, as leaders, we need to comfort the distressed.  One of our key roles is to support and nurture learning and growth - not only for ourselves - for those we lead.  Learning happens when we are out of our comfort zones and that can be a distressing place for people to be.  However, if we never go there, we really can't learn and become more effective in our practice.  As a leader, you need to take people out of their comfort zone and simultaneously comforting them as they move away from what is familiar.  

How do you balance comforting and distressing?  That's part of the art of leadership.  If that idea could be captured in a blog post, it probably wouldn't be a skill much worth cultivating.  Leading is artistry when it is done well because we can 'distress' people and 'comfort' them at the same time.....and it all works out well.  In fact, when done well, people seek out this apparently paradoxical state because they see how it helps them learn and grow....and people like to grow professionally. 

Friday, 4 November 2011

Being Optimistic

As a leader, do you demonstrate optimism?

Within the literature on leadership, there are many references to the significance of leaders demonstrating optimism.  As leaders, this is sometimes really difficult to do.  We face challenging situations.  We see results that simply are not good enough.  We see work practices that are not effective.  We see many things that can annoy, frustrate, or even anger us.  There are ways for us to deal with these situations......and publicly is not one of them. 

Demonstrating optimism is a way that you communicate that you believe the work you are doing is important.  You believe the work your staff is doing is important.  You believe everyone has or can develop the skills to do a great job.  You believe great results are achievable.  In other words, you have great faith in those whom you lead.

How do you demonstrate optimism?  You can't fake it.  If you don't believe in the importance of the work you are doing and you don't believe in your staff, you can't pretend.  They'll see through it easily.  You may need to shift some of your own thinking to a more positive perspective.  When you are in the workplace, are you seeing what's not there (the 'witch hunt' perspective) or do you see what's there and potentially there (the 'treasure hunt' perspective).  Draw on your observations from the 'treasure hunt' to build your own sense of optimism about your workplace.  Remember, no one ever does a great job when they feel that their leader doesn't believe in them. 

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Knowing what to do when you don't know what to do

As a leader, do you know what to do when you don't know what to do?

As leaders, we have a significant role to play in leading our organizations especially when challenging situations emerge.  People look to you for direction, for comfort, for reassurance, and for strength.  This can be incredibly difficult if you aren't feeling completely in control of the situation or if you feel you might not have the skills you need to navigate something really challenging.  Nonetheless, your staff are watching you and what they are seeing is important. 

We don't usually get warning about challenging situations in the workplace.  Things happen.  As leaders, we need to be able to respond to the 'things' that happen.  A great phrase to keep in mind is: I know what to do when I don't know what to do. In other words, when these challenging situations arise, I know that I need to develop a response.  I know I need to communicate with everyone affected.  I know I may need to seek help or support from others.  Your staff will watch you especially closely in such situations.  Knowing what to do when you don't know what do - that is, developing a response, communicating, and drawing on outside knowledge and skill - will demonstrate that you are managing the situation in the best way possible.  This is reassuring to your staff.  They can't attend to their work if they're worried about what's going on.  By being prepared to handle challenging situations at a moment's notice, you ensure that your staff can keep their focus on the important work they do and not channel their energies into a focus on what's going wrong.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Making use of Complaints

As a leader, how do you make use of complaints that come your way?

As a leader, you are probably used to receiving complaints.  In a business environment, you probably receive complaints from customers, clients, or staff.  In a school environment, you likely get complaints from students, staff, parents, and possibly even the broader community.  How do you use these complaints?  Do you try to brush them aside?  Do you move into defense mode in order to justify the actions that led to the complaints?  Or do you accept the complaints and use them? 

With fear of stating what might seem obvious, complaints can come from two places.  First, complaints come because we made a mistake.  Secondly, complaints come because people believe we made a mistake.  In the first instance, if we've made a mistake, we need to apologize immediately and set about planning how we are going to rectify the situation.  In the second case, it's more challenging.  Somebody thinks you or your organization hasn't done a good job.  This is the kind of situation where you need to invite the complainant to a conversation in order to sort things out.  In cases such as these, there is often a lot of emotion at play so it will demand all of your EI (Emotional Intelligence) skills.  It might be a slow process but it's one you need to take in the interests of addressing incorrect assumptions about you, your staff, or the work you are doing. 

The bottom line?  Make use of complaints. Use feedback from disgruntled people to determine the issues and then set about putting them right. Reach out to those who complain and find out what you can do differently.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Performance Appraisals

As a leader, how do you handle performance appraisals?

One of the important tasks any supervising leader must assume is engaging in performance appraisals with members of your staff.  Performance appraisals can be seen as an annoying task that needs to be completed to get it out of the way until the next appraisal cycle comes can be an opportunity to celebrate the good work of your staff, to support their professional growth, and to build capacity for ever-better results.  The difference is huge - a mundane task or a celebratory process focused on growth.  What makes the difference?  It's the leader - and how the leader engages in performance appraisal processes. 

If you'd like to lead a work culture that doesn't fear but embraces performance appraisals, it's up to you as the leader, to change your processes.  A few things to consider when doing performance appraisals:

  • Who does the talking?  Is it you, the leader/appraiser, or do your staff members have more of the 'air time'?  This is a chance for your staff to present themselves and their work to you.
  • Do staff members have a chance:
    • to articulate their work,
    • to explain why they work in the way that they do,
    • to talk about what they believe their greatest strengths and accomplishments are,
    • to describe from their own perspective where they believe they need to grow?
  • Do you use coaching questions in the conversations?  True coaching questions mediate thinking and are non-threatening.  They open up honest conversation.
  • Do your staff members have an opportunity to provide evidence of their work that demonstrates their strengths and accomplishments? 
  • Who decides what the next steps - or growth goals- are?  As the leader/appraiser do you tell your staff member or do they have the opportunity first to explain to you what their growth needs to be.  You might be very surprised that they likely know even better than you what they need to learn next in order to grow professionally.
  • Once the performance appraisal process finishes, is that it?  Done?  Or do you take the opportunity to check in with your staff to see how they're doing with the growth goals that were set?  Friendly, on-going monitoring - if done well - can be encouraging and motivating without seeming like you're checking up on them.

Performance appraisals can be a time-consuming, routine task or it can be a growth-oriented celebration of each staff members' work.  It's up to you as the leader, to create the culture by your actions.