Take what works and leave the rest. I have heard this expression a few times in various settings. At first, I thought, is this what you say when you don’t feel like completing something? When I was growing up in an immigrant family that came to the U.S. in the early 1970s, my dad would often hold us captive for his many lectures on life, hard work, and success. One of his frequent lines to us, especially if we complained about something school-related, was, “90% of life is doing what you don’t want to do.” So basically, get over it and just do it! Recently, my 24-year-old son was complaining about something at work and he said, “I know what you always say, 80 % of life is doing what you don’t want to do.” Hmmm. That did not sound like positive parenting when I heard it said back to me that way.
I am sure you have heard these statements before. Recently, I was in a yoga class and the teacher said to lower your head towards the floor. Then he said, it’s not a destination, just think about how you might head that way. Hmm, I thought. This statement resonated with me.
I used to function under the premise of working by setting a goal and achieving it. Then I would set a new goal and achieve that. Almost like jumping hurdles in a track race. I moved along in my career and in parenthood like that for many years. I would go through the routine for work and home day by day, accomplishing tasks and meeting goals.
FOCUS ON THE JOURNEY
Now further along in my career and in parenting with two children over twenty, I do things a bit differently.
Who needs a coach? Some folks think that the only people who need a coach are low performers who need a boost. I do not believe this is true. Everyone benefits from working with an effective coach. The coach guides you toward seeing all the power and wisdom you hold.
Each person holds so much power within themselves that needs to be let out. Sometimes they just need a little nudge, a little direction, a little support, a little coaching, and the greatest things can happen.Pete Carroll
A few reasons to engage a coach:
- You have a siloed job and need a person outside of the institution to connect and reflect with.
- You are at a transition phase in your career.
- You are managing change in your institution.
- You are new to your institution and you are adjusting to a new culture.
I have been exploring the role of the coach. I recently had the privilege of attending a truly transformative professional development opportunity, The Berkeley Executive Coaching Institute. This was an initial step towards my learning and developing skills to be a certified executive coach. The BECI faculty were skilled at modeling practices, building a safe space for risk-taking, and creating an engaging environment with a high level of interaction. Throughout the program, I had so many subtle and not-so-subtle shifts in my thinking.
In exploring the role of the coach, one big shift I experienced was seeing the relationship between my background as an educator and executive coaching. In Miles Downey’s book, Modern Effective Coaching, he writes: “The coach’s responsibility, therefore, is not to teach but to facilitate learning.” I argue something slightly different.
Part 3: Gather Data to Make Change
As a new leader, gathering data is a key part of your entry into your new community. Throughout your first year and in every interaction, make sure you are gathering data about the people and the place that you are leading. This requires actively and carefully listening and careful note-taking. You might be eager to share about yourself and your ideas in some of these interactions and yet it may be more important to provide space for others to share what they know and understand first. This data and knowledge that you gather from the community will be vital for future change-making of any sort. Gathering data is the first step.
Tips for Gathering Data
- Listen with an active listener’s stance. Listen to understand rather than listen to plan your response.
- Take thoughtful notes. Record dates and names of people.
Part 2: Tell Your Story, Create Connection
In my early days of leadership and teaching, I would get extremely nervous before speaking to large groups. Am I interesting enough? Is my message clear? One critical element I realized further along after boring many audiences was that storytelling was the key especially when you are new to a community. When I began with a story, people were hooked and they got to know me a bit better. The act of beginning with a relevant story also helped me relax as a speaker. Telling your story helps people relate to you and identify with you.
We remember stories. Stories can build connection and ultimately your relatability and your relationship. If you are speaking in a full faculty, board, or parent meeting, ‘make sure your pitch provides information on competence and change, experience and expectations, and your overall leadership approach.’
Part 1: Building Relationships
Have you accepted a new leadership opportunity? There are probably many feelings running through you right now: excitement, worry, joy, overwhelm and so much more on any given day and even in any given minute. Having been a new leader and new to school communities many times over, I have learned from my mistakes and from the things that worked well. The way you enter a community and begin your journey as a leader is important. This should be intentional work that is thoughtfully carried out with the purpose of learning about the community you are entering and making connections.
Building Relationships is at the core of introducing yourself to a community and a key way for you to get to know a community. This is time well spent even if it takes the entire year. Meeting one on one with your direct reports as you enter your school community is an essential first step.
When I was an administrator at a school and I had concerns about a direct report’s performance, I looked for past notes and documentation regarding observations, conversations, and other feedback. I found nothing. This was a person that had many complaints from all different constituents in the school over many years and yet there was nothing in writing. This could mean that someone might not have received clear and timely feedback about their performance and at the very least if they did, there was no follow-up to clarify goals and expectations. This does not serve anyone well: the person struggling in the job, the supervisor, and ultimately if you are in a school, the students. Documentation is a form of feedback. It leads to clarity and direct communication. There are likely few surprises when you document in a timely and clear manner.
Recently while holding a pose in yoga class, the teacher mentioned that you should feel challenged without strain. I wondered about these two words. I used to think a challenge had to come with strain. There was no other option. How do you separate the two? Can you separate these ideas? The practice of yoga and meditation has helped me to discover that yes in fact you can separate challenge and strain.
Challenge and strain are two different things that sometimes co-exist. Challenge is defined as something new and difficult that requires great effort by Meriam Webster’s dictionary. Strain is defined as stretching to maximum extension and tautness, to injure by overuse, misuse, or excessive pressure.
Growing up in an immigrant family, I was taught that challenge and strain were inextricably connected. If something was difficult and arduous then it was worthwhile.
Have you considered an improvement plan for an employee? Improvement Plans set a path to potential growth. This is the time of year that independent schools consider whether to offer contracts for employees to return. For high-performing employees, these decisions are quick and easy. For employees that are underperformers, and who have shown consistent signs of underperforming, it might be time to consider an Improvement Plan. An Improvement Plan, sometimes called a PIP (Performance Improvement Plan), makes clear what the person needs to work on in order to stay in their position at the school. It clarifies expectations, spells out goals and timelines, and has an emphasis on growth and support.
It’s essential that the employee understands they have an opportunity to improve. Avoid making employees feel like they’re being laid off, rather, emphasize their opportunity for growth.