"Actions Speak Louder Than Words"
How often have we heard that kids will listen to what you say, but will do what they see you do? People that we lead may hear what we say and ask, but will model their actions based on what they see from us. Leaders are often told to lead by example, but what does that really mean? As a parent, teacher and leader, I have always tried to lead by example, but must admit that at times I have been guilty of not taking the time to set up the path to success.
- As a parent, I told my children numerous times, “Go clean your room…”
- As a teacher, I told my students numerous times, “Study for your test…”
- As a principal, I told my teachers numerous times, “Do what is best for your students…”
While all of these are good statements, taking the statement and providing concrete ways to achieve success creates an effective leader as opposed to an instruction giver. I happened to see a real life example of leadership in action last week while visiting Disneyworld. While in the lobby of one of the Disney hotels, I saw first hand the beginning construction of a giant gingerbread house to kickoff the Christmas season. The fact that this gingerbread house was large enough to be a garden shed or a cottage was amazing on its own, but it was the leadership being demonstrated that made me want to snap a few photos and write about leading by example.
Standing on the peripheral watching the builders finish constructing the house itself, the Head Pastry Chef began his instruction on applying the pieces of gingerbread to the house. There were multiple tubs filled with fresh gingerbread labeled side wall, roof, etc. placed within reach dictating where on the house the gingerbread would be placed. A good leader plans ahead and has things ready for those working.
The Head Pastry Chef took one of the boxes off of the stack and asked one of the workers to come with him to the end of the house. I watched as he described the process to her. Then, taking a piece of gingerbread, he knelt down and measured the piece. He showed her how to score the gingerbread and make the cut needed providing the right size of gingerbread for the section. He then began to spread the icing on the wall and showed how to precisely adhere the gingerbread to the house. A good leader models exactly what should be done.
Now it was the young lady’s turn to cut and secure the next piece of gingerbread to the house. As the Head Pastry Chef looked on, she replicated the process she had just been shown. The Head Pastry Chef showed her how to gently push the piece up so that it was flush with the board it was resting on. He asked her if she had any questions and then left her to continue the process. He moved around the corner to begin again with another pair of workers and more gingerbread on an adjacent wall. A good leader watches the initial work, checks for understanding and provides immediate feedback.
I watched this process for about thirty minutes amazed at the leadership of the Head Pastry Chef. After he had modeled and instructed each group of workers, he circled back to check on the progress being made. During this phase, there were clarifications given as well as words of encouragement spoken to those doing the actual work. He continued to encourage and monitor as long as I was there watching. A good leader checks on progress and provides help and encouragement along the way.
It is always good to tweak your leadership skills along the way. Using the earlier examples, instead of telling your children to clean their room, start the cleaning process with them and explain your expectations with what you want the end results to look like. Demonstrate the task at hand. I used to tell my children to pick up an item on the floor and ask yourself, “Do I want to keep this – yes or no? If I want to keep it, where does it live in my room – put the item in its home. If I don’t want to keep it, throw it away." After getting them started, don’t forget the feedback and encouragement part. I can still hear my grandmother saying to me, “Let me help you make your bed. It only takes a minute to make the bed and it feels so good to get in bed at night when your bed has been made." I still hear her encouraging voice as I make my bed each morning.
For the teacher, giving the instruction to study for the test, start with a description of what studying actually looks like. Your students may think they know how to study, but are choosing the definition to the right. You will need to guide them to the correct definition of what it means to study, model it and let them practice in the classroom. You may tell your students to look at the vocabulary words that they have worked with during the unit and make sure they have strategies in place to make sure they understand them. You may instruct them to write down the 5 most important facts about what you have been studying that they think you may ask. If you have provided a study guide instead of saying use your study guide to study, tell them to have a parent or friend ask them the questions from the study guide and any that they don’t get right immediately to develop a strategy to help remember the facts.
For the leader, or administrator, instead of saying do what is best for kids or customers, take the time to explain what that looks like. It may be letting your teachers know that even though education is being run over by constant testing, they have permission to take a little longer on a concept or letting them know that it is permissible to take risks and try strategies that engage the students and may or may not work. Often, we learn as much by failure as by success. Encourage those you work with daily and thank them for what they contribute to your organization.
Whether you want to be a leader or not – you are. People are watching. Will you do what you say? Say what you do? Look for those around you who are leading by example and make an effort to go and do likewise. If they can do it, you can too. Remember, "Actions speak louder than words."