People who influenced my leadership style over the years did so because something they said impacted my thought process significantly and I saw first hand how they lived what they spoke. One such leader was Dr. Mary Bracegirdle. I was a young assistant principal and she was a Director of Middle School Education. Dr. Bracegirdle was passionate about middle school students and the learning that took place for this age group. Often she would say about the students, “They don’t care what you know until they know that you care.”
No matter your field or area of leadership, that statement will prove itself to be true. You may be an incredibly knowledgeable leader, but if you don’t have relationships with those you lead, they really don’t care what you know or care to implement what you ask. How then as a parent, a teacher, a leader can you create the environment that demonstrates that what you have to share is worth receiving? First…
BE VISIBLE AND PRESENT. In the time that I was a school administrator and principal, one of my top priorities was to be visible throughout the day. Though there was always much to be done, I knew that this investment in building relationships would enhance what we were doing in the school. Leaders often want to be visible, but have difficulty finding time to do so. Here are some easy ways to be visible and build relationships (let them know you care):
· Establish a morning routine that enables those you work with to see you. For me, as soon as the morning bell rang, I began to walk the building. I walked down each hall and was able to speak to the teachers at their door, ask if they were feeling better since I knew they had been out the day before or make general comments such as “Have a great day!” “We can make it these three days until spring break.” “You look great today!” Thanks for taking time to work with the talent show kids, I can’t wait to see the show!”
· Eat lunch with others. I know too many leaders that eat alone in their office. When I took the time to go to the cafeteria and sit with the teachers, I learned about their interests and lives. I was able to clarify things that they had questions about. I can’t tell you how many times a teacher would say, “I hate to bother you at lunch, but…” Those lunch interruptions enabled me to feel the pulse of the building, clarify misconceptions and get to know those I worked with better.
· As a parent and a person – be visible and present. I must say that it saddens me to see so many parents sitting near their children, but not be present. They are engaged with the technology at their fingertips instead of being in the moment with the child. We have one opportunity with our children – seize each moment and be not just visible, but present!
ENTER THEIR WORLD. Years ago I discovered a published method of teaching that I felt was realistic and relevant and pulled in much of what I personally believed about teaching and learning. There is a book written about this method called Quantum Teaching: Orchestrating Student Success. There are many great points and methods in the book; one is going “from their world to our world…By the design of your teaching, you can cross over into their world and bring them over to yours. You build a partnership with them in the learning process.” Aren’t we more able to cooperate and participate if we see what’s in it for us? A leader must enter the world of those with whom they work and understand the components of their world in order to bring them back to a task at hand. As an administrator, I could tell the teachers that they need to differentiate for the students, but being able to give specific examples in all subject areas in addition to showing how differentiation could benefit teachers made it much more palatable than just saying you need to differentiate learning. I have heard many teachers instruct students to study for a test, but very few teach or model for the students how to carry out that instruction. Enter the world of those you lead – Captivate them – and then bring them back to your world and the task at hand.
BUILD CAMARADERIE AND POSITIVE RELATIONSHIPS AMONG YOUR TEAM. The easiest way to do this is through team-building activities. I must admit, we all hate them – or say we do. When someone starts a meeting and begins with a “get-to-know you” activity, most of us will roll our eyes and think it is a waste of time. However, good activities are short – often five minutes or less – and in retrospect were fun and you learned something about those you work with in the process. I will be posting and sharing “Interesting Icebreakers” on the blog periodically with things you can use with your staff and/or your students. It is important in the classroom to build positive relationships among students as well so that the children develop empathy for one another and are better able to work together.
As you attempt to share with others the knowledge that you wish to impart, take the time and ask yourself, “Have I demonstrated that I care about the mission of our organization and about the people that carry out that mission?” People really don’t care what you know until they know that you care.