This year I’ve decided to get a coach. I’ve spent the summer listening to sport commentators discuss technical aspects of their sports, they’ve highlighted players blind spots, player weaknesses as well as areas of strength. They’ve had the ability to objectively observe and provide insight that if adhered to could improve player performance. As leaders we try to provide this to those around us. We watch, we discuss, we question, we guide all to assist in improving performance, but who coaches us?
As leaders we are committed to cycles of continuous improvement for those we lead, sourcing professional opportunities, constructing systems and routines that encourage and promote professional development. We extend this process to our own learning by actively seeking ways to sharpen our skills. Rarely though do we get solicited constructive feedback. For many leaders, feedback is only provided when things are not tracking as planned. So this year I’ll get a coach, someone who can provide one on one, objective, personalised feedback. Someone who can see different aspects of my leadership and shine a light on them. Someone who can ensure that I am very specific in my personal goals and hold me accountable. I know it might be challenging and at times may make me uncomfortable as I acknowledge that my practice may need to change. In the end though it’s about growth and continuous improvement.
As leaders we are usually very reflective. We take time to think through decisions, to review plans and strategy and adjust as necessary. Sometimes however, it can be difficult to reflect on our own performance as our underlying assumptions cloud our judgment. We observe, we assume and sometimes we look for the self-fulfilling prophecy to reaffirm. It’s not easy getting a gauge on how others see you and how this might be impacting on your ability to work with your team. This space is known as our professional blind spot and can leave you exposed if not identified.
When things are going well reflection can become even more difficult. At these times we firmly believe that our decisions are well thought out as our own data sources fall prey to confirmation bias. This is where your coach can provide an objective third party view with no stake in the decision. They will be able to dissect your data sources, operational approach and professional behaviour traits and challenge you on their validity. Quite simply your coach is the person who provides an objective view point based on unbiased evidence. Their ability to walk you through a process that provides clarity, grounds you and generates alternative viewpoints will be invaluable. This then places any required leadership change as your responsibility, allowing you to identify what it is you need to learn and what it is that you may need to change to achieve a more successful outcome.
In my early leadership days I thought of a coach as someone who observed using a tick and flick method to make sure I was not underperforming, that I was working at a satisfactory level. What I’ve grown to understand is that a coach is much more than evaluation and supervision. A quality coach can identify skill levels and work to provide a very individualised level of support. A coach has the ability to provide real-time feedback that can lead to behavioural changes being implemented immediately.
In a rapidly changing landscape with increased scrutiny on performance it has never been more crucial to have a sounding board who can provide you with constructive feedback. Athletes have long understood this, they realise that an effective coach can analyse their skills, knowledge and performance and provide feedback, that if adhered to can take their game to a level they would not have achieved through personal reflection alone. In times of challenge you can be the focus of heavy scrutiny and criticism, when there is an unpopular decision to be made you can bet that you’ll receive feedback. As we know this unfortunately comes with the leadership territory. What I am after though is feedback on my day-to-day performance to help me improve. Why? Because I can. My view is that an effective coach will equip me with the tools, knowledge, and opportunities I need to fully develop. Vince Lombardi, a former American football coach once asked the question how many self-help programs will it take until you improve? His answer, just one, it’s the one you commit to. In our day to day business we can get distracted and become absorbed in the tasks at hand losing sight of our own personal goals. A coach will assist in keeping you on track in your continuous improvement journey.
As we transition into a new year, some of us in new roles, we can be faced with new learning experiences and new role expectations. There can be increased demands which can stretch us, challenge us and leave us feeling vulnerable. It’s the perfect time for a coach. We invest heavily in the professional learning of our teams, building their knowledge base and technical expertise, ensuring that those we lead have the tools required to perform. As a leader you are in an influential position to make an impact at a broad level. For this if no other reason you need to ensure that you are at the top of your game. Your coach will keep you on track moving towards your goals.
This year I’d encourage you to think a little selfishly and find yourself a coach. Do your homework. It has to be the right fit, there must be a connection and sense of trust for it to work. It’s a genuine partnership. This person will hold you accountable and could push you to a level that you didn’t think was possible. Most leaders travel the safe and comfortable self-guided journey of continuous improvement. They seek opportunities that they believe will assist in their growth. For real change to happen, for strong growth, find a coach to challenge you beyond what you think is possible. It may be uncomfortable at times, but I guarantee it will be worth it.
I’d like to address the elephant in the classroom. The one that’s standing right in the middle taking up lots of space, crowding the learning environment. Data. Is it taking the fun out of teaching? I guess the answer is yes and ……… no. There is no question that systems, governments and schools needs big data to identify trends, predict patterns of behaviour, allocate resources to emerging and identified areas of need and provide high levels insights. Big data has its place but what about the small data? it can be structured and non-structured, it can be scheduled and randomised and is collected in usable sized chunks that are contextually relevant to a specific setting. Is it possible that using small data can be fun.
Many professionals are getting bogged down in the debate over what seems to be a relentless schedule of data collection. What we tend to overlook in the debate, is the purpose. If our data collection is serving no real purpose other than to complete a spreadsheet and rob us of teaching time then I agree, what is the point? On the other hand if we are using it to sharpen our focus, to specifically target our teaching then it is critical. Useful data connects people with timely, meaningful insights into student areas for growth and achievement and when used purposefully can be an extremely powerful tool that actually puts the fun back into teaching.
Whilst I agree that data walls, visible targets and performance measures have assisted in creating a sharp focus on evidence based practices and demonstration of impact, is it possible that the pendulum has swung too far in our pursuit of individualised accountability? Nothing is more important to the success of our students than high quality teaching. I am in the privileged position to be able to view our teaching staff in action across schools in our system. What I have observed are staff who have high expectations, are able to cater for the wide range of needs of their students and use highly effective techniques that both engage and challenge our students. High quality teachers are always striving for student improvement. They are possibly their harshest critics, analysing their lessons, their delivery, levels of student engagement and the impact of their work on students. They are using small data all day, every day as a way of improving practice.
Small data allows us to provide our own insights into the relationships we have with our students, it allows us to develop achievable bite sized chunks that we can celebrate and this is where the joy comes back in. I spent my last years on class as a kindergarten teacher. By the end of the year my students could read, write, work mathematically in combination with a whole range of social, emotional and communication skills. I did that. I gave a gift that they would have for life. No matter how old they are or where they are in the world I started that learning journey. When we are able to see the improvement, see the skill development, know that we have had an impact, that’s the incredibly powerful and rewarding element of teaching. The question is how do we know and what role can data play?
Data talks, data walls, data walks, assessment schedules, moderating, criteria analysis, individualised, tiered, standardised the list goes on and all play their role. What is more powerful though, is a strong focus on teams of teachers using contextually relevant small data as a powerful vehicle to drive student improvement. Time spent imputing data into a spreadsheet could be better spent in teacher teams working together to observe practice and refine our craft. Our system actually supports this process through the Performance Develop Framework. At its core it underpins the notation that every teacher, in every school will improve, not because they have to but because they can. High performing teams use this system developed process to increase levels of performance, to strive towards personalised goals that impact on student outcomes. How do we know if we have improved? Small data. Colleagues observe and provide immediate contextualised feedback specific to the individual, its formative assessment for teacher colleagues.
Spending time in teacher teams using our collective knowledge of our students and curriculum to design learning draws on a range of small data for a very specific purpose. In NSW Public Education a strong focus on collaborative instruction is driving this approach across schools. We have strong evidence based, system supported teaching strategies that provide high level direction for our schools. Our teacher teams have the ability to contextualise best practice to become relevant practice for their context. It’s the small data that allows teacher teams to contextualise and target the specific needs of their students. Learning sequences designed with the selection of appropriate assessment techniques allow us to identify what it is that will move student learning forward. This is supported by the purposeful collection of a range of small data. Without the small data it’s just another unsubstantiated opinion that offers little direction.
It’s not the quantity of the data it’s the purpose and how we use it. The fun comes back into teaching when we view data as an avenue to investigate ways to unlock student potential. When we take time to reflect on where a student is, where we want them to be and how we are going to get them there in small achievable and measurable segments we target our teaching. Working this way we identify what students can already do and what they need to learn next. When we bring this down to a very specific skill level and provide a definite timeframe for evaluation and refinement it has the potential to bring a sense of accomplishment that can be almost addictive. It’s the small data that allows us to really know our students. Understanding the purpose behind our data collection and using it to target our teaching will help us build a better relationship with the elephant in the classroom.
Empathy is generally described as the ability to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. It’s having the the capacity to recognise and understand the emotions of another person and then act accordingly. Leading human organisations, where feelings and emotions impact on views, thoughts and attitudes, we are faced with multiple perspectives and using this soft skill can have tangible results. When we take time to reflect on the perspective of others we cast away assumptions and avoid jumping to conclusions providing a clarity to our decision making. For this reason being able to empathise could potentially be one of the most important leadership skills of the 21st Century.
As an empathetic leader, you are aware of the feelings of others and are able to appreciate what another person is going through. This does not mean that you necessarily agree with them. There are times when those we lead feel a range of emotions as a result of a looming deadline, the introduction of a new initiative or a decision that has been made. We all feel pressure at various stages of our careers and question the expectations placed upon us. Empathy though, is not about lowering expectations it is about knowing when to reinforce them. There are times when a compassionate ear is all that is needed, but there may also be times when it is coupled with a supportive scaffold to assist with the task at hand. When you use empathy to identify why someone is behaving the way they are the person feels valued and heard and therefore, is better positioned to accept responsibility for their actions, understand the decision being made or the expectations being placed upon them.
Empathetic leaders are non-judgemental. The nature of our positions often find us time poor, looking to expedite decisions and conversations so we can complete our busy schedules. This presents us with a challenge where it can be habitual to listen to a colleague whilst running a parallel internal dialogue making judgements about the nature of their feelings, perceptions or reactions in order to efficiently identify a solution. Truly empathetic leaders are free of this, they know that if you are running a diagnostic internal process you’ve already cast judgement, meaning you can’t accurately perceive another’s emotional state. I’ve always been of the view that we feel the way we feel, no-one can tell us how or why we should feel a particular way, it’s the way we deal with it that makes the difference. An empathetic leader is able to reserve judgement, listen and then meet people where they are. A successful leader will then use this as the platform to build on for future success.
In times of heightened emotion people’s ability to make rational decisions can be significantly impaired. When meeting with a person whose emotions are overflowing it’s time to be a good listener. As leaders we are often good problem solvers, listening to our colleagues to find solutions or alternative pathways is important. As an empathetic leader we must put our complete focus on the person standing in front of us showing that we are fully present. This can be very difficult at times and can require a great deal of concentration, especially with a full agenda and a queue building at the door. Being a good listener and showing we are present in the conversation allows a better chance to have our colleagues open up and share the underlying reason behind the emotion. If we shift our attention too quickly and try to solve the issue we run the risk of stemming the flow. We must finely tune our understanding of body language and speech patterns to know the right time to intervene. The best way to do this is to remain open during conversations and place your complete focus on the person in front of you.
Empathetic leaders display enormous amounts of self-control. When dealing with a highly emotional person who may be expressing their concerns in a way that can be confronting, empathy can be the first thing that gets discarded. When hurtful comments get made we often feel the need to defend and can become impatient. The empathetic leader is able to park that rising emotion before speaking. You can feel the emotion rising in your body, some call it the red mist, the true leader will recognise it and allow time for a moment of reflection before speaking. It can also be useful to take a break in the conversation to clear enough space to communicate effectively. By creating space we provide time to reflect and see the issue through another’s perspective allowing us an opportunity to make sense of the emotion behind the response. You will never be able to be reactive and empathetic at the same time, displaying empathy for others means we must utilise self-control before we speak.
So much of our self is tied up in what we do. When we meet people at a social gatherings we introduce ourselves and follow up with I am a (insert Occupation). We don’t say I am a husband, a father, a brother, we say I am a (insert Occupation) what do you do? We are so heavily invested in our chosen career paths that it can be very easy to become emotionally charged when we don’t understand or agree with a decision or when we feel that it has a negative impact on our wellbeing. As leaders we must understand that the bottom line is our success comes through our people. Our people are the most powerful indicators of our ability to meet our organisations goals. People have emotions and feelings, they go through moods and at times attitudes vary. They have lives outside of the work place that impact on their ability to function at their optimum. Being aware of this, remaining open to understand the feelings and emotions of others is critical in our human centric environment.
Whether you walk a mile in someone else’s shoes or place the shoe on the other foot, remember everyone has a story that has led them to this point. Your job is to tune in to what the person standing in front of you is going through and respond in a way that shows that you acknowledge their feelings and understand the issue from their perspective. I’m not suggesting that you should always agree and I would never expect you to lower your standards. Just know that empathy is the fuel that powers effective relationships. It shows that we support our people and when we do that anything is possible.
What is a default option and why would you use it to lead? The default option is what is left when no active choice has been made between a set of possibilities. Well-designed defaults can be quite powerful in nature as they essentially simplify decision making effectively guiding desirable behaviour. Leading by default may seem like it lacks strategy and is potentially an ineffective route, but what if your default is a culture of high expectations built around collaborative professional learning communities that focus on cycles of continues improvement. Sounds more appealing doesn’t it? A well designed learning culture across your school lays the platform for an effective default. The question remains then, why would you want a default if you had such an effective learning culture prominent across the school? The answer I believe is that it allows your staff the freedom to experiment, to trial and to explore knowing that there is a high level fall-back position if they are not successful. A default position carefully designed to be the mainstay of your school’s operation is a safety net for successful student outcomes.
The challenge is to establish the default, which can be a complex and time consuming journey. An initial default is continuing the way things have always been, raising the bar can be difficult especially when many schools are doing an exceptional job to begin with. But the very notion of continuous improvement is based on the ideology that we can always get better. I often talk to my staff about what makes a champion. The champion never strives to be number one, they strive to beat number one to continue to do better by refining, refocusing and evaluating their performance. In the words of Dylan Wiliam “Every teacher needs to improve, not because they are not good enough, but because they can be even better”. We are fortunate to be in a period of education when we are supported by The Australian Professional Standards that identify the benchmarks for performance. In NSW Public Education we have the support of a system that encourages individual responsibility for self-improvement through performance and development plans. These tools provide a perfect springboard for raising the bar and establishing a high quality default position.
In the book Nudge, Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein outlined the idea of choice architecture. They suggest that we have the ability to design our environments in order to influence behaviour. Just as an architect will design a building to meet a specific purpose, we too can design our default model to meet the specific requirements of our context. The default will be comprised of a variety of components which individually will have a significant impact on the overall operation of a school. As leaders we need to identify these components and understand their role in establishing the default setting we are seeking. Through a combination of high quality professional learning, collegiality, mentoring, coaching and knowing our students the default model can be framed within the context of our individual settings.
In an era where we are swamped by research articles and social media feeds us professional learning opportunities 24/7 we have the ability to source and develop high quality professional learning that can be adapted to our individual contexts. An effective professional learning model to develop a default position must have sound procedures in place that have a single schoolwide focus. This focus needs to be supported by evidence, what is the data telling us, and be classroom based with an emphasis on improving teaching strategies. The model is not about improving the teacher it’s about ensuring that high quality strategies form the basis of practice across the school. Be it instructional rounds, lesson study or PDP observations it has to have time for reflection, feedback and discussion of next steps. It must be based on the premise that teachers have a commitment to improve and an openness to be critiqued by their colleagues. I have found the use of technology has been invaluable in enabling staff to capture lessons, strategies and student responses and reflect on them in collaborative debriefing sessions at the conclusion of the lesson. This timely immediate feedback is extremely powerful in developing the default position acting as a social contagion spreading its influence. Just like athletes reviewing game day footage and identifying strengths and areas for development so to this technology affords our staff the same opportunity.
In business the default option is carefully designed to ensure that there is a benefit to the designer for not choosing another option. The default in most instances is carefully orchestrated to favour the design architect leading to increased profits. As leaders in schools wouldn’t it make sense that we design our default to ensure that it makes students the beneficiaries? Establishing norms, which shape expectations about how we learn together as professionals forms the foundation of the learning culture and can become the default. Social psychology research clearly demonstrates that when faced with any change processes people tend to resist until they feel comfortable. As change happens and it will, as you try to establish teacher buy in to a new strategy having a high quality default position to fall back on will place your students in a win win situation. So whilst leading by default may sound like a lack of strategy becoming the design architect of the new normal certainly has its benefits.
Have you ever had to make a decision and it just didn’t feel right? As leaders we make decisions all day that have a direct impact on those we lead. We aim to get them right and use all evidence at our disposal to ensure that we give ourselves the best chance of doing so. Occasionally, we’ll be faced with a decision that has us feeling uneasy and a little voice in our heads starts nagging that something is not right. You know that feeling that makes you go back and check that you’ve turned off the iron or makes you hesitate just that fraction before you cross the road in front of a car. We all have those stories when we ‘just knew’, when we had a ‘gut feeling’. Using our instincts has long been a mechanism used for survival. Our ancestors used instinct to recognise that big prehistoric monsters coming over the horizon were dangerous and needed to be avoided. In the modern world our instincts protect us from the metaphorical monster and if used correctly can assist us to navigate the complex nature of leadership.
There is a theory that trusting your gut instincts may be the result of years of experience playing on your subconscious guiding you away from a path you have been down before. Some call it instinct, some intuition, some relying on their gut. Research out of John Hopkins and Harvard Medical has supported a growing body of evidence linking the connection between the gut and the brain. They have identified that within the walls of our digestive system is the enteric nervous system (ENS) which acts as the brain of the gut. The ENS links directly to the brain via the central nervous system on what is known as the gut-brain axis. This axis allows for two way communication between the brain and the gut sending and receiving impulses, and responding to experiences and emotions. Any time you get a physical reaction when faced with decision the axis is at work. If you get a light feeling in the stomach when excited by an idea it’s a pretty good sign that this is an opportunity worth pursuing. On the other hand if you have a sinking feeling in the pit of the stomach and there is a sense of apprehension it’s pretty clear that this is a definite no. This system acts like an internal moral compass.
There are many great stories of exceptional leaders who are said to have great instincts; they have the capacity to read situations and react to them with a clarity that defies logic. They are able to pick up on subtle clues, patterns and changes to behaviour and automatically make a judgement without a thorough analysis. Is it a skill they are born with or is it something that can be developed? I believe it is something that can be developed, if you take time to identity the signs. Intuitive leaders subconsciously tune into these signs. The gut- brain axis connects to the limbic system of the brain where all of our habits, emotions, experiences and feelings are stored. This section of the brain is actually where all decision making happens and plays a vital role in action selection allowing us to decide between several possible behaviours to execute at any given time. Intuitive leaders can tap into this subconsciously drawing on previous successes and failures using this stored data to guide their instincts. You know when you just can’t put your finger on it, you can’t explain why you know you just know, that’s a culmination of your previous experiences reacting to the situation and letting you know to think deeper about the decision you’re about to make. That’s why we ‘sleep on it’ or ‘mull it over’ our gut instincts are telling us that our first reaction needs further consideration.
So what does this mean for us on a day to day basis? For me, if it doesn’t feel right then it probably isn’t. In a system where rigorous analysis of data sets, increasing levels of accountability, compliance and fiscal responsibility challenge decision making it can be a brave decision to say no in the face of mounting evidence. Whilst all indications might be overwhelmingly in favour of a pathway, if it doesn’t sit right then take some time to think it through before making the final call. I’ve started to keep track of situations when I’ve had to make a decision and I’ve had an initial ‘gut reaction’. I am hoping that over time I can actually build up a profile of when my instincts where right and when they were off track. I’m not allowing my gut reactions to override all decisions making, that would be foolish, I’m just monitoring. What I’ve noticed is that my gut instincts have the ability to subconsciously read a situation, they pick up on ‘the vibe’ whilst my conscious mind is running the analytics. As my brain rationalises my gut will instinctively guide, the pair working in unison to survey the environment within which I am working. I’d have to say that so far my instincts have been pretty accurate and have aligned nicely to the supporting evidence behind the decision making process. In general, I’ve found when I’ve had to trust my gut; I have felt good about the decision believing that what I was doing was right. Obviously not all decisions will have a gut reaction, most made on a daily basis are founded in logic and reason, but tuning in when the odd situation arises may be useful.
We all have looming deadlines; we all feel pressure to make decisions but as leaders we need to take time to consider the implications prior to making them. When the situation arises when the gut says wait but the mind says go, I believe there are a few things you can do.
- Firstly determine if there actually is a choice, sometimes despite your instincts there is no choice, the decision can only go one way. If there is a choice, does it have to be a yes or no answer? Are there other possibilities that are a mixture of both?
- Take time to think of the pros and cons. Look at the decision from an alternate point of view and see if you’d make the same decision.
- Has your intuition clouded your judgment? Remember it’s influenced by past experiences.
- Does it feel right? Are you able to rest comfortably knowing that you made the decision?
- Finally, allow yourself time to make the decision.
I know there have been times when I’ve had to make a judgment call and for no particular reason it just didn’t feel like the right decision. Despite the logic, the reason and the mounting evidence I just had a gut feeling that this was not the right option so I chose not to do it. The next time you get that feeling in the pit of your stomach when making a decision and you just can’t seem to figure out why, I’d ask that you consider your instincts, they may be better than you thought.
In our modern world of celebrity, product placement and competition there seems to be a degree of humility missing in some of our leaders. We have rock star CEOs and celebrity politicians consumed by self-importance and self-promotion pushing their own agendas with a confidence that borders on arrogance. Elements of our society seem so obsessed with personal success that humility can be seen as a sign of weakness. In a global environment that discredits someone for changing their mind or doubts someone’s motives if credit is given to a rival, it’s hard to be humble. Am I implying that humble leaders are not strong enough to make an impact in our organisations? Not at all. I believe those who act with humility have the confidence and emotional intelligence to know that it’s a collective effort that has enabled their leadership journey. These leaders are secure in their capabilities without being over confident, they have the courage to voice their opinions without overstating and they never forget where they have come from. Humble leaders understand that it is better to have someone else identify their talents than personally singing them from the rooftops.
For many humility can be seen as a sign of weakness. It doesn’t come easy to most people, especially when there are times that you need to ‘promote yourself’ to get that next job. We all have an ego and there are times when some calculated self-promotion will assist you, but it’s when this is driving you that it crosses the line. Humility is actually a really powerful tool; it allows you the ability to compromise by providing a sense of perspective and reason and an ability to accept alternate viewpoints. It also allows you to adjust, reflect and grow, attributes that are actually desirable and are worthy of self-promotion if needed. To be able to admit a mistake and demonstrate how you have overcome and learnt from it is a process that “sells’ you far more than a win on every occasion. It shows determination, reflection and strategic thinking. It demonstrates to those around you that you are capable of having robust debate and have the flexibility to change tact when needed.
Working for large organisations with various degrees of complexity we must understand that no one person can have full coverage of every aspect, issue or solution. A humble leader is comfortable admitting that they don’t know the answer; in fact they’re comfortable admitting that they may not know anything about a particular topic and deferring responsibility to someone who does. This is not admitting weakness, it’s actually utilising strength. Knowing that there are people who may be smarter or have a greater knowledge base is a critical element of leadership. Admitting that you need additional advice actually creates an opportunity for someone else to grow by providing them with space to showcase their expertise. Strong leaders are able to coordinate all resources available to them to make informed decisions. They are able to use this strategy to either secure some form of action from those around them or as a catalyst to initiate their own work. The ability to draw upon all resources openly admitting that you don’t have all the answers is a courageous leadership move that not everyone is comfortable with. Humble leaders won’t let ego get in the way of positive outcomes.
Humble leaders don’t micromanage. They understand that this level of scrutiny placed on those they work with can be harmful to productive working relationships. They pay attention to detail, they plan and have high expectations but they’re prepared to take less causalities on the journey. Micromanagement not only shows a lack of trust in your colleagues it also shows a highly controlling personality. This not only demoralises those you work with but leads you to become less effective trying to have tight coverage and reign over all. This level of effort can only be sustained for so long. Humble leaders are able to get the same result, with a level of detail that delivers impact by asking questions not dictating terms.
Humble leaders know that they can learn from the collective intelligence in the room. Being able to look across the table at colleagues and opening your mind to new learning is a productive way of increasing your ability, knowledge base and strategic thinking. It also allows you to not become too fixated on one method of operation. Being comfortable enough to engage in debate and accept differing viewpoints, whilst not always agreeing demonstrates a clear level of leadership. Inexperienced leaders often get caught up in the power struggle trying to ensure that their idea is adopted as the final product. Whilst this allows them to come out on top in the argument it does little to the confidence of the team who may feel like there was a predetermined agenda. Successful leaders have a flexibility that focuses on the impact they want to have and the agility to change course when new evidence arises. Being humble in this situation and adopting the ideas of others not only builds a sense of team and collegiality but keeps everyone focused on the end goal. You are more likely to get successful outcomes when those you work with know that you accept and understand that there are different ways to achieve a goal. Humble leaders will acknowledge that the end point can be arrived at from many paths.
It takes a sense of humility to recognise your own areas for development and set about a plan of action to develop them. Humility allows us to seek the help of others by openly admitting that we have something to learn from those around us. History is littered with powerful leaders who lacked the humility to accept advice only to see what they had worked so hard to achieve crumble around them. Truly humble leaders understand that we are but a single part of a much larger picture. They are willing to step right outside their comfort zone even if it means that they appear not to be on top of their game. They will use these opportunities to grow accepting contributions of others to assist them. They’ll prepare and do their homework to try and ensure they succeed, but they are willing to take the opportunity and are prepared to fail and live with the consequences. They have the humility to accept that they may not have succeeded and are willing to accept constructive advice from those around them knowing that it will strengthen their capabilities in the long run.
Working in large organisations we are often working in teams. We must recognise that we are supported by the efforts of others and give recognition when deserved. Watch a humble leader at work and there is no boasting, there is no grandstanding, they’ll happily give away credit and use a healthy sense of self-deprecating humour to deflect any kudos coming their way. It’s not to say they don’t have an ego, we all do but they are genuinely uncomfortable with praise in a public forum, they’d happily settle for a quiet ‘well done’ away from the spotlight knowing that the right decision has been made and that there is impact in the work of their team. They often display a modesty about their work truly believing that what they are doing is just a fraction of the great work being conducted around them.
Am I a humble leader? I guess by actually asking the question and writing about it then possibly not. Claiming to be certainly negates the act itself. But I am trying to learn the lessons and apply them to my leadership journey. My challenge and possibly yours is to reflect on your behaviour each day and see if there is a degree of humility guiding it. Here are 6 things you can do to work on developing humility in your leadership.
- Admit your mistakes.
- Give credit to the work of others
- Accept others opinions (accepting is not the same as agreeing)
- Understand that you don’t have all the answers
- Let others lead
In a results driven society it’s hard to be humble. If you can build humility into your leadership repertoire those around you will thank you for it.
Always the bridesmaid. You know that feeling like it’s never going to happen for you. The roller coaster of emotions that is merit selection. You left the interview feeling confident, all your referees were strong, it’s only a matter of time, you’ve got this one, you can feel the positive energy. Then you get the call, you can hear it in the voice straight away, that familiar tone that always seems to deliver bad news. It was a high quality field they say, you did exceptionally well they tell you. It’s a process that is both mentally and physically draining and at times makes you question whether you can go through it again. This is the point when your courage, grit and sheer tenacity have to kick in. You must push through and not let that downward spiral of emotion turn into a force that derails your ambition.
It can be extremely frustrating getting so close on so many occasions. The power of not being the chosen candidate can leave you feeling incredibly flat physically and emotionally. Scientists from the University from Michigan conducted a study using MRI images that demonstrated the physical and emotional power of rejection. Their study was able to make direct comparison between rejection and physical pain. They concluded that not only were both rejection and physical pain distressing but that they actually share a common neurological response. They were able to provide evidence that the region of the brain that became active in response to physical pain also became active when exposed to rejection. This supports the thoughts of unsuccessful candidates who often express that not getting that last job ‘really hurt’. For many of us we spend a great deal of time trying to balance our emotional response to rejection by adding illogical thought processes to our perceived failure. We must be careful not to overgeneralise by thinking that we will never get that job we are seeking.
Whilst it is natural to feel disappointment I firmly believe that we must turn the negative into a positive and use it as an opportunity to grow. Try not to take the decision personally. Just because there was a better candidate on this occasion does not mean that you are not highly skilled and if given the opportunity would do a magnificent job. I’ve heard too many unsuccessful candidates dwell on negative self-talk by over analysing their own skills looking for points of failure rather than using it as an opportunity to sharpen their focus. You know the spiel “I just can’t do interviews”, “I can’t talk in that educational jargon”, “If they could just watch me work”. Whilst merit selection may not be the best system, it is the one within which we operate. You must look for the positives, your CV was strong enough for your referees to be called and your referees were strong enough for you to be invited to interview. It’s a process of which you have successfully covered a majority of the moving parts. Try to think of it not as a deficit but as preparation for the next challenge, for some it will be a short sharp sprint for others it’s a marathon, it can be a difficult task but in the end the reward will be worth it.
Over my 25 years in NSW Public Education I have had the opportunity to work with many high quality educators. For some, the road leading to the next opportunity has been long and sometimes arduous. I have tried to provide some proactive advice to assist in their journey. I believe the following few steps may be useful if you’re always the bridesmaid.
Highlight Your Strengths
Most people don’t like the idea of identifying their strengths and highlighting them. At interview this is exactly what you must do and it can be an incredibly difficult task. Prior to you interview you should take time to prepare examples that show your strengths and demonstrate how they can add value to the organisation you are joining. Doing your homework and identifying your role in an organisation is crucial to a successful interview. The panel wants to know how you are going to use your strengths to enhance their operation.
Get the Question Again
Don’t be afraid to ask for the question to be repeated. Sometimes we stray from the intent of our response and start to provide a series of unrelated examples. If you feel you are off track it can be difficult to realign mid answer. My advice is to stop, admit you have gone off course and ask for the question again. The panel would much prefer to hear an answer that relates to the question than a broad generalised response with no relevance to the question.
Review Your Questions
When leaving an interview it is always good practice to try to write the questions down and consider your responses. In the event that you are unsuccessful you can use these to assist you with preparation for prospective interviews to come. It provides you an opportunity to work on any questions that you may have had difficulty with during the interview. It can also be useful to talk through the questions with your referees as they sometimes can see elements in a question that you may have missed.
Always Seek Feedback
I am surprised at the number of candidates who do not seek feedback. This is the one way you can put your mind at ease with actual answers as to why this job was not for you at this time. As an employer I firmly believe it is our responsibility to give good quality feedback to each candidate to assist them with their profession al growth. Try to find out what the successful candidate did that gave them that edge.
Like most experiences interviewing well requires a certain skillset. As with most skills it requires practice. There are not many of us who are naturally talented at walking into a room full of strangers and performing on cue. Working with a coach or mentor to structure your interview answers and practice potential scenarios will allow you to provide true and accurate responses in the pressure cooker environment of the interview. How many times have you walked out of the room and thought ‘Why didn’t I say this?’ Practice interviews allow you to structure your responses and become adaptable when that curve ball gets thrown in.
Not getting the job doesn’t feel good, but it’s not the end of the world. If you have prepared well and performed your best then maybe the job just wasn’t the right fit for you. You have gotten to this point by working hard in a highly competitive environment. You may feel like it is never going to happen and those inner thoughts and feelings of self-doubt are natural. Recognising that this negative thought process is taking up energy and being proactive in channeling it into a productive plan for your next challenge will serve you well. No matter how many interviews you have, don’t let not being the chosen candidate keep you down. Keep your head up, keep looking for the right opportunities they will come along. Every bridesmaid has their day in the spotlight and when it comes you’ll be ready.