And…my vacation starts today! Whew. This year was a tough one. I’ll save my reflections for later, but just the fact I haven’t posted in this space for several months gives an indication of where my head has been. (Yep, buried.) But I’m coming up for some sunshine and air and couldn’t be happier. My challenge is getting to that place of rest where my body and mind can rejuvenate.
Sherri Spelic, who writes thoughtfully about her experiences as an educator in Austria, recently shared a poem that resonated with me: “A Few Words About the End”. It captures the feeling that so many of us experience just as school ends for the big summer break.
It can hard for me to reach the release into independence that Sherri talks about. I am so wound up after an intense school year that I feel more of a gradual loosening. It happens viscerally, day by day and little by little until..there it is. I’ve found that three things help move that process along.
- Time outside: I sit outside on our back deck. I run along the green shaded trail. I swim in Lake Ontario (or any other handy body of water, pools included!). I breathe in, breathe out and feel the spring uncoiling inside.
- Reading paper books: I hold the book, my hands stretch the cover, and my fingers grasp the page to turn it. Somehow, these physical sensations enable more sustained attention. I see my progress through the book. I sometimes take a pen or highlighter to make a note.
- A change in location: Leaving home for a few days helps my brain detach from work and the responsibilities that go with it. I rest. I walk. I realize that there is so much more than my little corner of the world. I feel more free.
It’s time to start.
In my first naive years as a school leader, I didn’t understand the power of influence. I wasn’t so sure that Dale Carnegie really knew what he was talking about. I used to think that if you told people what to do, then they would do it. I spent very little time reflecting on my leadership and my impact on people.
Fast forward 9 years. Now I know that leading people is much more complex. Lots of reading, observation and my own mistakes and successes have taught me that. Compliance does not mean commitment. Not only that, but if you lose the ability to influence those you work with, you become an ineffective leader.
The Ontario Leadership Framework rests on this: “Leadership is the exercise of influence on organizational members and diverse stakeholders toward the identification and achievement of the organization’s vision and goals”.
This kind of leadership needs respectful relationships, trust, and an ability to listen carefully and understand people. That means:
- getting to know people, their values, beliefs and experiences;
- demonstrating character (Steven M.R. Covey: How the Best Leaders Build Trust): trustworthiness, follow through and integrity;
- demonstrating competence (Covey) and knowledge in your role;
- showing vulnerability and admitting what you don’t know;
- listening to understand, not to respond;
- asking for feedback regularly;
- showing that you value people through your actions and your words.
What strikes you about this list? One of my biggest challenges is active listening. Sometimes the need to give my opinion or the “right” answer can be overwhelming, and I need to remind myself how to work best with people.
I want to influence others to do their very best, most creative and interesting work and so I keep on. It’s worth doing.
Digital spaces beckon me. I enjoy quickly scanning my Twitter feed for interesting tidbits. I’ve loved reading about Ontario educators’ #oneword in the Google+ community. I blog here. Still, I wonder what more I need to do as a leader. Jennifer Casa-Todd, digital educator, challenged the audience recently with a thought provoking question at a keynote address in our district. She asked, “How do you exemplify digital leadership?”
Leadership is the exercise of influence. It’s not about telling others what to do (much as some may dream of snapping their fingers and making it so), but rather building a culture where others take on new challenges, work to be their very best and openly share what they’ve learned.
Influencing the use of digital tools is a challenge for me, however. While I use those tools with relative ease to communicate, create and share, others do not feel comfortable doing so. So I’m not sure it’s about being an exemplar. When we exemplify something, we show how it can be done at its best. That’s important, but this kind of modelling only goes so far. Having a great model can inspire. It can also demotivate or even paralyze.
So I’m thinking more about how to extend my digital leadership to influence a culture where people may be willing to try.
- Using the digital spaces in our organization. Be present in the platforms that are provided. I know what they are and how they work. Am I using them to their full advantage?
- Interacting on Twitter. Retweeting. Commenting on tweets. Replying. Liking. Connecting with others.
- Sharing links and articles. If it resonates, I share. If it made me think, I share. If I don’t completely agree, I share.
- Share the thinking in my blog. This one is more difficult for me. I’ve been leery of pushing myself forward, but why not? I welcome conversations about what I write here. Transparency may help others to be admit what they don’t know.
I feel comfortable in digital spaces. Can I help others feel the same way?