The Reflection Pool

Influence Really is That Important

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.

Photo Credit: wajadoon Flickr via Compfight cc

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.


What’s Left to Do?

Chris Crouch wants to save the world. I think that’s admirable.  My goals are a little smaller. When I think about what’s left for me to do, it’s really about influence.  What can I influence? How can I influence? Who can I influence?

I participated in #satchat on Twitter this morning (7:30 EST)and was part of an exchange about leadership titles and influence. This tweet by David Culberhouse was especially thought provoking.

And this one followed:

The weakest leaders are those who rely on title. Of course we can force compliance, to a point. But compliance does not result in real change.

I influence by building trust. People trust you when you show a combination of character and competence (thank you, Steven Covey).  We demonstrate character by acting in trustworthy ways: being honest, keeping confidences, and treating others with care and respect. I have to strive daily to do this. Sometimes I fail. Competence is proficiency at your job. Following through on commitments and obligations and calling people back on time are examples of competence.  I can be trustworthy in character, but if I can’t do my job, people will not trust me.

These ideas come into play even more in my current role as school superintendent. It’s a truism that the farther you are away from the work (e.g., in schools with students) the less power you have. It is more about influence.

How do I do this? I influence by showing my vulnerability and growth in learning sessions. I influence by apologizing when I do wrong and committing to do better. I influence by asking carefully considered questions about others’ learning and growth.

It’s a tall order. But that’s what’s left to do.

Moments of Humanity

I heard Veronica Lacey speak when I was a new teacher. At the time, she was Director of Education in North York and went on to become a very influential voice in Canadian education. That conference was a long time ago, but I remember her words so well:   “It’s always about relationships.”

IMG_0290I was not particularly wise as a twenty something young woman. I didn’t really understand the importance of relationships and how they influence and determine the direction and content of so much of your life. In the classroom I enjoyed the students I taught, but I didn’t think too much about my lasting impact on them through all the everyday interactions we had.

Now I know better.

Maya Angelou said it so well:

“I have learned that people will forget what you said, they will forget what you did, but they will never forget how you made them feel.” 

It’s so powerful! No matter how much time we spend preparing, emailing, reading, writing, or thinking, it will have no positive lasting difference if we can’t establish caring relationships with those around us. I have come to understand the importance of those moments of humanity when we connect with another person, whether student, colleague or friend. This has been my challenge throughout my career. I come from a background where emotions are to be hidden and judgment is everywhere.  I’ve made progress, but still have some way to go. I find that smiling, laughter and trying to pay attention to the little things are the best ways for me to show my humanity and caring. I’m going to keep seeking out those moments.


“No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.”  Theodore Roosevelt

(Day 4 of #Aprilblogaday)