The Reflection Pool

Leadership and Learning under Lockdown

Reading Time: About 4 minutes

In the beginning, I was smug about being an introvert. This “stay at home” thing would be a cinch. I like spending time on my own: thinking, reading, watching, writing. I look forward to the end of the day when I walk up the steps to my front door and enter the safety of home. My best weekend has always been one with no plans.

Image by Karolina Grabowska from Pixabay

The first few weeks were fine. Working from home was an adjustment, but mainly I felt as if I was supporting others in this difficult time of physical distancing. I read, I thought, I watched, I wrote. Then something changed.

I started to feel disconnected, at odds with myself and missing others. I had an uncomfortable few days where I felt rudderless. My interactions and decisions with work colleagues and those I supervise weren’t very positive. This wasn’t me! It was disconcerting because I’d been so confident that I was fine.

The stay at home order has turned our lives topsy turvy. There’s a huge range in how people are experiencing it. For some, fear and uncertainty about work and family add tension. For others, caring for elders and children, along with the upset to routines, feels overwhelming.

Aside from the obvious differences in our daily lives – no travel, no social gathering, no hugs – there are other subtle differences. Everything takes longer. We can’t pop in to say hello and solve a quick problem. We don’t chat in the hallway or office kitchen. We have a view into colleagues’ homes (and loungewear!). Screen time is mentally exhausting. Skills and solutions we’ve relied on to get work done don’t work in the same way. Life feels more raw somehow.

And yet, this unique situation that we’re living through presents an unprecedented opportunity to know ourselves better. Why not ask yourself these questions:

  • What do I need that I never realized before?
  • What have I always taken for granted in how I influence others or get things done?
  • How might I find ways to do things differently?

Strong leaders know themselves: how they prefer to make decisions, how they synthesize information and which modes they use to communicate. They know what they’re good at, and what they struggle with. In a recent conversation, a trusted colleague shared how this time has reinforced how much they value the daily routine and structure of work. This thinking is leading them to a deeper understanding of their leadership.

I’ve discovered that I need daily interactions with others. I enjoy meetings (who knew)! I crave thoughtful discussions about human behaviour, ideas, and learning. I miss the synergy that can come when people work on a problem together. One of the reasons I love my work is precisely because it offers so many moments to think and talk with those who think like me and, more importantly, those who don’t. It’s an essential part of who I am as a leader and how I influence.

I need to create these kinds of interactions while working at home. It’s not impossible with video conferencing, phone calls and 2 metre distant porch or front door visits. But it needs attention, just like every other facet of leadership and learning. I’ve started to use the camera much more in video conferences so I feel more connected with whom I’m meeting. I’m beginning to plan for deeper conversations.

I hope all leaders will reflect on what they’re uncovering about themselves. We are all trying to survive right now. It might be possible to bring forward these lessons once we’re back together so we can also thrive as leaders.

Why Summer is a Perfect Time for Reflection

Do you feel yourself unwinding? That’s the gift of summer vacation, when the days are long, the evenings are warm and sweet, and you can give yourself some time to breathe. When I say breathe, I mean those deep, slow breaths that fill you up and leave tension behind.

It takes most of us, whether in education, manufacturing, service or the corporate world, some time to really relax. Our current reality is so focussed on being busy and rushing here and there that our bodies, minds and souls are wound up tighter than a two dollar watch.

But when you’re ready, this is why now is the perfect time for reflection.

  1. You’ve got the time. Reflection isn’t about a quick recap of what went well or not. You need to go back through your year and write down the important events: meetings, conferences, or conversations that had an impact. A year in review takes time to create. You might take a large sheet or paper (digital or analogue) and divide into quarters or months – note the events and then reflect. What happened? What did you learn? Then step back, what patterns do you see?
  2. You’ve got the mental space. Our brains are amazing. In the book Your Brain at Work by David Rock, you learn which parts of the brain do different kinds of thinking. When we’re in the midst of work, we often don’t have the mental space to devote to full reflection. Your brain is at its best early in the day after a good night’s sleep. Why not put time aside for 30 minutes to reflect. What do you do well? What do you need to learn next? How will you get better?
  3. You’ve got the energy. Reflection is thinking and thinking takes effort. Sometimes a lot of effort! Your brain can get tired and distracted during the year. When you’re on vacation, you might go for a walk or a bike ride because you have more physical energy. (Although keep in mind that exercising throughout the year will give you more energy) Your review of important events isn’t only about what went well. It should also be about the feedback you received. Whether you asked for feedback or not – and I encourage you to always ask for feedback – people give it to us through their words and actions.  With your renewed mental energy, reflect on feedback. What is it really telling you about yourself? Do you have some blindspots? If you want to go further, I recommend the excellent book Thanks for the Feedback by Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen.

I’m taking time this summer vacation to reflect on my interactions with vice principals and how I might support them better, as well as the structure of school visits. I also want to think about my current leadership inquiry: to work with principals and vice principals to reflect on how their identities intersect with their leadership styles. Yes, these are weighty topics – and I have the time, the mental space, and the energy.

What about you – what will you reflect about?

Just Stop Using “You Guys”

It’s time for me to write this post, since I’ve been thinking about it for over 10 years. I kept hoping it would catch on. It hasn’t. So here goes…

I wish everyone to stop using the term “you guys” when referring to a mixed gender group of people. I get why people use it. It’s cool, quick and casual. It rolls off the tongue. And yet, it excludes.

This isn’t a new idea. Just a brief internet search turned up a couple of articles, one from 2005 and another from 2015. Both make the argument much better than I could. It’s basically this: using a male term (yes, “guys’ is a male term, not a neutral one) to describe a group of people that don’t all identify as male is sexist.  There, I said it.  This may seem ridiculous to some. I can hear eye rolling from here. After all, it’s not the most offensive term out there. Still, when I think about the power of language to help or to harm, I don’t find “you guys” helpful. To me, it represents a creeping line of a male-centric view. I’d rather use a term than includes everybody.

Photo Credit: DaveBleasdale via Compfight cc

What to use instead? Here’s a list of words I’ve used and that also appear in this  article 40 Gender-Neutral Alternatives to saying “You guys” by Kim Z. Dale

You

People

Y’all

Folks

Friends

There are more – maybe you can share with me?

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