Successful leaders engage others within the organization in ways that help them feel valued and important. Together they create a culture where people love coming to work. That’s the kind of leader I want to be. I am hoping that my in my role as Superintendent, I can inspire others to do the things they know are right and good for our students; leading to happier employees and stronger student outcomes. The words and phrases I use can have a significant impact on productivity and morale. By focusing in on my leadership language, I intend to dismantle the oppression some of our teachers and staff members feel, and instead build a sustainable culture of empowerment.
Connecting is key, and so are words. Words communicate our intentions, and they frame the connections we make with folks who share similar beliefs as well as with those whose belief systems differ. Our language is the main tool we use to communicate our vision and values to our team. It’s best to be precise and concise.
I am always looking for ways to energize the people I work with. Because I make it a priority to connect, I know what makes employees feel confident and engaged; and I also have a handle on what drains their energy. Instead of talking about logistics or operational objectives, I try hard to link the passions of employees with opportunities or outcome they care about. The majority of the words I use focus on:
- valuing the efforts of teachers and staff, specifically referencing strengths with pedagogy or creativity in their approach to teamwork;
- inspiring teachers and staff to stretch their current thinking, imagining something innovative that’s deeply related to their goals or an area of interest; and
- demonstrating genuine interest in how they are doing, and then expressing gratitude for the things they do that make a difference to our school/district culture.
I firmly believe education is a ‘people’ profession. Everything we do involves people, so we need to get good at connecting with one another in order to bring out their best. Below are some basics for ensuring these connections take priority:
- Offer undivided attention: Establish eye contact and develop listening rapport. Don’t look at your phone, computer, watch, or other device. Your full attention demonstrates you care enough to put them first.
- Listen first; talk last: In order to really connect, you have to hear what they are saying and not saying. You won’t do this well if you are formulating a response. Let them know you’re interested by asking questions or clarifying your understanding by paraphrasing what you’ve heard.
- Be mindful of your body language: Keep your arms open, not crossed; and pay close attention to your facial expressions and tonality. Your body often says more than your words and can put a damper on any positive momentum you’re trying to create.
- Tell a story: But be sure to keep it short. At this time, it’s okay to talk about you. Talk about something that depicts you as a living, approachable human being. People follow those they like and respect.
- Thank them for their time: You learn about your own leadership every time you talk with an employee, and every lesson you learn makes you a better leader. Expressing gratitude shows the individual they had your undivided attention and that you appreciate the connection.
Our language and the ways we conduct ourselves can be the catalyst for what makes our school and district a place people love. A great leader always strives to connect with staff and in the process, conveys his or her belief that success can’t happen without each other.