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Understanding the roles of leadership

Updated: Nov 25, 2020

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Building culture is probably the most important thing a leader can do to create a safe environment - to learn, work, live, engage, thrive, play, or really anything. I often wonder what the culture will be like in our new normal of COVID. As I have shared in earlier posts, there are not a lot of leaders who are creating that culture for many of us to feel safe. It starts and the top, and it trickles down quickly. If there is anything to truly learn from the president's actions, it is what not to do.

When a community operates out of fear and ignorance of information, the entire community suffers. I am wondering how our student leaders see the challenges in our political environment, and how they are impacting them, both directly and indirectly.

The goal of this blog was never to be political, but culture starts with the leadership of that culture. I cannot provide the best leadership training to my students without talking about how a leader has the ability to challenge their community to step up and do hard things together, or to cower in fear when challenges arise. The difference really comes down to the community knowing they have the ability to lean on each other and their leaders. They must trust that there will always be someone in their community who is not afraid to challenge the leader when they veer off course from the goals of the community.

As a teacher of student leaders, this is one of the things I must model to my students. No one is perfect, and actually, in the words of Brenė Brown, “perfection is seductive, but is not achievable, and if we try to be perfect it will lead to shame.” So even though I am their teacher and leader, I accept my vulnerabilities, weaknesses, and faults - and see them as opportunities for the students to grow and learn to challenge me. Both sides of that relationship takes courage, and not everyone (teachers included) has the confidence to do that. It is key to our culture that I know at least one of my student leaders will take the initiative to do that, and it takes vulnerability and courage for me to let them call it out if something is not being done within the focus of our goals. When it happens, though, and it will (and should), then the rest of the students will learn by example that it is a skill to help all parts of a community to survive.

A leader must be able to accept feedback, and give feedback for the success of the entire community. The skill of delivering feedback is the topic of another post to come!

This year I worked with the students on their communication skills. I pushed them really hard, and did not accept a lot of missteps on their part. Eventually, I was given some feedback on course expectations, and one of my students shared that “students were not allowed to make mistakes in the class, and that mistakes were often chastised, and growth was not properly encouraged.” I spent a long time reflecting on this comment, and I really think the step I missed was my own communication as to why this particular work in the class would have little room for mistakes to be made. In my work planning events - for things at the school, but especially the work I do with this class - miscommunication is often an unforgivable mistake. Students in this class need to coordinate a lot of people and materials to do the work of this class, and email is the method of communication we all seem to be using these days.

What I needed to tell them was that once our communication is sent - there are no methods on taking it back. (Must be why gmail added the option to retrieve a message within a short period of time!). If we do not clearly deliver information in our early communications, then it leads to misunderstandings and frustrations. I did not want them to experience these frustrations, but knew they would have to go through that experience as part of developing this skill.

While this student didn’t have the courage to speak up and call me out on that high expectation, the feedback did eventually get to me. I will now be able to use that in the future, letting students know the importance of communication, especially as a leader.

An activity from the Resilience Program by WhyTry called Sticks and Stones is an activity that I love to do with student leaders, and is really a super easy activity to do with any group of students at any age. You offer the students a two part challenge, if they choose to do the first part you will give them five dollars, but if they agree to do both parts, and they must do both parts successfully then you will give them $20. Of course money is a motivator, which is why it is used. You cannot tell them what the challenge is, only that it involves a tube of toothpaste (I’ve learned to minimize the waste by using a trial size tube). So the first challenge is to get all of the toothpaste out of the tube as fast as they can.

Easy - right?

You need to time them, then to get the second challenge money they need to put it all back in, in the same amount of time...but because I am nice I will actually give you an extra minute. It is impossible!! But the point and debrief comes in when you say things they come out of our mouths really fast, getting the words back in is not possible. So think about the words before you say and or send them.

If this activity sounds like something you want to do, I encourage you to try it - and share this post with someone else. If you think the ideas I am sharing could be useful in a training session for you or your school - please contact me today for a discovery conversation to see if we are a good fit. I really want to spread the world with strong, confident leaders. I can work with teachers, students or your own children, there is really nothing we can’t try.

How have you seen leaders accept feedback?

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