Sunday, August 27, 2017

Be the Example

The world is changed by your example, not by your opinion.” – Paulo Coelho

Change is hard.  I have been writing about this fact for years now.  It becomes even harder when we are not modeling the expectations that we set for others. This was the case for me early on during my days as a principal.  When it came to technology and innovation, I was great at telling others what they should be doing. After getting on Twitter in 2009 I realized that we had to be better for our kids.  As such I did what I was trained to do and what I thought was the most logical course of action to get buy-in from my staff.   I drafted memos and emails that provided guidance and examples.  I spent a great deal of time writing numerous detailed memos on everything from technology tools to improve assessment, developing a Personal Learning Network (PLN), and embracing innovative ideas. Then I waited.

The wait for any sort of change was never-ending.  I probably would have been still waiting if I hadn’t grabbed a teacher I had a good relationship with and asked him why no one was embracing all these new ideas and strategies I was pushing out. He was pretty blunt and to this day I am indebted to him. Basically he told me that no one was integrating technology or implementing innovative ideas because I wasn’t doing any of it myself.  His words and simple advice provided a great lesson in leadership.  

Asking others to do what we are not doing, or have not done, ourselves doesn’t lead to meaningful change. Research supports this claim. James Kouzes and Barry Posner have researched the topic of leadership for over 30 years looking at thousands of leaders in a wide range of industries throughout the world. Below are some key takeaways in relation to being the example:

Eloquent speeches about common values are not nearly enough. Exemplary leaders know that it’s their behavior that earns them respect. The real test is whether they do what they say; whether their words and deeds are consistent. Leaders set an example and build commitment through simple, daily acts that create progress and build momentum.
The personal-best projects we studied were distinguished by the fact that all of them required relentless effort, steadfastness, competence, and attention to detail.  It wasn’t the grand gesture that had the most lasting impact. Instead it was the power of spending time with someone, of working side-by-side with colleagues, of telling stories that made values come alive, of being highly visible during times of uncertainty, of handling critical incidents with grace and discipline, and of asking questions to get people to focus on values and priorities.

Leadership is not about telling people what do to, but instead taking them where they need to be. Setting an example through your own practice illustrates to others that change is a shared endeavor. It is about the collective where a title, position, and power don’t give someone a pass.  When it all is said and done leadership is about action, not talk and opinion (or memos and emails in my example). Setting an example and modeling are the first step. The next is a combination of support, accountability, and evidence that leads to efficacy. When everyone sees how the change(s) actually improve teaching, learning, and leadership the path to sustainability is started.

In my case I began to learn how to use certain technology tools after which I made myself available to then train my staff after school. I made my learning through a PLN visible and used the new acquired knowledge and skills during training sessions, faculty meetings, observation post-conferences, and evaluations.  The practice of modeling expectations actually strengthened the emails encouraging my staff to improve their practice. Over time change took hold and evidence of improvement bolstered our resolve to keep pushing the envelope. Together we were then able to show efficacy aligned to technology use and innovative ideas. 

Take time to reflect on whether or not your words are supported by appropriate actions.  Change is a collaborative process if it is to be successful.  Showing others that you are not just willing to learn, but how changes to practice actually improve teaching, learning, and leadership can and will have a lasting impact. Evidence matters and when aligned with the example you set no goal is out of reach. In the end it’s not about what is said, but what is done.  Be an example that empowers others to change.

1 comment:

  1. Leadership is not about telling people what do to, but instead taking them where they need to be. Setting an example through your own practice illustrates to others that change is a shared endeavor.
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