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leadership

waterlily2 2018

What does it take to be a wizard inside and outside the classroom?

1. Get excited

Everything in the world is inherently interesting. And everything in the world can be made incredibly boring. If I’m passionate about what I’m teaching, chances are some of that will rub off. This isn’t necessarily a challenge for new professors – or those teaching a course for the first time. When everything is fresh for both faculty and students, teaching is an adventure. Maybe it’s not so much getting excited about what you are teaching, as staying excited – after five years, ten years, or longer. Exploring new and innovative ways to get learners involved and promote their autonomy over their own learning, and fearlessly interrogating our approaches to course content and the processes of teaching, can help to keep us in that ‘beginner’s mindset’.

 

2. Overcommunicate

This one is a ‘quick-win’ – not difficult to implement, and has a major impact on students’ experience in a course. Students’ lives, like ours, are complicated, busy, and sometimes chaotic. People don’t always attend to our in-class communications or instructions, and/or email, and/or written (print) communication, and/or online course announcements, and/or classroom handouts. The more channels we can mobilize to share information with our students about upcoming assignments, due dates, key information or course resources, the greater the chance that our message will filter through the “white noise” of multiple, competing pressures and priorities.

 

3. Respond to student queries ASAP

This follows from Point 2, above. For good or ill, people increasingly expect (and value) prompt replies to their questions or concerns, especially via email. And students seem to equate an instructor’s response time with instructor engagement and caring (‘instructional immediacy’). A speedy reply is not always possible, and email communication can be delicate at times, but I try to live by the “24 hour or less” rule and interestingly, students make particular note of how helpful this responsiveness is to them in their comments on course evaluations.

 

4. Provide the back-story

I’ve found that when students feel like an assignment, an academic decision, a policy, or a course expectation is unfair or unwelcome, it’s usually because they’re not satisfied that there is a good rationale behind it. The trick is, how to communicate this without coming across as defensive, or worse, officious? I’ve found that the elicit-provide-elicit framework in Motivational Interviewing has been helpful in providing information to students. In short, the framework starts with (a) eliciting the student’s understanding of why they think I am proceeding in a certain way; (b) providing a brief (very brief – not a lecture) explanation from my perspective; (c) elicit the student’s response (“What do you make of that? How does this fit for you?”). Reflective listening is an ancillary skill that helps learners feel heard and understood, and makes sure that I am able to engage with accurate empathy.

 

5. Don’t work harder than your students

Learning is active. It takes effort, involvement and application. If I’m at the front of the room lecturing and the group is passively listening, who’s working harder? It’s a challenge to create dynamic learning activities that engage students in co-constructing meaning, wrestling with new ideas, and practicing new skills. Admittedly, high quality curriculum design generally takes considerable work at the front end – so perhaps it’s more accurate to say “Don’t work harder than your students in the classroom”.

 

And yes, highly effective teachers have more than these five habits – but after close to two decades, I have found them a strong foundation and a good starting point. Enjoy the journey!

 

This post is adapted from a previous post , January, 2015

 

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Management is a way of doing; leadership is a way of being

When it comes to leadership I’m no expert. Learning to lead reminds me of learning to parent: despite the proliferation of manuals, when push comes to shove the answer is in myself, not the manual. Lessons on leadership are everywhere and ongoing.

Here are some of the leadership lessons I have been thinking about. These represent my best intentions, even if not always fully realized. This is about the journey.

Practice radical authenticity. Encourage others to do the same. The more we bring our true selves to our personal and professional relationships, the more joyful and connected we become. We are all connected.

When others disagree, get curious. Discover more. Go beyond valuing alternate perspectives  – fearlessly evoke them. Seek not to be understood, but to understand.

You are always leading, even when you’re following. Leadership is not about being in charge, it’s about supporting others’ success, modeling integrity, being accountable and caring passionately. Align how you follow with how you lead.

Disrupt the status quo. Homeostasis is the enemy of innovation. We are all always striving for that perfect balance, but when we find it that’s usually the signal that something is about to change! As Aldous Huxley said, “Every ceiling when reached becomes a floor.”

Affirm autonomy – always. No matter how non-negotiable the directive, policy, task, procedure…never forget that people always have the option of walking away. And when given an ultimatum, many do. “People are most able to change when they feel free not to.”

Live your values and learn what others value. Find avenues to link work with these deep, personal values at every opportunity. That is meaningful work.

In short, leadership is wholly volitional, decidedly not positional, and most effective when unconditional.

 

 

 

perfect daisy

 

What’s the ideal proportion of time spent doing the stuff you have to do, versus time spent doing whatever you want to do?

 

It was supposed to be a glorious day off until I had to schedule an urgent dental appointment. The only available opening was 4:15 pm, allowing ample time to anticipate the procedure and all its attendant aversive qualities. Did I mention that I loathe needles? An act of supreme courage carried me over the threshold and kept me in the chair.

The next morning, sore of mouth and jaw, I forced myself out of bed for an early meeting. Pelting rain. Juggling briefcase, handbag, umbrella, keys and coffee, I lost my footing on the slick wood surface of the back deck en route to the garage, my hot coffee making a graceful arc through the air and onto my just-dry-cleaned cream-coloured dress. Not a good look. Back into the house for a frantic wardrobe re-boot.

As I drove to work, I asked myself: in the ideal world, what proportion of my life would optimally be comprised of doing things that are enjoyable, versus the percentage of time spent in doing the myriad, often unpleasant or less pleasant, things I have to do. Including the things that are good for us. My initial calculation was approximately 70-30 (in favour of the more pleasant and enjoyable aspects of life). But then, I started thinking about values, learning, growth and expansiveness. After all, it’s the hard stuff that shapes us.

A couple of days later I’m still not sure what the perfect balance would be. Perhaps the proportion is supposed to vary, depending on timing and circumstance. For example, during a fabulous holiday it would be close to 90% in favour of doing whatever we want. In more challenging times, the times that really test what we’re made of, it can feel closer to 5%. I asked a friend what she thought. Her take was that there is no wanting or not wanting to do, there is only to be fully present in each moment (as in Buddhist non-attachment and mindfulness). Which I agreed sounded extremely wise, a lifelong learning journey in itself, and easier said than done.

The thing is, nothing beats the feeling of making it through tough times. The deep satisfaction of accomplishment, and the deeper happiness that comes from having made a meaningful difference.

After all of the rain, last night’s full moon took my breath away.

 

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Vector illustration of 3d rings. Background design for banner, poster, flyer. Hand drawn watercolor paint splash.

 

The most important time we can spend is in developing the capacity of others

 

At a recent leadership institute where I co-facilitated, there was considerable discussion about the challenges of balancing operational or administrative responsibilities together with the inspirational, transformative and exciting work that is deeply satisfying and of the greatest organizational value. Participants shared that they often feel so bogged down in the day-to-day, it’s hard to find time to pursue strategic and innovative projects – let alone vision them!

I think this feels true for most administrators – in higher education or elsewhere. In a way, the conversation that the group had juxtaposes the polar opposites of a continuum: from managing through to leading. And in response to this dilemma, it was natural to get caught up in the “righting reflex“: collectively problem-solving around things like time management, setting priorities, finding efficiencies and performance management. However, upon reflection, these solutions were really management focused ideas. None of them got to the heart of the problem.

So…what would a leadership-focused approach look like? The shift in the room happened in response to a question that I’ve asked myself:

If every member of your team was working to their fullest capacity, expending their collective discretionary energy, and was truly excited by their work and contributions, how would that impact your own time and capacity?

This question opened up a whole new conversation, now centred squarely on leadership. The beauty of the question is that it highlights how supporting and developing our teams is the most essential role we have as administrators (that is, as leaders). The only way we can realize relentless innovation and thrive in conditions of rapid change is to open up a space for individuals to step into their own leadership potential.

Of course, this is easier said than done. Day-to-day operations will always need care and feeding, and engaging teams in distributed leadership is as much (or more) art as it is science. Plus, there may be very real resource inadequacies and/or employee performance concerns. However, on the whole, feeling overwhelmed by details is a symptom to pay attention to. It’s a cue to ask the above question and fearlessly look in the mirror.

And to ask a follow-up question: Where am I focusing, and what more can I be doing to unleash the potential of my team?

We all want meaningful work, to be inspired, to make a difference and have an impact. To be happy. Leadership isn’t just about increasing organizational productivity or freeing up more time for ourselves – when we invest in the capacity of others, that might just be the most deeply satisfying work we can do.

 

 

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