August 28, 2020
Show the Way and Find Your Voice
Each EmpowerED 3.2.1 features a brief summary of my musings about and learning from multiple disciplines as they apply to leadership in education.
My favorite resource to use when teaching leadership is The Leadership Challenge by Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner. The real-life stories are relatable; the tips are useful and insightful; and the practices taught align to any leadership role. This EmpowerED 3.2.1 takes leadership practice one and deconstructs its components and supports them with resources from other industries, especially education.
As a leader, you are being watched-all the time for what you say and do and don’t say and don’t do. Showing the way and finding your voice means being clear about what you stand for, believe in, and value. Your voice comes from your values. Shared values are the foundation for building productive and genuine working relationships. Showing the way forward relates to your credibility. Heads up…It is difficult for others to follow your lead if you are not clear on your values and beliefs.
3 Big Ideas
- Clarify Your Values.
Joaquín Selva writes in Positive Psychology, “ Values are fundamental attitudes guiding our mental processes and behavior” that “produce the belief that life is meaningful and serve as a measure of how meaningful one’s actions are, that is, consistent with that person’s value system.” To identify your values, try the values clarification activity below.
From the list below, select five to seven values that are most important to you. (To identify those five to seven, you might choose to write each on a card and then sort the cards into categories: most important to me, somewhat important to me, and not important to me, and then evaluate the most important value cards to identify the five to seven that most often guide your decisions and actions.)
- Align Values to Actions.
How will others know what is valued? What will you do and say? Kouzes and Posner share the six actions below. Let’s look at a few concrete examples and how they might relate to education leaders:
- Agendas and Calendars
How you choose to spend your day is the single clearest indicator of what’s important to you. If you say something is important, it had better show up on your calendar, on meeting agendas, in the places you go and the people you see. Take a look at your calendar right now. Does it show what you value? What about your meeting agendas? If you value collaboration and never put people into groups to discuss issues, do you really value collaboration?
- Disruptions and Critical Incidents
Often critical incidents like unannounced intrusions on your time bring your values front and center. These encounters offer important lessons about appropriate norms of behavior. When I was principal, supporting teachers in classrooms was priority to me. I asked my supervisor to meet me in the classroom when she visited, rather than me leaving and meeting in my office. What value was I communicating there?
Storytelling is how we pass important information from person to person, group to group, generation to generation to generation. Making a personal connection with someone using a story builds relationship and trust and helps create the mental map of “how we do it here.”
Choosing words carefully makes sure that people get the right message or at least the message you intended. The use of metaphors and analogies enhances communication and helps paint a vivid picture of the future. I was reminded of this while watching Representative John Lewis’ funeral service where his own remarks were played in the Capitol Rotunda and while listening to Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, which I consider the most inspiring speech of all times. Compose a mantra that is catchy, alliterative, often repeated, invites conversation, and is an easy way to keep the vision front and center. Here are some I’ve seen and used: Equity, Energy, Expectations, Engagement, Ensemble and Courage, Communication, Content, Capacity, Celebration. This mantra serves as the organizing structure for the year and frames one-on-one communications and communicates your shared set of values.
Feedback and measurement are essential to improved performance, so the outcomes and actions that are measured are the ones people focus on most. Remember the phrase, “What gets measured gets done?” Tom Peters made this commonsense phrase common in “What Gets Measured Gets Done.” Peters believes that regular, quantitative measurement of customer satisfaction provides a much better lead indicator of future organizational health than does profitability or market share change. As usual practice, education adopted the novel idea and looked to standardized measurement of student progress and achievement—the high stakes test era was born, and later institutionalized by NCLB.
The behaviors you choose to recognize and celebrate and those you choose to not recognize and not celebrate also show what you value. Make sure you reward the shared values of your team. Observe Debbie Backus, the former principal at Montview Elementary School, in Aurora, Colorado, in the video “Principles in Action.” Take note of what she values and what she does and says to tell you so.
- Credibility is a Really Big Deal. Doing what you say you will do is at the heart of being a credible leader. “People might not have a choice in who manages them, but they have a great deal of choice about whom they are willing to follow,” (Kouzes and Posner). All people want leaders they admire for their honesty, forward-looking stance, competence, and inspiration. When leaders and organizations are seen as credible the followers:
- Are proud to tell others they’re part of the organization.
- Communicate a strong sense of team spirit.
- See their own personal values as consistent with those of the organization.
- Feel attached and committed to the organization.
- Have a sense of ownership of the organization. they’re shaping and building a culture that unites people around a common cause.
As written in the Harvard Business Review, great culture should provide continuous alignment to the vision, purpose, and goals of the organization.
“The world is changed by your example not by your opinion.”
– Paulo Coelho
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things.”
– Martin Luther King, Jr.
How do others know what you value?
About the Author: Marcia Baldanza is also the author of Professional Practices, a Just ASK Senior Consultant. and adjunct professor at Virginia Tech. Until recently she worked for the School District of Palm Beach County, Florida, where she was an Area Director for School Reform and Accountability; prior to that she was Director of Federal and State Programs.