On the suggestion of Ariel Price, I decided to read the book, “The Multiplier Effect: Tapping the Genius Inside Our Schools“, and it talks extensively about bringing the best out in people, as opposed to doing the opposite. As leaders, it is essential that we focus on how we “unleash” talent, even though we have come from a place where “management” of people often means controlling them. Let’s be clear; micromanaging people not only sucks the life out of them, but it is more work. Control should never be the standard we are trying to achieve in leadership and this book really focuses on how to get more out of people, leading to better schools for our kids.
One of the ideas that was shared was the notion of “pressure” vs. “stress”. Shared beautifully through the story of William Tell and his son (I won’t tell you the whole story), when William, an expert archer, ran into trouble and had to shoot an apple off his son’s head or they would both face execution:
The father and son both simultaneously experience a flood of relief; however, they actually had very different experiences in the preceding moments. While he stood taking his aim, William Tell felt pressure. His son felt stress…We feel pressure when the stakes are high and when we must perform at our best. We feel stress when we have no control. (Multipliers)
Control is important here, but it is dependent upon who has it. I know many teachers would feel a lot of stress because many of the decisions that make a significant impact on student learning are out of their control, as well as many decisions made at the school level. If we expect more out of people, we are going to have to give them, as sportswriter Bill Simmons would say, “skin in the game“.
A powerful idea shared in the book was to “supersize” a person’s job, meaning to “…assess the person’s current capabilities and then give him or her a challenge that is a size too big.” As a tech lead in my school several years ago, I remember my then principal pulling me into her office and asking me to decide on what technology would be purchased for the following school year. In the past, I had know this to be an administrator decision, so I was a little thrown off by the request, but I was excited to have the opportunity to make the decision. I asked her why she asked me in the first place, to which she stated, “If you are the lead in our school in technology, shouldn’t you have an impact on the decisions?” It was exciting to have been trusted to make such a big decision that I knew would help others.
The more I thought about it though, the more pressure I felt because if people were going to complain about what we had in our schools, it would have been because of my decisions, not our administrators. I put a lot of thought into it, and from my work with teachers, I had made several suggestions on how we could have moved forward. The principal knew that since I worked with every teacher in the school in the area of technology, that I would have had tremendous input from others, but that I would work harder to make things successful in the school. This not only lead me to feel more empowered by the process, but want to create that same experience for others that I had worked with. If you want people to feel empowered, you have to be willing to part with control.
This is one of my favourite quotes on the topic:
“Power is about what you can control. Freedom is about what you can unleash.” ― Harriet Rubin
Pressure and stress are not only something that we can feel, but something that we can create for others. Higher expectations need to come with higher responsibility if we are truly going to unleash the talent in others.
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