Recently in a conversation with students in the High Tech High Graduate School of Education, one of the questions posed to me was (paraphrased), “What do you do when you work for someone that doesn’t have the vision to make the things happen in classroom that you believe are important?”
I referred to a prior post and had given four strategies in how to “lead up”:
Start by asking, “We are here to do what is best for kids, right?” If you disagree with something and you believe that it is in the best interest of kids, start with the question suggested and wait for the obvious “yes” answer. Once you start from that point, it is now your job to prove why what you are asking for is in the best interest of kids. Prove your point like a lawyer. But if you can’t prove that what you are asking is best for kids, maybe your boss isn’t in the wrong? Always start from that point.
Ask questions more and make statements less. Covey’s notion of “seek first to understand” is crucial in all aspects of leadership. We may be bothered with a decision and why it is made, and it is easy to tell people all of the reasons are wrong, or that your way is right, but there are many times where there are things behind the scenes that you may not know or understand. What is crucial here is to help people explain their position and work backwards from there, as opposed to trying to bring them to your side. Something might be brought to your attention that you had no idea was happening, but a conversation is more likely to lead to positive change than two people simply stating their sides. You might find a middle ground that you didn’t know existed.
Pick your battles wisely. Although I encourage people to ask questions and try to understand, there are times when you need to be more adamant about your position. The key here is that your voice is heard. If you complain about every decision that is made in your organization, the voice becomes more like “noise” than anything. Sometimes we have to realize that there are some hills that we do not need to die on, in chase of a much bigger prize.
Show that you see value in your leaders. This one feels hard to write for me, but there is some truth to it. Statements like “that’s why you make the big bucks” are somewhat condescending to leaders, and create more division than cohesion. We have to realize that we are all connected as partners in education, and just because someone is in a formal position of leadership, does not mean that they do not need to feel valued. The higher you go up, the less you will hear compliments of your work. It is a reality of the work. What I am not saying is “suck up to your boss”. All people need to feel valued, and when we look for strengths and mentorship, we are more likely to create a bond built on trust, which is helpful for people to move forward in organizations, as opposed to distrust. Do what you hope is done for you, and ignore title or position.2 People work better together when they all feel valued for their unique abilities and strengths.
Yet what if none of those strategies work?
Then maybe it is time to leave.
Now I know that this is not a cut-and-dry solution. People need to make a living, family situations might dictate staying, and there are a myriad of factors that may really put you in a tough spot where you have to leave. But are you even looking at the option?
Here are some of the warning signs that leaving is something that could be considered:
You feel that you are not growing.
What was once a “passion”, has now become solely a “job”.
Your lack of enthusiasm for what your career is trickling into other aspects of your life.
You just don’t want to be there.
When I have given this brutally honest advice to come people, one of the concerns that people share is that “they will feel bad for the kids.” Our reality is that kids need great teachers everywhere, but if you are miserable doing what you do, are you at your best serving those students in the way that they need?
This isn’t quitting, but finding a new beginning.
When a once strong fire has been all but extinguished, it is crucial to look at other options. Change can be scary, but it can be liberating as well. As I have told audiences over and over again, change is an opportunity to do something amazing. Sometimes we need to embrace it before it is too late.
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