Reflecting on leadership

Someone very special in my life recently recommended I read “How to Win Friends & Influence People” by Dale Carnegie. This book was first published in 1936. And, while most of you reading this post were not even a thought at that time, the lessons are timeless. Daniel Pink states,Some readers might find Carnegie’s advice dated and a bit cheesy. But beneath the prose’s peppy surface lurks wisdom, one reason the book continues to sell seven full decades after its publication.” Despite the rapid change in communication and how we engage as a culture both locally, globally, and digitally, the advice of Dale Carnegie has never been more important.

After reading about the six skills to make people like you, I thought about my personal and professional life and how I have carried myself with others. It was a very introspective exercise that provoked many instances where I carried myself antithetically to Carnegie’s recommendations. For those of you unfamiliar with the six skills I will list them below (You can see further detail on each skill here) :

1) Become genuinely interested in other people
2) Smile
3) Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language
4) Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves
5) Talk in terms of the other person’s interest
6) Make the other person feel important—and do it sincerely.

At first glance, I thought that I checked most of these off easily. But, after deeper reflection I realized that I was lacking in all six. Further reading and reflection also provoked me to think about the network I have connected with over the past ten years in education. I also reflected on the places I have worked, the projects and initiatives I have led, and how I have engaged with colleagues and the people who directly report to me. This all caused me to pause.

The first three I felt were important and could easily be worked on. For example, I had a habit of talking business before engaging in pleasantries with colleagues. We have all been there. You come into the office and immediately visualize your to do list. The people you work with and for are not even seen as people with interests, feelings, and experiences, but part of your To-do list in order to get things done. This idea was also elaborated upon by one of my closest friends and colleagues, Zac Chase.

When Zac and I worked at the US Department of Education, our days could be hectic and blurry from the moment we stepped into the office. Zac suggested that before we talk business with each other, we simply ask, “How are you doing?” It’s a novel concept and something we take for granted because we’re busy. But, the more I thought about the “Sorry, I’m busy” cliche, the more I realized what the subtext in this statement is. Essentially, when you tell a colleague you are busy, or too busy to call back, or too busy to call just to say hello and how are you doing, you are telling them that you are not interested in them. Whether that is your intention or not, subconsciously, we simply don’t care.

So, along with genuinely showing interest in someone, smiling, and recalling names, these are light lifts for all of us. If we assume everyone is busy and everyone something to share, then we can easily accomplish skills 1-3. Skills 4-6 are where we need to really look inside and reflect on how we carry ourselves around other people. In thinking through these last three skills, I thought a lot about my personal acknowledgement of them, but also my professional.

When I think about leadership, especially within P-12 education, I realize how important Dale Carnegie’s six ways to make people like you are. I have read and written about school leadership and educational technology leadership for the past ten years and in doing so, have realized a few things upon reading Carnegie’s book.

  1. School leadership is change management every day.
    This is not to say that every day a new initiative is taking shape, but rather every day a leader should should make sure these six steps are met every day. Change management doesn’t just happen with a plan and an objective, rather it happens every day with interactions, deliberate communication, and an understanding and focus on your team and colleagues, more than yourself.

  2. Connecting on social media is a waste of time and energy
    I owe a lot to the connections I have made through social media. It has helped me learn and grow in my profession. What it hasn’t done is help me be a better leader and really understand the people who report to me and with whom I work every day. It hasn’t supported any plan or idea that I hoped to carry out within any school that I have worked. In essence, social media, at it’s core, is a daily exercise in delusion, deception, and ego-satisfying.

  3. “Every man I meet is my superior in some way. In that, I learn of him.”
    Ralph Waldo Emerson coined this quote and every school leader should print it out and post it on his or her door. This concept is one I never thought of personally and in fact, thought the opposite for most of my career. I would come into a job interview or a conference presentation and think I was the smartest person in the room and everyone in front of me was inferior to my profound intellect. Yeah, no. When I flipped my thinking, I soon realized I (we) have so much to learn from others and we should approach every conversation in the context of this quote. Leadership is a daily exercise in humility.

When I am asked to speak at conferences I find a common theme that weaves through every talk I have ever given. The theme focuses on change management and culture building. For years I have said, “It’s not about the device, it’s about the learning potential that can happen as a result of the device.” But, I this is all wrong. The focus must be on the people, the relationships, and the channels of communication. Without strong understanding of how you, as a school leader, navigate each of these while considering Carnegie’s six steps is crucial to making sustainable change happen.

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