Striving To Be A Servant Leader

What can I do to better to be a servant leader?  This was the question that swirled in my head after a scorching July day in New York City spent in the presence of greatness.

When a friend mentioned that Simon Sinek and Ken Blanchard would be speaking in, conversational style, to a group of leaders in a small movie theater at South Street Seaport I was intrigued. When she mentioned that she had an extra ticket and asked if I wanted to go, I said what I assume most people in leadership positions would say…hell yeah!

It was still July; the inevitable realization that summer would end sooner than anticipated had not set in yet.  My mind was focused on my garden, the book I was reading ( A Boy His Dog and The End of The World) , my upcoming vacation, and the fact that I was another year older that day. My leadership style was not at the forefront of my thoughts.

That changed quickly when I walked into the IPIC Theater and saw Simon Sinek chatting up the room and leadership legend Ken Blanchard’s electric smile.  I had never been to an IPIC, a high end movie theater that offers a viewing area like a living room with two recliners and waitered food and drink.  I suspect after seeing a movie in this type of environment it would be hard to go back to watching in a traditional theater, understanding how Henry Hill felt eating his noodles with ketchup, cheap essays online.

I sat down to a gift bag that included copies of Sinek’s Start with Why and Blanchard’s Servant Leadership.  That along with the palaptable energy in the room kept me alert and ready to learn.

The format was simple, questions posed by the online and in house audiences had been vetted and put into a fish bowl. The questions were randomly pulled and the leadership gurus took turns responding to them, but more times than not they served as a conversation starter that allowed the speakers to discuss their theories on leadership, business, and life.

The first thing I noticed was Sinek’s unmistakable cadence as he spoke. He speaks in a style I first witnessed when I watched his profound “What is your Why?” TED talk. He utilizes unique pauses which I suspect is more for the audience to process his ideas rather than for him to gather his thoughts. This approach has a way of enhancing his message, causing the listener to hang on to his every word, afraid they will miss part of his message. I quickly realized why his voice is so valued in our world today.  He speaks with you not too you, he doesn’t try to sound smarter than you by telling you something profound. Rather, he seems to have a desire to make his audience better by unveiling a truth they already know.

Sinek clarified this approach by offering advice in how to describe ideas so they will spread. “If you speak like a surgeon only a surgeon will understand, but if you speak like a truck driver everyone will.”  Coming from a family of truck drivers I am not sure the analogy is completely accurate as truck drivers along with most blue collar workers speak a language that is unique, and just as complex as the dialogue used by surgeons, teachers, and lawyers. Yet, his point was taken……keep it simple. Keep it clear; the more people that understand and connect with your message, the more likely it is to spread.

Sinek called out the criticism he has faced for what some consider an oversimplification of his approach in sharing ideas; he made no apologies for offering ideas which are:

His comparison reminded me of a compliment our board Vice President, Rich, paid to me.  He told me that he enjoyed reading my articles because he felt like I didn’t use big words or try to sound intelligent. He felt like I was just trying to tell a story and offer my opinion. I remember smiling on the inside and out.  I thanked him, but refrained from telling him the secret for my “down to earth” approach– I really don’t have a plethora of big, fancy words in my writer’s toolbox, other than “plethora” which I try to sneak any chance I get!

  • Simple
  • Repeatable
  • Understandable

Immediately, I went to my field and tried to simplify some of my theories on education.

Educators should provide all students with the greatest gift, the love of reading. This can be accomplished when we expose kids to the books they are interested in, give them time to read, and let them talk about what they read rather than having them completing pre-prescribed tasks.

Homework practices are outdated derived from a time when our country  needed to develop factory workers. Homework can be more meaningful when students have an understanding of how an assignment will help them reach the goals and objectives of a class. Homework is a tool to help students reach mastery and not a means to penalize or punish students.

Students are different, have different support at home and face different challenges. It is not fair to treat all students the same. When schools find out what each individual student needs and do their best to provide it, schools and students flourish.

The best leaders put others before themselves, they do not need to take credit, they look for the opportunity in every set back. The best leaders do not complain, gossip, or put others down. Rather, they build people up and try to put them in a position to be successful.

Simon Sinek is a magnetic speaker, one who makes me want to be a better leader, but Ken Blanchard, author of over 60 books on leadership, was as engaging, funny, and smart as anyone I have ever seen speak.  Even Sinek seemed to be hanging on to his every word.

Blanchard gives off an aura of positivity that provides a sense that anything is possible when you do right by yourself, your team, and your organization.

“The best organizations take care of their employees, they put their employees first, so they can, in turn, take care of the customers.  Your customers will not love your organization unless those who work there do first.” He referenced the leadership approach and environment of collaboration that is utilized at the company 3M . This had me rethinking the #kidsfirst drum I have been beating for so long.  Of course schools are about kids and we wouldn’t have a business without them, but unless our teachers are taken care of and take care of themselves, how can they put kids first? It made me realize that I have to be more cognizant of this fact and to be a better leader, to help make our District better I must do a better job of ensuring the staff is taken care of, feel valued, and finding success.

The point was made that as you move up in an organization, your job becomes the people. The leader’s job is no longer to sell products, provide a service, create, or do. The leader must take care of their people so those in the trenches are able to do those things to the best of their ability.

The leaders job becomes to:

  • Motivate
  • Listen
  • Support
  • Empathize
  • Provide feedback
  • Demonstrate patience
  • Offer honesty
  • Establish expectations
  • Connect people

The session progressed and for the first time all summer I was longing for September, thinking about ways I can be a better servant leader.

I will be striving to do the following this year to accomplish that goal:

Listen more talk less. 

I need to do better in this area; too often I catch myself thinking about what I am going to say next, or formulating my argument, or trying to “convince” rather than being focused on what is being said. You can learn a lot when you stop worrying about what you are going to say next or how you are going to get others to see it your way.

Apologize more.

Sinek said it best when he stated “Just because you apologize doesn’t mean you are wrong.”  Right, wrong, or somewhere in the middle I need to work to repair relationships that have previously been damaged, regardless of who was right and who was wrong. The truth is half the time we forget why they were mad in the first place.

Make other people’s jobs easier.

How can I help great ideas get off the ground?  How can I pick up teachers or administrators when they are down? What can I do to make educators the best they can be?  I will strive to be more observant, and more aware of how I can help.

Better interactions.

No emails when I am on the phone, phone away when talking to people, remember to ask what is important to people. Joy comes from all the small, but positive interactions we have with people everyday.  I keep thinking about two people from our school family who passed away this year and asking myself if I had the best interactions with them that I could of? When was the last time we spoke? Nothing helps to focus our priorities more than loss.

Looking for the good.

I want to open my eyes to all the good things people are doing in my District. I want to appreciate them for the value they offer rather than my preconceived opinions regarding their abilities or worth to the organization. I want to catch people doing good everyday and praise them for it.

Honest feedback.

Providing people with honest feedback is one of the most difficult things for a leader to do, especially when we care about people, but as Brene Brown says “clear is kind.”  It is the job of the leader to offer clear expectations or guidance on how to meet those expectations. It is the leader’s job to coach, to teach even if sometimes it would be easier to just say or do nothing.

Bring people together.

I want to do all of those little things that bring people together, that build bonds. Sharing when someone is spoken about highly and refraining from repeating hurtful comments. Helping others to see the value that those they may not connect with have to offer. These small acts usually go unnoticed and without thanks, making it a struggle for my ego. I like my kudos….Yet, I know I need to put that aside if I want to be the best leader I can be by subtly bringing our team together.

When I left IPIC theater I wrote one last statement on my notes.  “My # 1 job this year is to do everything I can to take care of my people.” That is my primary goal for 2019-20: make everyone better, happier, more positive educators.  The most challenging part at least for a flawed human like me is that if I am successful, no one will know I have done it. I will not be praised because it will not be about me it will be about the faculty and staff I serve.

Will I make a difference in those I serve each week? I will if I employ a technique that was described that magical morning.

Let’s say I live another 40 years to the age of 87. That gives me 2,080 weeks to be a servant leader, to be the support others need. Two fish bowls, one with 2,080 marbles, the other empty.  At the end of each week I reflect upon my leadership and if I helped someone. If I did the marble goes in the other bowl, if I didn’t the marble goes in the trash because the week was wasted. Picture the power of this exercise; we have limited time so let’s use it wisely.

I know I will fail in my quest to be a servant leader several times throughout the year, but I know I am going to be better than I was last year.  To over simplify my approach Sinak style:

I am going to work my butt off this year to do everything I can to bring out the best in every person who works in my District. I will put my ego aside, and put people first so that our kids get the best version of all the adults they come in contact with.