I think about, write about, and talk about leadership a lot…I mean A LOT. It is one of my passions. I enjoy watching and helping young leaders as they grow. I know when I reflect upon my leadership journey, which still has many chapters to be written, many lessons can be learned from things I have seen and heard, as well as things I have done both well and not so well.
What is really on my mind today is how leaders should make their followers feel. I have a good friend who recently wrote a book that summarizes how he views leadership, relationships, and life. The book, “I Hear You, I See You, I Love You” is a great read and knowing Phillip Campbell like I do it is really genuine. When you spend any time around Phillip (PC as he’s known) there is a certain way you feel. You certainly know you have been seen, heard, and loved.
The principal who hired me for my very first job in education was one of those people. I was fortunate to work for an excellent principal. When I say that, I couldn’t tell you if she was a great instructional leader, how well she handled the budget, personnel issues, or even student relationships. What I did know then, and even today, was how she made me feel as a young teacher.
My grandpa was a master woodworker. He spent a great deal of time in his shop with all his tools constantly making and tinkering on projects. Among those projects were several wood boxes. I have three of the boxes he made and one has sat on my desk since I was a teenager. Once I had my own classroom, you can bet that box went right onto the desk.
I am pretty sure that box was the first item to cross the threshold of Room 205. Where it occupied the center front of my desk. At the beginning of my second year, maybe a week or two into the year, I reached into that box to get a paperclip. What I found made me smile but I had no idea the impact it would have on me nor did the person who put the item in the box. As you can see in the image, it was a very simple note left by my principal, Betsy. It is still to this day inside that box as it sits on my desk. It will forever be in that box and it is something I have replicated in many different ways throughout my leadership journey. I have done handwritten birthday cards for all employees as a superintendent, handwritten notes in books for a book study, to go with coffee tumblers and I Love My School pins, just to name a few examples. I do these things because I know what this simple note written by my principal nearly 25 years ago means to me. I see notes I have written still on filing cabinets, desks, bulletin boards and know my words and the gesture was meaningful as well. I had an opportunity to have dinner with Betsy and her husband, who ironically was the second principal to hire me, and we talked about this note. She had no idea I still had it and I know it meant a lot to her to know the ripple effect the note caused.
As a leader, I really believe in the power of the face to face. This can be for many reasons but my favorite face to face has no agenda. I absolutely love just getting to sit and visit with my teachers, leadership team, and our students. I have made it one of my practices to intentionally go visit classrooms while teachers DON’T have students. Conversations with people give you an opportunity to really get to know them but it also, and this is much more important, gives them a chance to be heard. That is all most of us honestly want, just HEAR what I’m saying and where I am struggling. Often they don’t even want answers or advice, just to know someone wants to hear what they think and will give them the time they desire.
So, here is the point of this post, and I will phrase it the form of a question, followed by more questions. Leaders, how do you make those who follow you feel? Do your followers (employees, teachers, kids, whatever they might be) see you as someone who cares about them as people? Do they believe you see them only as a cog in the machine or as interchangeable? Are they willing to take risk knowing you will reward their attempts? Do they avoid risk because they fear repercussions if they fail?
Leadership is about trust and relationships. How do you measure that? I’m not sure it is really quantifiable but I can tell you one way to find out..how do YOU make them feel?