I don't think it is any surprise to those who know me that I expect a great deal from people who put themselves into positions of leadership. It does not matter whether I like or dislike a person who is in that position and it does not necessarily matter whether I tend to agree or disagree with them. What matters to me is that they are in a position of leadership and I expect them to exhibit certain qualities.
Here are a few examples that I hold up for myself from my own experiences.
The Crushing Weight from Above Revealed
At one of my jobs as a Software Engineer, I had the privilege to work for a person who was an excellent supervisor. She quickly earned my respect and I still hold her up as an example of a fine person exhibiting excellent leadership skills. Immediately after I was hired, she provided me with a vision that she saw for my role in her team. She allowed me a chance to respond with how I felt about that role and was willing to modify as I learned more on the job and she observed how I worked on the job.
I always felt that it was safe to disagree with her and she encouraged feedback. Even if the final decision did not go the way I was advocating, I was convinced the decision was based on her best judgement given the facts and the feedback she had received from the entire team and whatever other resources were necessary.
Every member of the team felt valued. Each person felt like they belonged. And we learned how much weight she was keeping off our backs when she moved on to a new job. As I look back, my respect for this person increases when I consider how much pressure she must have been under and how well she dealt with it.
It did not take long for the team and the project to begin falling apart once leadership changed from a model that was consistent, informed and competent to one that was erratic and misdirected. The atmosphere changed from one that was affirming to one that felt like we worked under constant threat.
The difference for the members of the team was one person.
Same Pieces, Different Results
I mentioned Coach Rowry in this post called Words to Live By in April of 2017. He was the Junior Varsity baseball coach during my junior year in high school. I played on both JV and Varsity teams that season (sparingly on Varsity that year). Typically, a junior who was on JV might get a bit discouraged and finally give up the sport, but varsity was loaded with seniors and I loved the game.
In the end, it was all to my benefit because I was able to experience another example of leadership that I still reflect on.
Dave Rowry was filling in for one season, so he could have done the minimum and then passed things on, largely intact, to the next person who took on the role. But, he didn't do that. He built a team that was disciplined and understood that a team often requires people to take on roles. While he did not waste many words on long explanations, we rarely were asked to do things without knowledge of the 'why' that came with the task.
There was one coach that applauded my determination to back up first base. Guess who that was?
It was clear when he was pleased with your efforts and it was equally clear when he was not. He made more noise applauding hustle and effort than he did when a player muscled a ball over the fence. He put people in positions where their skill set would be most likely to succeed.
He even commented that I had played 16 games without an error prior to game 17. Then he said, "We can't have that." Sure enough, I had a tough play in right field that would have been a spectacular play if I could have held onto the ball. He noted that I had lost one step because I initially turned the wrong way on a ball that was driven over my head. With no small amount of glee, he told the scorekeeper to to award me with an error rather than give a hit to the batter. The message? You've done great and I see that - and I know you can do even better! And I believed it.
That team went 14-3 and every player contributed.
With a different coach and most of the same player-pieces, this same group never reached the same level of success, playing roughly .500 ball over the next couple of years. There are so many variables, that one can never tell for certain what the causes might have been. But, I can tell you that strong leadership from one person brought more out of each participant and better results for the whole.
Chaos in the classroom
As a person who has been in both student and teacher roles, I can point to numerous examples where classroom leadership was successful and several others that were not. More often than not, a successful leader of a classroom shows respect for the subject, respect for the profession and respect for the learners.
Certainly competence plays a role - I consider that part of the 'respect for the subject.' But, I have seen clearly competent individuals belittle or make light of the very subject they intend to teach. Why in the world should students present their best efforts if the instructor makes it sound like they don't think it is worthy of that effort?
Most of us have examples in our lives of teachers we thought well of and those we... well, thought less well of. Without belittling how incredibly difficult teaching can be, I bet most of us can detect certain characteristics each of these teachers had that made them competent and effective leaders in the classroom.
The leaders tended to signal to the students that they actually cared about you and your learning. These people sent consistent messages about the desirability of acquiring knowledge and developing skills. The best teachers found alternatives to keep as many people engaged and moving forward as was humanly possible And, in all cases, they presented their topic as accurately as they could and showed professional competence as a model for students to emulate.
Each of us learned to love and dislike numerous areas of study - often because of one person and the qualities of leadership (good or bad) they exhibited.
- Good leadership encourages individuals to be part of a team.
- Good leadership allows for disagreement and hears different points of view, giving them value even when the final decision can not agree with all participants.
- Good leadership recognizes the value of roles of all types and understands the different viewpoints each role might bring with it.
- Good leadership is concerned about encouraging the highest level of excellence each team member is capable of achieving.
- Good leadership supports members who are struggling when they need it, encourages those who need encouragement, challenges those who could use it and adjusts so the entire team succeeds with the support of each team member.
- Good leaders are role models - recognizing that they represent the whole. And, when they do poorly, they recognize it reflects badly on more than just themselves.
- Good leaders exhibit integrity and competence. Good leaders instill confidence. Good leaders take communication seriously and good leaders accept responsibility.
- Good leaders acknowledge their own failures and work to adapt and change to address them as best as they are able.
- Good leaders stand up for all members when any of them feel threatened or weakened.
- Good leaders are always looking to improve themselves.
- And the best leaders recognize that they will lead when they serve.