Although I now work in Higher Education, my background is in K-12 education. As the Dean of Student Life and as a Principal, I often spoke with teachers about engaging students. We focused on support for the student beyond the classroom or academic assessment. Many of the strategies I would discuss with teachers easily transfer to leadership.
Be Visible. Every leader must make a point to get out of the office and be visible to those he leads. Management by Walking Around (MBWA) is an old tactic but still a good one. It allows a leader to get to know the organization, but more important, it allows the leader to get to know the team. As a K-12 administrator, I received more real information when walking through the quad than I did in formal meetings. Casual hallway conversations with faculty allowed me to understand the most important matters to them. Similarly, casual interactions and greetings with your team set the tone for a culture that is open and welcome to shared ideas. Leaders must be intentional about their visibility.
Take Interest. There is a strategy in education called “2-in-10.” It is used to engage difficult students who had behavioral issues in the classroom. The strategy asks a teacher to spend two minutes every day engaged in getting to really know the particular student. After ten consecutive days, the change in behavior is usually noticeably better. Students flourish when they know their teacher cares about them as people first and students second. The people we lead are no different. They want to know you are interested in them as people first. Take time do discover your team’s interests, their talents, their passions. You may be surprised.
Listen. When a student was sent to my office for discipline, my first question was always “tell me your story.” The response was often far beyond what I had asked. Employees are the same. They each have a story. As leaders, our job is to listen – really listen – to those stories. Often this means we must listen to what is not said as well as what is said. Most people want to know they are heard and their viewpoint is valued.
None of these tactics are new or difficult. Most of them are common sense. Leaders must be intentional about including each of them into their leadership style.