Leadership Strategies that Work

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.

All the Small Things

“Pay attention to the small things for one day you may realize they really were the big things.”                 Kurt Vonnegut

This is one of my favorite quotes. It sets the tone for my approach to life – personal and professional. In leadership, I’ve experienced those moments when small things like appreciation, kindness, remembering make a large impact. A word of encouragement to a student can inspire them to try again. Remembering a staff member’s birthday shows they are valued for more than their organizational skills

Small things are often easy to do.

These concepts can be embraced by all leaders and put into practice immediately. I know there are many “small things” lists in the leadership world. This is mine.

Be courteous. One of the first traits we teach our children is to be polite.   This should be the first trait of leadership as well. Use the words please and thank you always. Model the behavior we learned as children. Say hello and goodbye when you arrive and leave, even when stepping out for lunch. Most of our parents taught us to be courteous. We need simply to do what we already know we should.

Ask, don’t tell. Words are important. Rather than telling your team to do something, ask them. It’s a small, but very big difference. Asking, “Does anyone have space in their schedule to teach an additional course” is different than “I need you to teach this course.” Whether a student, a staff member, or a colleague, we value people by being careful that instructions or requests are not delivered as commands.

Be flexible when possible. I heard a parenting expert once advise parents to – whenever possible – say yes. By doing so, when required to say no, it is more meaningful and acceptable. A similar concept can be effective in the workplace. There are many areas where leaders can be accommodating – flexible start/end times, choice of office location, room accommodations, and more. None of these ideas require great cost; yet, each speaks volumes to employees about their value.

It doesn’t take much to make a big difference. Small actions show you care. Today’s workforce wants to feel valued and appreciated. Leaders have the opportunity to do just that.