How can such passionate and hard-working people fail to make the impact they desire? How often are our intentions and desires misunderstood by those we serve? How is it that such well-intentioned people still miss the mark?
In the IMMOOC live episode with Dwight Carter, a thoughtful and visionary leader, he shared how received some challenging results from a survey when he first started at his new school. The survey reflected a more challenging reality than he was aware of. He opened up about how devastating it was to get this negative feedback when he was working so hard and had the best of intentions but for a variety of reasons, he wasn’t connecting with his staff. The feedback forced him to have hard conversations with his staff about their perceptions and how he could improve.
Dwight highlighted how he has learned the importance of going out to meet people where they are not waiting for them to come to him. And as a result, he moved his desk out into the hallway where he would see people and connect and be visible rather than tucked away in his office. I often hear leaders say that they want opinions and feedback or “my door is always open.” but if there isn’t a relationship and people don’t know they are valued they will rarely take the risk to come to you to share challenges.
It is easy to assume that everything is ok when people aren’t coming to you with problems but if you aren’t connected to others and hearing their challenges and seeing their reality, you might be missing out on a lot. As Brene Brown puts it,
Daring Greatly means the courage to be vulnerable. To show up and be seen. To ask for what you need. To talk about how you’re feeling. To have hard conversations.
When we are open and seek to understand what is working and what challenges exist for those you serve and when feedback is heard and used, people see their voice matters. I was so grateful for Dwight’s vulnerability and sharing this experience and how he has worked to improve and better understand the impact of his actions and words.
His experience made me think of a few other examples where our intentions and words don’t always align with our actions and limit the impact we can have on those we serve. The first example is something that I tune into when I hear how educators talk about their space and those they serve. For instance, some might refer to “my classroom” or “my school” whereas others talk about our classroom or our school. It might just be simple semantics but the words convey an entirely different message to the community you serve when you shift from mine to ours. When people feel like they belong and they are valued in a community rather than being in someone else’s space, it can change how they act and feel and interact with the environment.
Another example is how at the beginning of a meeting or the first day of class it is common to define expectations and set norms for how the group will work together. This is an important step in setting up the culture but it’s more important to attend to how people act beyond the words that they use. Is everyone’s voice honored? Are correct answers sought or are questions encouraged? I walked in a classroom where a whiteboard had a space for classroom wonderings. There was evidence of a variety of kids who had written questions, responded to others or added more ideas. You could tell questions were valued and actively encouraged. While another classroom students were asked to hold questions until the end of the lesson. I am fairly certain that both teachers want their students to believe their ideas matter and desire to foster excitement about learning but it is much likely to occur when the culture supports that type of learning and where all learners and their ideas are valued.
These few examples highlight the reality that our actions and how we are perceived don’t always match our intentions and can limit our impact. To ensure we are connected to those we serve, it is critical to seek feedback and continue to check in to build relationships, better understand the perceptions of others, and ensure that your actions are actually getting you to your desired impact. The extent that you have relationships with those you serve and create a community where people feel they belong has a huge impact on whether or not you can fulfill your responsibilities to support them. As George Couros says, It’s not enough to value people, it matters that people feel valued.