Good Leaders Read…A Lot

Educators know that reading is power.  I’ve been reading What Connected Leaders Do Differently by Todd Whitaker, Jeff Zoul, and Jimmy Casas. It’s a solid read with an american focus, and I’ve found some great nuggets.

Here’s one: great leaders read all the time.

Photo Credit: The Fresh Feeling Project* Flickr via Compfight cc

Great leaders also always seek to improve. They want to learn and to get better. They’re never satisfied with good enough. Reading is part of that continuous improvement. How else can you explore new ideas and create new schema?

I read a lot, mostly at night or on the weekends. I have a paper book on the nightstand (no screens before bed!) and spending 15 – 20 minutes winding down helps me on two fronts: I can take my mind away from the whirlwind of the day and read something of interest.

What do you do to amp up your reading?

A Simple and Powerful Leadership Truth

We love to ask grand questions. What was your best day ever? What was the worst part of your vacation? What is your favourite book of all time? These kinds of questions can be great conversation starters, but I always have trouble answering them. How can I choose one book of the hundreds I’ve read?

Then last December, Will Gourley posed a big question through a #tweetthehalls hashtag. (It’s a fun idea that promotes lots of interaction on Twitter.) Day 2 was to share your best new learning so far this school year. I jumped right in! Here’s my tweet:

Since then, I’ve also come to realize that making assumptions about anything is a pitfall. You might ask why it’s taken me so long to come to this. After all, that old chestnut says, “Don’t assume, because you make an ass…”, you know the rest. I think agreeing with a statement and understanding the impact of that behaviour are two different things.

An example might illustrate this better:  this year, I’m involved in a Pupil Accommodation Review, a government process initiated by trustees that takes a close look at a group of schools to decide what is needed in that area of city – consolidation, renewal etc. It’s where trustees can decide to build or close schools in the city. I’m facilitating this technical yet highly emotional process with a group of parents, staff and community members to provide advice to trustees before they make their final decision. And I can’t make any assumptions.

I’m immersed in the daily business of education at central office as well as the work of the Board of Trustees. I know the policies, background to decisions, staffing, and pretty much the inner workings of how it all happens. That informs my reactions and decisions. But of course, the committee mostly has none of that. So I can’t assume that they understand how decisions are made or how schools really work.  And why would they? They are immersed in their own contexts, whether at work or at home. So I have to explain clearly and make sure they have the information they need.

The need for setting context, checking in and explaining can be linked to the difficulty of communication. We’ve all experienced how hard it can be to truly make yourself understood. Because we cannot truly know what others are thinking and feeling, unless they tell us, we are often guessing how our messages are received – guessing through facial expression, body language, and words we hear. And all that is filtered through our own experiences and bias.

I’ve read many leadership articles and books that urge over communication and understood that on an intellectual level – sure, sounds great! Good idea. But now I’m getting it in a deeper, more visceral way. I’m paying more attention and seeing this powerful leadership truth. We all need repetition and explanation. All the time.

Phone vs. Email – You Know Which One Is Better, Right?

Photo Credit: Joe The Goat Farmer via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Joe The Goat Farmer via Compfight cc

My work world revolves around email. I wish it wasn’t that way. Email is a time sucker. Email is never ending. And worst of all, email is void of tone or context. So the people who read your emails have to guess what tone you might be going for. There are some solutions to this: you can litter your emails with ellipses, exclamation marks and emojiis to convey friendliness or thoughtfulness. That’s pretty much it.

You might think that I had learned this lesson already in my 25+ year career. I guess I’d thought so, too. We’d both be wrong. Just recently, I made a mistake with an email. What I thought was clear and thoughtful, even supportive, was not interpreted that way. The recipient totally called me out – “Sue, why didn’t you just pick up the phone and call me?” And you know what, they were completely right. I should have called.

Photo Credit: DenisGiles via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: DenisGiles via Compfight cc

The trouble is, when I have a potentially difficult call to make where the other person may be upset, hurt or angry, it does seem easier to email. Jimmy Casas, a secondary school principal in Iowa who I have mentioned before, recently wrote a post ”  Phone Calls Home: “I’m Not Going to Lie… They Scare Me.”  It’s a great post, because we can all relate. Jimmy also offers some thoughtful solutions to the problem. The reality is that while it might seem less risky to carefully craft an email, often it can make a situation worse where the original difficult issue still exists, but now it’s compounded by lack of trust. Ouch! We all know that a phone call or a face to face conversation is best. Sometimes it’s hard.

So now I pick myself up, dust myself off and vow to do better. More phone calls than emails. If you see me around, can you please remind me??