Looking to build stronger relationships? Better understand staff needs? Whether a new or veteran administrator, leaders need to discern the needs of their staff and then establish and maintain strong relationships. Much of that leading, since we are in a people business, comes from the heart and not the head.
Leading from the heart can be better navigated with four questions that highlight trust and empathy, understanding and compassion. Each of these questions should be viewed from the perspective of our staff and how we reflect on how they respond can strengthen personal reflection:
- Can I help you?
- How can I care for you?
- Can you trust me?
- How can you help me?
Can I help you? As leaders, teams of teachers, classified staff, and fellow administrators rely on us, not to mention parents and students. They need to know that we are here to help and are dependable at times when the going gets rough, and all the time in between. Helping others is at the heart of leadership, and competence, but also reinforces the reason our role as leaders exist: to provide some type of support for others. Regardless of assignment at a school site or district office, our focus needs to be on assisting others.
A leader needs to be able to move an organization to grow, expand, adapt, care, support, and the list goes on. Principal Cyndi Maijala in Portola Valley School District meets with teachers during goal setting meetings and specifically asks how she can help them become more effective. “Seeking their input helps guide my work,” she said. “It begins a conversation that often takes my leadership a different direction, actualizing the support that comes with follow through and assistance.”
How can I care for you? This is the where the rubber meets the road for school leaders. Caring for others is a quality that can’t be taught and is at the heart of leadership. Leaders need to be compassionate, sympathetic, and empathetic. Staff, students, and parents need to know that we care. The leader has to take interest in the work, the people, the mission, and the organization, or move on to another position where the outward sense of compassion can be tempered in a different role.
Even in a large district, leaders can show they care for their staff. Vista Unified Superintendent Devin Vodicka adds that special touch by trying to learn the names of all 2400 employees, getting to know his administrators holistically, encouraging vacation time, and adding wellness initiatives that help balance the lives of staff members. He adds, “caring and compassion must be genuine and I strive for all those I interact with to feel that sense of authenticity I sincerely feel.”