I’ve been getting many congratulatory messages on LinkedIn to mark the three year anniversary of my consulting business. This milestone has given me a reason to reflect on the past three years and all that I’ve learned through the process.
“Transformational change is generally misunderstood. Unlike transitional and incremental change that are outcome focused, transformational change is process focused. That’s not an easy accomplishment to shift our paradigm in the current climate of high accountability.” Jared Scherz
I went straight from the classroom (with a Masters degree in elementary education) to a district administrator position as Curriculum Director. While I was a leader in my classroom, I had not been in an official leadership position prior to that. Add to that, I was this district’s first-ever curriculum director, so I was forging the role as I went. I made a lot of mistakes and learned a lot over the course of the next three years in that role. I worked with both good and bad leaders and gleaned important leadership characteristics in the process. And then it was time to move on. As the curriculum director, I was able to play a large role in the professional development of the teachers and other administrators of that district. That role energized me, feeding my inner teacher and leading me to explore the world of consulting.
During this exploration, I was fortunate to meet another great leader and owner of a flourishing consulting business. He took a chance on partnering with me, and provided me with direction, connections, and most importantly during this start-up time, work. I can honestly say that I have grown more as a leader through my past three years as a consultant than at any other point in my career. My leadership style and practices have undergone transformational change equipping me to guide, coach, plan, and lead a variety of people, in a variety of situations. Here are my three biggest takeaways that have led to my transformational change:
- Be relational. You know the adage, “People won’t care what you know until they know that you care.” It’s true. My first mission when I begin working with a new cohort is to quickly build rapport, and get to know them as individuals. I need to be inviting, transparent, and helpful. They need to know that I’m on their team and that my main purpose is to help them grow. I convey that through body language (a smile goes a long way), through the resources I provide them, through words of encouragement, and by asking relevant questions and actually listening to their answers. You can’t fake relational leadership. If you aren’t great at it, you can improve, but there is no faking it. I definitely got better at this over the last three years. At first, I wanted to just give all the answers. I can usually identify areas of need pretty quickly, and I would rush to tell people what to do to fix it. You can imagine how well that was received. People don’t want to be “fixed”. They want to be equipped, encouraged, and empowered. I do that mostly, through takeaway #2.
- Ask good questions. Orlo Rubik once said, “A good question is more important than a good answer.” Every human alive wants to feel heard and understood. My role as a leader has been molded, modified and enhanced by learning how to ask good questions. This was a very intentional effort in the beginning but is pretty natural at this point. I have even had colleagues point it out during conversations I have with them and I don’t even realize I’m doing it. It comes from my desire to help them by empowering them to find the solutions themselves. It also comes from my own desire to continue to learn and grow as a leader in my field. I can learn something from any person, anywhere if I only take the time to stop, ask, listen, and then reflect.
- Never stop learning. Part of the learning process is reflection. This is actually something I put into place as intentional practice my first year as a curriculum director. I wrote it on my calendar for the same time each week and I reflected on what I was doing and learning. That practice has continued, and morphed a bit over the past few years. Now I reflect through this blog, through conversations with people I’m coaching or colleagues with whom I work, and by reviewing my work to make it better. In addition to reflection, I spend time growing my knowledge base. I follow top leaders on LinkedIn and Twitter and value the learning power of my Professional Learning Network. Not only do I learn from what they post, but from conversations we have one-on-one. Many of these connections have become friends in real life (bonus!). I choose to read books on leadership (usually recommended by friends, colleagues, and people in my PLN) to further guide my strategies and sharpen my skills. Some of these books include classic leadership titles, and others are new releases. I can learn something from each book to apply to my practice. I also love to learn face-to-face at conferences. Some of these are conferences I’m speaking at and others are those I get to attend as a participant. I’m so excited to go to ISTE in a couple of weeks and learn from all kinds of educational leaders there! All of that learning, however, has to be cycled through the reflection process (formal or informal) to make its way into my leadership practice.
So, will I be a consultant forever? I don’t know. I love the work and I love the people I get to meet. What I do know, is that the lessons I’ve learned have equipped me to be a stronger leader regardless of the position. Add to that, my passion to make education more engaging and effective for every student, and I have a winning recipe. Transformational change isn’t just for organizations. It’s for individuals, too, as long as they are willing to do the work and embrace the lessons along the way.