Educational Equity Newsletter – April 30, 2020
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Leading With Humanity
We’re thinking about you today. We’re honoring the many weeks you and your leaders have been working tirelessly to support your teams and community through the pandemic.
From our coaching conversations, we’re learning that the numbing impact of adrenaline that got many leaders like you through the beginning of this pandemic has faded. Now the personal concerns, organizational concerns, and loss that accompany this crisis are sinking in. At the same time, your teams seem to need you more than ever. How can you continue to hold space for your organizations and leaders, when you yourself are feeling uncertain, anxious, deeply sad, or any of the other myriad emotions that many leaders are feeling right now?
In our sector, we place a lot of value in the ability of leaders to galvanize a team, be unflappable, and project confidence and preparedness. Often, that motivational ability and confidence is helpful and needed. But, if it’s not grounded in what we are actually feeling, it’s a performance we can’t sustain that may cost us credibility and trust in the long run.
We’re advising our clients to lead with their humanity, to model and create space for people to bring the truth of how they are feeling to their work, while continuing to prioritize and work toward the mission. We’re also advising them to free themselves from the requirement to check all the boxes, and instead, tailor their leadership approach to what their team needs right now rather than pulling from the playbook that’s worked in the past.
Lead with your humanity
In a crisis, who you are as a leader supports, inspires, and sustains your people as much as or more than any directives you give or elegant solutions you design. We’re not asking you to show more of yourself than you normally do, or to ignore your instincts to marshall resources or catalyze action. We’re simply saying:
Keeping your “game face” on and encouraging others to show optimism throughout the crisis (which often leads to tone-policing and people masking their true feelings—especially women and people of color)…
Making room for a range of emotions for yourself and your people. If a team member starts tearing up at a seemingly simple decision or handles feedback or a policy change less well than you’d expect, offer some grace. Similarly, if you find yourself struggling in a meeting, name it and take a moment if you need it—don’t just power through. For more detail, see this guide.
Speaking candidly about how you’re feeling to give others room to do the same. As a leader, your vulnerability and disclosure reinforces that the organization is a place where people can bring their real thoughts and feelings to the table. When you’re approaching a tough budget decision that the team is worried about, it’s so much better to say, “It’s been hard to reconcile what it means for us and our students to not go back to school this year. I feel disappointed that our seniors won’t be able to graduate in the way that we normally do. I am finding strength in the team’s commitment to creating new opportunities for us to say goodbye and honor their work. Thank you!”
Being responsible for knowing “all the things” and having to produce answers and plans with multiple unknowns.
Be honest about what you don’t know, what you won’t know for a while, and what you’re not even looking into yet. In an environment where you don’t know what’s in front of you, it’s important to manage expectations by being real about what you don’t know. Even if you’ve shared it before, continuing to reiterate what you don’t have definitive answers for helps people know it hasn’t slipped your radar. For example, “We still don’t know if our offices will open this summer, or if on-site work will be possible. I anticipate that we won’t have any new information on this front for at least two weeks. Either way, I’ll plan to give you an update then!”
Burning the midnight oil to respond to every emergency, make every key decision, and be responsive to every staff need you can.
Recognize your limits and share power. Our sector needs you, so it’s important that you find ways to build sustainability into your leadership. This means prioritizing your time, creating “not doing” lists (and sharing them!), and delegating tasks to fellow leaders so they can do the work that’s needed. Being transparent about how you are weighing trade-offs and prioritizing gives others room to do the same.
Tailor your approach with the 3 A’s: ask, align, and adjust
Rather than imitating what other leaders are doing, hear from your team to decide your approach. Ask what team members need, align your management efforts to meet those needs, and then adjust based on feedback to get to what would be most helpful. Some examples of creative approaches other leaders are trying include:
- Health and wellness requests: Asking team members, “What do you need to feel whole as you’re ending the week?” and then working to meet that need. In one organization, this looks like a leader purchasing a virtual yoga session for staff on Fridays. The answer could be as simple as “a Saturday to myself that doesn’t involve responding to work emails” (and then leaders helping their staff hold this boundary).
- Redefining productivity: For some team members, lower quantity, high-quality output is what’s possible right now. For others, it’s the same volume, but with fewer bells and whistles. When possible, remember PTR and define productivity based on what’s required to meet the needs of stakeholders, not what was the pre-pandemic norm. Be vigilant about who is (or isn’t) getting accommodations around workload or diminished performance.
- Celebrating what is working (not just who’s doing what): Sharing stories about great results from your stakeholders in team meetings, rather than highlighting individual efforts, can be a powerful way to contribute to a feeling of momentum on your team without marginalizing those who are unable to put in the same hours or effort as they did pre-pandemic.
- Any amount of disclosure and connection is okay: You may find that some team members choose to disclose a lot to you right now, and others disclose very little. You may find that staff with a different racial or gender identity than you or who have less power in the organization share less. That’s okay. Instead of prying, do this:
- Remember that whatever they share is enough.
- Thank them for what they share and avoid the urge to pacify them with “it’ll be okay.”
- Write down what they tell you or keep it in the back of your mind.
- Unless they ask you not to, ask about it in a week or two to show that you care.
- Leave the door open by offering, “if you need space or time to talk, I’m here.”
By focusing on leading with your humanity and tailoring your approach to the needs of your team, you’ll be able to be deeply supportive while preserving your energy.