#ServiceLeadership in Four Simple Words

I’m incredibly inspired by the concept of service leadership. Often times when in leadership positions, people lose touch with those they are leading. And what I’ve found to be very meaningful and fulfilling to me is when I stop to put my own agenda to the side and focus on the individuals around me.

Let me give you an example. Several teachers are required to attend a training session during their school day that I have been asked to lead by the principal. They haven’t necessarily opted to attend nor have they necessarily bought in to the topic. But I walk in to the room with head high and eyes (and ears) wide open. This is not new to me. I see myself in these teachers. I see my own excitement to learn and my apprehension of the unknown. I also feel the pressure of the school day, and I know that each teacher will determine the worth of this session in the first few minutes. They will be thinking, “Am I going to get anything out of this? Is this going to be worth my time? Because I have a LOT of work to do.” I can walk into that room knowing that I’m going to have a variety of reactions to my presence, and I have to be okay with that.

That’s why I start every professional development session with one simple question: “Why are you here?” In this simple invitation to speak, I am primed to read between the lines of the response. What emotions are held in the tone and face of each teacher? How is she sitting, and what can non-verbal cues tell me about the mental state of this teacher? Does she make eye contact with me? Are the teachers listening to the responses of others? And while I’m taking all this in, I am also scribing their responses because it’s important to me that I capture their words and speak to those points throughout my training. I usually write these notes on post-its rather than paper or on my computer because the post-it represents a less permanent record of their words. There’s comfort in knowing that I’m listening and safety in noting that I’m writing it all down on a small piece of paper that is usually tossed away after the session of over.

I have found that these four words sets me up for success more than any PD plan or collection of slides ever could simply because it allows the whole training to be more of a RESPONSE to the attendee’s needs/goals rather than a pre-determined agenda to be covered despite circumstances that are in front of me. To me, this is directly connected to the concept of service leadership. I am immediately putting myself in touch with the teachers and in service to help each of them achieve their goal. Most importantly, I make sure that each teacher knows that I am listening – which often is the best support I can provide.

I believe that I have only a few minutes to prove the worth of each session to my attendees, and if the one take-away for each teacher is that I am here to listen, support and that I truly care about each of them, then I have certainly done my job – and done it well

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