Be yourself. As a matter of fact, be more of yourself. Recently, I began listening to Craig Groeschel’s leadership podcast (go check it out if you have not already). As he typically maneuvers through an array of leadership topics he always ends with the same saying, and I think it unbelievable profound. Each podcast concludes with this, “Be yourself… People would rather follow a leader who is always REAL before they follow a leader who is always RIGHT.” Wow, for whatever reason that hits me at my very souls.
Well, first, let me describe to you my early leadership struggles. As a coach entering the educational field, you tend to bring with you a stigma. And, it’s not a good stigma. The not good stigma, like associated with New Orleans Saints fans in the 90’s; yeah, paper bag over your head kind of OUCH. You see as a coach I was not supposed to be a great teacher. I was expected to be lazy, only focused on my sport. But, for whatever reason, my mind was not made that way. Instead, within four years I became the teacher of the year. Not because I inherited the world best instructional skills, but because, I think, I outworked everyone around me and gained their respect.
My first leadership position came quick, after my second year, the principal approached me. She said we need a new leader in the science department, can I lean on you? In my mind I was thinking, “Hey I’m just a coach, why would these science geniuses listen to me?”
Our first meeting comes around, and let's tell you I was ready! I created a PowerPoint with a built in timer. I created an agenda to pass out. And, stressed all day.
You see, I saw this as an opportunity. I just received my first promotion within the ranks, and I could not let the principal down.
So, as we entered the meeting, the teachers took their places. As for me, I’m just 26 years old, ready to speak and watch them hang on every word. We will conquer the school, change the world, and become legends.
As I begun to speak a silence hit the air, they were all looking at me-and me at them. I delivered instructions for how I wanted our PLC to look then released them to uncover struggling students, figure out how to enrich proficient students, and share classroom instruction that worked. It was beautiful. Finally, after forty minutes we dismissed.
In the days following, I could not wait to see and hear about the changes.
Instead, however, all that happened was that the teachers returned to their classrooms to do more of the same. Nothing changed! What did I do wrong? Why did I not inspire change?
You see I had stood in front of all of them, pretended to be an expert, then sent them back to their classrooms to perform my task. As a young leader, I thought it was most important to appear as an expert who knows it all. Ha, boy was I wrong. I had big goals, I knew the big plan, but I spent zero time with the team to discuss what they saw, what they wanted, and how they thought they could get there. I wasn’t leading I was criticizing them cloaked in a disguise. I masked myself as a charismatic, scientific prodigy who had all the answers. And, let me tell you, THAT’S NOT ME.
You see leaders HAVE to be themselves, as a matter of fact, more of themselves. My skill set was based on coaching. I needed to be a coach, not a science prodigy. Heck, those guys knew WAY more than me about science, and they knew it. So, while they respected me enough to listen to my face, once they returned to the classroom they didn’t respect my message. I had gone about it the wrong way.
If life had mulligans, then I would definitely have used it on this one. I should have spent my first meeting uniting the team and building a culture of transparency and collaboration, and that’s only after I spent days leading up to the meeting developing relationships. As a 26-year-old with minimum teaching experience, science knowledge was not necessary. I needed to be a coach. I needed to spend twice as much time listening as I did speaking. My team needed to be empowered not bossed around by an inexperienced colleague.
This was a lesson taught best through experience. We have to be ourselves. After all, people will follow leaders that are REAL (use their God-given skills to influence) before the follow people who are RIGHT (whether your right or not-your tactics are empowering the team to action).