Leaders In The Trenches

Why you need to regularly visit your employees in their natural habitat

The corner office with the big desk, picture windows, and a sound-deadening door…that’s what many of us aspire to. But if you are leading effectively, you’ll be lucky to spend even a fourth of your day in that room.

via UNC - CFC - USFK @ Flickr Creative Commons

via UNC – CFC – USFK @ Flickr Creative Commons

When I first became a principal, I quickly became acquainted with all of the duties, responsibilities, and expectations that come with being a leader of a team of professionals. I’d be lying if I said that there weren’t seasons of overwhelm. Like a young hound, I would find myself chasing every rabbit that crossed my path, but never catching any of them.

It’s tough to figure out where your greatest impact will be, where you should focus your time, and what to say ‘no’ to. I’ve now come to the conclusion that people matter more than anything else that can come across my plate.

For steady progress to occur, it has to begin with the people you lead. You can manage from your office, but you can’t lead until you decide to visit the trenches on a regular basis. Here is what happens when you decide to regularly see your staff in their natural work habitat:

1. You begin to paint a true picture of your building. You begin to see where you are weak. You discover your strengths. You begin to piece together how various personalities work together (or sometimes don’t work together).

2.  You are forced to prioritize your work. The very root word for “decision” literally means “to cut out”. When you as a leader decide to focus on people, it also means that you must say “not yet” to other things. This helps you become laser-focused and more effective.

3.  You will learn from your best team members. When I came to the Elementary with my only experience with 5-year olds being my own children, I made it a point to get into the classrooms so I could learn what worked best for the teachers. The strategies I learned from them helped me to guide other struggling staff members.

4.  You begin to build trust among the staff. As the boss, you’ll always have the right to speak. But in order to obtain the right to be heard, you have to be given permission by each employee. This permission is only granted through trust. When they see you on a regular basis, you earn their respect as someone that cares, is involved, and has their best interest at heart.

5.  You become an expert. As with anything in leadership, consistency is the keystone. Over time, you’ll become to understand your team’s dynamics. You’ll discover what is most important. You’ll sharpen your own skills by learning from others. And you’ll also earn their trust and respect.

Vantage point is everything. As a leader, your vantage point is typically from a height and distance that your team cannot always understand. While you may know where you want to take your team, you’ll never get them from point A to point B without understanding the obstacles they face.

As a point to myself, I’m trying to get into at least three classrooms each day. Generally speaking, this will allow me to see each teacher every couple of weeks or so. Hopefully I’ll have great things to report at the end of this year. So far, I’m loving it am learning so much about my building, the staff members, and where we need to focus.

QUESTION: What commitment are you making to the people on your team so that they know you are in this together?

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