Leadership and Listening


I’m excited to welcome Will Johnson back to the blog. He posted last week about his big shift from public education to private education, and I’m eager to learn more about the differences between those two realms, and how those differences might illuminate the lens of viewing a school as an ecosystem.

I’m onto year two in the public middle school I moved to last year, after leaving the elementary school I taught in for three years. It’s a great school, and every day that I ascend into its bright interior I try to retain a sense of gratitude. I am fortunate to work with an amazing and diverse set of students, a professional and hardworking staff, steered by attentive and empathetic leadership.

This year, I’m engaged in two different leadership programs, which means that I won’t have much time for blogging. But I will write when I am able to.

Leadership is a strange thing to be in a program for. Leadership is something perhaps best coaxed simultaneously from within while catalyzed by external circumstance. By that I mean that you may only really find leadership within yourself when you are thrust into a position requiring leadership. And maybe being a leader just really means being an authentic human being that just so happens to be in a position of authority. False leaders are the ones, after all, that ride in on all the hype and bravado, steering themselves towards their own vision of glory. Real leaders come in with humility and turn other people into leaders while quietly going about and changing the world.

This is the kind of leader I’d like to be, but know that I am nowhere near. I’m pretty good at putting my own self on a platform, but much less adept at elevating others.

In any training I’ve been to that involves service to others or leadership, a fundamental component of that training has been around some form of “active listening.” I’ve received this training when I volunteered as a hotline crisis counselor, when I worked as a grocery store manager, in Therapeutic Crisis Counseling for working with students exhibiting challenging behaviors, and most recently in my current involvement in education leadership programs.

You would think that I might be a really good active listener by this point. Yet each time I am reminded of the importance of active listening (here’s a really good summation of the steps involved in the active listening process in this post on negotiation tactics), I am amazed at just how hard it is to maintain as a daily practice. Immediately after any training, when I remember to consciously apply it, I discover just how powerful it can be; yet days later, I am back in the daily grind of petty reactions to others and headlong pursuance of blind ambition.

The reality is that the work of being a truly alive human being is truly difficult to turn into a daily practice. And that’s probably the real work of any kind of “leader” worth their salt.

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