I had a conversation recently with an educational leader who gave me some important insight and advice into my calling. He told me that my number one priority as a leader should be to build and maintain relationships. He said that without that ability, all the other tasks or expectations associated with the job description would be for naught.
I’m a huge believer in the power of connection and relationships. I came to the conclusion long ago that as a teacher, I didn’t teach history, I taught students. Some of the teachers I most admire and learn from embody that routinely. It also rings to the oft-quoted “people don’t care about how much you know until they know how much you care.” I’ve seen firsthand the effects of leaders who build relationships well and those that don’t. The ability to build coalitions, support, alliances, networks or whatever you want to call them is critical in leadership. Can a leader lead all by himself or herself? The term leader connotes someone who has a following, right?
The aspect of his insight that struck me was his emphasis on maintaining relationships. Perhaps I had heard it said before, but for some reason it had failed to resonate with me. Maintenance is something we all understand. Almost all of our organizations or institutions have a “Maintenance Department.” It doesn’t matter how great my vehicle ran when I got it, if I don’t decide to maintain it., it won’t be reliable. It won’t get me where I need to go with dependability. Perhaps it will break down at a most inopportune time. When my wife and I started planning for home ownership years ago, we had wise counsel talk to us about not just the costs of buying a home, but the often hidden expenses of maintenance, upkeep and repair. Even my relationship with my wife and my kids takes work and care on a regular basis. So why did this seem so revolutionary to me?
If you had this figured out long ago, kudos to you. If it’s something you had thought about but neglected more recently, I hope my personal and professional wake-up call can be of assistance to you. I don’t think most of us neglect relationships intentionally. For me, I tend to think, “…well I did X several weeks or months or years ago, so we must still be good.” Perhaps it’s time for an expression of appreciation or a note or a call or a lunch or a walk or a conversation. Maybe I need to set reminders like the sticker that’s on my windshield to prompt me when I need my oil changed (which in all transparency I usually go way over the recommended mileage before I take it in. Maybe there’s a pattern here?)
I’m supposed to help staff develop professionally, keep track of records and reports, meet with students for academic plans, look for innovative practices to help students and staff, facilitate positive staff morale, be an influencer of culture, connect with parents and the community and show up for lunch duty each day and bus duty once a week. Sometimes I see those appointments fill up my calendar and lose sight of the bigger picture. Truly to be effective I have to invest in the creation of relationships as well as the maintenance of those that are established. Sometimes I go to weddings. Sometimes I go to funerals or hospitals. Sometimes I go to the teacher’s lounge or a classroom. Sometimes it’s a cookout or a drink run to the convenience store. Wherever it is and whenever it is, it’s building and maintaining relationships and it’s my most important job even though it fits the catch-all “other duties as assigned.” I’ve come to recognize that without that I can’t be effective at anything else associated with my job. I have a long way to go. I don’t get it right all the time. But when I get it right, I don’t just do it for myself. It truly helps me continue to “do it for them.”
(tool box image from http://clipart-library.com/tools-cliparts.html)