The most common question I’m asked by system administrators, principals, and teacher leaders is some variation of, “The people I work with are unwilling to change, and I don’t know what to do to get them to open their minds.”
Put another way, these leaders are interested in being more influential.
I respond that while countless articles and books have been written on that subject, and that there are no formulas, I can offer a few suggestions for their consideration.
1. Leaders can make demands. While demands are occasionally necessary, they only work in a very narrow set of circumstances, and their long-term effects are usually limited. Demands won’t work, of course, unless there are meaningful negative consequences that will be invoked for noncompliance.
2. Leaders can make requests. Motivation is increased when individuals feel that are choosing a course of action rather than being required to do it. That means that often the most direct and effective way to motivate others is simply to ask them to do something. The key is to invite, not to require. The energy created can be astounding, although it may take a while for members of demand-oriented cultures to believe that there will be no negative consequences for declining the request.
3. Leaders can delegate meaningful responsibilities and provide the necessary developmental experiences and support to enable success. Tapping the strengths and resources of others is a multiplier of leaders’ direct influence, particularly when distributing leadership improves the performance of teams within schools.
4. Leaders can engage in dialogue. Dialogue is most effective when participants listen carefully to one another as assumptions are surfaced and examined in the spirit of inquiry, not judgment. When those conditions are met, conversations move to deeper levels and participants slowly open their minds to new perspectives. In this way, leaders can initiate “crucial conversations” that respectfully perturb the status quo.
5. Leaders can share stories that illuminate important values, ideas, and practices. Because human beings are hardwired to listen to and be affected by stories, storytelling is often a way around emotional and cognitive resistance to new ideas and practices.
6. Leaders can provide novel experiences to promote breakthrough thinking in which everything about a subject is viewed in a fresh and more empowering way. Such experiences – like well-designed field trips for students – are only useful, however, when participants are appropriately prepared for them through dialogue and background reading and when extended opportunities are provided to reflect on the meaning and significance of the experience.
What would you add to my “starter list” of ideas to increase leaders’ influence?