Effective leaders speak from the heart

Dennis SparksThat which is spoken from the heart is heard by the heart. —Jewish saying

Emotions trump facts in motivating human behavior. That was an awareness I acquired only after many years of frustration trying to persuade others to change based on research and logical discussion.

This understanding means that in addition to providing evidence to support new practices, leaders will speak from their hearts to the hearts of those they lead to sustain a steady flow of energy for doing the demanding work of continuously improving teaching, learning, and relationships in schools.

John Kotter and Dan Cohen elaborate on this perspective in The Heart of Change: Real-Life Stories of How People Change Their Organizations. “People change what they do,” they observe, “less because they are given analysis that shifts their thinking than because they are shown a truth that influences their feelings.”

Because emotions underlie lasting change, leaders’ ability to evoke and channel the energy they create is essential in overcoming inertia and providing the commitment necessary to establish new habits of mind and behavior.

Leaders evoke feelings when they:

Speak with passion about the values that guide their lives and of the values shared by the school community. They do so whenever appropriate in faculty meetings, team meetings, and one-to-one conversations with colleagues, parents, and students.

Tell stories that touch the hearts of those they lead. For example, leaders touch hearts when they speak authentically from their hearts about the incidents and events that shaped them as human beings and led them into teaching and school leadership. They can also invite others to share the influences that shaped their lives and professional choices in faculty meetings or other appropriate venues (my next column will have more to say on leaders’ use of stories).

Provide learning experiences that affect the heart as well as the mind. The use of well-chosen poetry and video clips are two such methods. Another is to form panels of current or former students in which participants reveal salient aspects of their lives, their experiences in the school, and/or how well prepared they felt they were for the next phase of their lives.

While research and professional literature are important tools in stimulating meaningful and lasting change, they are usually insufficient.

That’s why it is essential that whenever possible leaders speak from their hearts to the hearts of others in ways that promote a sense of possibility and commitment to important goals and encourage others in the school community to do the same.

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