Starting off on the right foot

Most of us have been encouraged throughout our lives to stand up for ourselves, for others, and for the things we believe in.

But most of us have failed at one time or another to do so because of fear or other compelling reasons.

Consulting-expert Peter Block describes such people as “walking bent over,” adding, “If you walk bent over at the beginning of a consulting relationship, you will find it very difficult to stand up straight again.”

The importance of starting off on the right foot by standing up for what they believe and by defining the boundaries of relationships is a life lesson that resilient people have learned, often the hard way.

In addition to consultants beginning a relationship with clients, Block’s admonition applies, for example, to:

• Parents with their children,

• Teachers with their students, and

• Supervisors with those they supervise.

And so on.

Resilience requires standing up straight at the beginning. It also requires that when we find ourselves compromised we do whatever is necessary to stand up straight again. “Better late than never” is advice that applies here.

That usually means confronting problems head on without judgment and blame, having difficult conversations, and seeking win-win solutions.

So, while resilient people have learned the importance of establishing “ground rules” at the beginning of important relationships, they have also learned that it is never too late to start again.

What has your experience taught you about the challenges of starting off on the right foot and, if necessary, of starting again?

3 Responses to “Starting off on the right foot”


  1. 1 rickrepicky May 10, 2017 at 6:36 am

    Idea to ponder – Looking from a principal-teacher relationship – Successful leadership is often situational. My experience is that the authoritarian “new sheriff” approach works only if the staff recognizes the new leader as the hero from Mt. Olympus, the staff is in a mess, and they are willingly compliant – seldom the case. Generally, getting off on the right foot requires the leader to establish a “team” approach whereby conversations establish mutual purpose (why we are here) & goals (the steps we take to achieve our purpose). This requires a lot of dialogue to create ownership & accountability for the mutual plan. It’s very difficult to change from new sheriff to listener or vice versa. So it’s important to talk to the staff in the early stages, assess the culture, and pick the proper approach on the authoritarian-listener spectrum.

    • 2 Dennis Sparks May 11, 2017 at 7:32 am

      As always, Rick, I appreciate the quality of thought revealed in your comment and the ways it has extended my thinking. As you know, there are times to stand firm. And there are times to bend. Our professional judgment informs that choice. In retrospect we sometimes realize that we made the wrong choice and that the situation requires a remedy. Knowing when and how to fix it requires skill and perhaps even courage. The ability to publicly acknowledge that we have made a mistake, which is a sign of emotional intelligence, is an essential but often unrecognized leadership skill whether the venue is a classroom, a school, or a school system.

  2. 3 rickrepicky May 11, 2017 at 9:13 am

    Appreciate your response, Dennis – I’m a big fan of anything EI – traits so often lacking in leadership, as you say, at the school (and every other) level.


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