Posts Tagged 'story telling'

Why it’s important for leaders to maintain a “learner’s mind”

Over the past decade as a hospice volunteer I have supported dozens of patients in telling their life stories and preserving them for future generations.

More often than not, patients were energized by the process of reviewing their lives. In addition, as they reflected on their experiences they often discovered an overarching sense of purpose that was previously invisible to them. 

And almost always they would tell stories that were meaningful to me, such as this one I offered in an April 2015 post.

When leaders’ egos grow too tall

“There’s an ego looking for a place to inflate,” my table mate at a Washington, DC meeting of high-level officials whispered to me as a prominent member of the education establishment entered the room, a prophecy that unfortunately soon proved itself to be true.

I was reminded of that meeting when Jean, a patient I was visiting in my role as a hospice volunteer, shared with me a simple but profound poem she had recently written:

“The long, dark corridor of life narrows at the end./And those whose ego grew too tall will have to learn to bend.” 

While Jean was describing the “long, dark corridor” of her own life as it narrowed in her 90s, her warning regarding egos that grow too tall without learning to bend also obviously applies to education leaders.

Signs that a leader’s ego has grown too tall include:

• Enjoying hearing himself or herself talk, usually at great length, rather than listening to others.

• Believing that he or she generally knows more than others, including being the only one with the wisdom to understand problems and how to solve them.

Ways in which leaders can learn to bend:

• Maintaining a “learner’s mind.” Leaders with such mindsets assume that they may not know what they don’t know.

• Recognizing that the perspectives of others are essential in identifying and solving problems.That means that they seek first to understand by spending far more time listening than speaking.

• Remembering that while leaders have unique roles and responsibilities, those who are successful cultivate a community of equals rather than one of  privilege and hierarchy.

What have I missed?

What is your preferred style of conversation?

Most of us have one or two favorite styles of conversation.

1. Some people prefer fast-paced, serial monologues during which what each person says may or may not be linked with what the previous speaker said.

2. Other people like to recount the facts of their days.

3. Still others tell stories.

4. Some people prefer to ask questions.

5. Less common, in my experience, are people who prefer conversations in which they and others disclose important but often invisible things about themselves.

6. Even less common is a conversational approach in which speakers offer a point of view in the spirit of dialogue, not to convince others but to stimulate their thinking and to better understand their points of view. In short, to be influenced as well as to influence.

Style 1 seems ego based. Style 3 offers speakers a way to share experiences through compelling (hopefully) narratives that move beyond recitations of facts, while style 4 is driven by curiosity.

I personally find styles 5 and 6 the most engaging because they enable participants to move beneath surface appearances and understandings.

While resilient people are often skillful in blending styles (for instance, telling a story, asking an open and honest question, and seeking a deeper understanding through dialogue), most of us rely on one or two approaches.

Which style or styles of conversation do you prefer?

6 ways you can influence others

Dennis Sparks

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?


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