Just before the Christmas and New Year’s holiday break, I made plans with a new client to provide a personal and team development experience with his executive inner circle. COVID has stretched them thin and he felt it was time to jump start the new year with very specific, personalized professional growth.
My new friend is in his first year as Superintendent of Schools in the Pacific Northwest. Only a hearty, brave soul would take on the top leader role in a very different part of the country to navigate uncharted waters in a still evolving pandemic.
From a business perspective, he’s the CEO of a multi-million-dollar non-profit corporation with several divisions and is one of the largest local employers. From an organizational perspective, he’s a new leader who is stepping into a well-established routine in need of a fresh look at their mission and how they are living it out each day. When he began last summer, he did several things right that laid the foundation for a reasonably effect response to the COVID crisis.
First, he engaged with his leadership team and key influencers to build rapport and learn their talents, strengths, and interests. He quickly acted to fill normal leadership transitions and open additional positions by redirecting a few less-effective members of the team. All along, this leader involved people in planning and decisions that affected them and created opportunities for them to lead in areas of expertise.
His main goal was to help his team and their staff see themselves as participants in the process and partners in the outcomes. Then just as the team was gaining some momentum, COVID hit and everyone had to scatter. After decades of face-to-face operations, administration, staff, and students had to go remote and add a new dynamic to providing prekindergarten through 12th grade education — parents and guardians. Using his collaborative tools from the 2019 Fall term, the Superintendent unified the school community around shared goals, objectives, and plans to conclude one school year and then start another in the Fall of 2020.
All of this planning, interacting, implementing, and constant revising of those plans brought the district through the first semester to the end of 2020. But whatever successes they celebrate has come at a heavy price. The mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual energy of the adults that lead adults and teach or support students has been drained past exhaustion. Their continued resilience is a testament to their commitment to the mission of helping students learn and grow.
That same learning and growth that has kept students engaged is also a vital part of keeping adults engaged in their work. Starting with his inner circle, my new friend decided to partner with my team to refresh their relationship with each other and the person they see in the mirror each day. They will have a unique chance to be thoroughly heard for about an hour to hear themselves think out loud in response to questions about everyday issues as a leader.
A short time later they have a chance to discuss and reflect on a summary of their responses with observations andquestions to reinforce strengths and consider areas for growth. Finally, the team comes together to combine their personal insights with feedback on their group results to help them define specific goals to guide their growth in the months to come.
The real gift this Superintendent wants to give his team is time to be thoroughly heard as a person and carefully listen to feedback on what it’s like for others to experience their leadership. The gift to himself is a deeper dive into the unique talents of his team as their adult coach that would have taken him years to learn on his own over many years. What COVID took away from this executive team in close relationships and unity, this growth experience will help restore.
My new friend may have ended 2020 with his team feeling depleted, but they will start 2021 with a renewed energy to defeat or bounce back from whatever COVID throws at them.