Monday, August 15, 2011

Effective...or "Right"?

Photo by broodkast

In my first years of teaching, I had a class of students who consistently came to class, were engaged, and worked to learn the subject matter, yet when it came time to display their knowledge, they struggled to do better than F or D level work. My team and I labored over our review sessions, making sure we were not missing any content. Nevertheless, the class as a whole did not improve. Concerned about my effectiveness as a teacher, I began experimenting with different instructional and review methods. With one of them, student performance improved overnight from Fs and Ds to Bs and a few As.

What had happened?
As it turned out, this group of students almost uniformly learned best through the act of guided writing than any other technique. The students did not know it themselves, and my team and I only learned it through experimentation. What I remember most about this incident was the response of another teacher. When I related my discovery to her, she indicated that she was covering the necessary material, her instructional methods were perfectly sound, and she didn't see a reason she should change. In her opinion the students should take responsibility for their own learning.

Of course, she was "right" - "right" in so far as yes, her instructional methods were good, and yes, students ultimately should take responsibility for their own learning. But what bothered me, and ultimately became a foundational element of my leadership and management, is that she was not effective.

Whether managing or leading, our goal is results - visions accomplished, people growing, or the world improving. In short, we want to be effective.

Many new leaders and managers get stuck because they cannot see past their own "rightness" and do the things that will help them be effective. Some examples:

"Why should I have to tell them again...I said it once." Yes, you did - 3 months ago. People have many priorities competing for their attention and important items often need multiple repetition in multiple forums.

"Why should I encourage / thank them...they're just doing their job." Yes, they are. Yet people generally like to feel appreciated and that they are more than just a part in a machine.

"Why should I hear opposing view points...I'm an expert in this subject and I've looked at all the options." Yes, you are and I'm sure you did a thorough analysis, but if you want your team to be committed to the idea, their voices need to be heard. Besides, you might be surprised by someone else's perspective.

Emerging managers and leaders wishing to be effective can often increase their influence by looking at areas where they have clung to being "right" and let it go in favor of being effective.

How do you view the difference between being effective or "right"?

David M. Dye

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Twitter: @davidmdye
David shares twenty years experience teaching, coaching, leading, and managing in youth service, education advocacy, city governance, and faith-based nonprofits. He currently serves as Chief Operating Officer for Colorado UpLift and enjoys helping others discover and realize their own potential.

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