Teach & Serve II, No. 17 – Questions, Answers and Gaps

Teach & Serve II, No. 17 – Questions, Answers and Gaps

November 30, 2016

It’s just so much easier to only consult yourself and it feels good. You are the leader. You have all the answers. Cue the swelling violins.

As educational leaders – classroom teachers or administrators or counselors or staff members – we sometimes believe our job is to make everyone happy. We sometimes think that, to be successful, we must be all things to all people. We want to have all the answers. We often strive to fill every gap, reasoning that, if we fail in doing so, we fail in being good leaders.

This is a mindset that we ought to question. It is foolish. It is self-defeating. It is dangerous.

Operating from it will inevitably damage one’s credibility and hamstring one’s leadership.

Leaders find themselves clinging to this philosophy by reading their own press and listening too much to the own voices. Frequently, leaders feel responsible for not only the success of the endeavors being led, but also for how people feel as they are being led. And that’s okay. It’s what leaders do with those impulses that can define them.

gapLeaders sometimes think they must have every answer, pull every correct lever, do it all on their own. Leadership can be lonely, sure, but leaders who isolate themselves from those they lead – and this is as true of administrators as it is of classroom teachers – can quickly find themselves in an echo chamber that reverberates with one message: “Yours is the most important voice.”

When we feel as though we, alone, have all the answers, we already have one foot down the rabbit hole. Very effective leaders who believe this become less effective very quickly. And less effective leaders fall into this trap all too readily.

It’s just so much easier to only consult yourself and it feels good. You are the leader. You have all the answers. Cue the swelling violins.

Here’s the thing: real leaders understand they don’t have all the answers. They know that they cannot have all the answers.

Real leaders embrace the idea that there are gaps all around them that they cannot and should not try to fill on their own. They revel in the fact that only together, working with colleagues, with students, with families, can challenges be negotiated, hurdles overcome and gaps filled. Real leaders look for the gaps and then empower people to fill them in. And, when necessary, the allow themselves to be directed to pick up a shovel and move dirt.

Weak leaders do the opposite. They fear an environment where they don’t have all the answers – where there are gaps – and, when gaps are pointed out to them, they rush to fill them with whatever materials they have on hand. They need to fill them because gaps indicate to them that they are not doing the job, that there are unhappy people, that they don’t have all the answers.

Strong leaders know they do not have all the answers. They create an environment that recognizes that gaps are normal. Gaps are natural. Gaps are opportunities.

Strong leaders look for opportunities to ask questions that unite. Weak leaders look to answer all questions before they are even asked.