Leadership Lessons Learned

This year I served as the president of a regional educational research association, and one of my responsibilities was to plan and organize an annual conference with about 300 attendees and about the same number of research presentations. After hearing what many felt was a successful conference, I reflected on what contributed to that success. Not surprisingly, I felt that some of the things our leadership team got right was because we kept things simple and followed the fundamentals of leadership. Notably, these fundamentals were quite similar to what my university team followed when rolling out our iPad mobile learning initiative, and I invite you to consider these thoughts as well as adding your own in the comments below. 

Connect with people.

Avoid getting lost in just the technical details of planning. There are so many logistical pieces to running a conference or launching a mobile device rollout, and these logistical pieces are important. However, you will want to make sure you talk to people on the ground to see how they’re doing, especially in relation to the decisions you make. Invite your stakeholders to pose you with “real or rumor” questions, so that you can demonstrate transparency and shared decisionmaking. Talk to people, yes, but more importantly, listen to people. One of the greatest gifts you can give someone is your time and your attention. My boss likes to say we innovate “at the speed of trust,” and I believe we gain trust by valuing our people first.

Respect traditions.

No innovation will catch on if you don’t provide a pathway for people who are wary of changing how they have “always done things.” This is not to say that we stop innovating because some don’t want to move forward, but we can spend time bridging what is currently being done to what can be done. At the end of the day, people don’t fear change, they actually fear loss. They fear losing a sense of comfort or success, and our job as leaders is to help honor what has been done as we walk forward to the successes that can be realized going forward.

Communicate often.

Keep people informed of what you’re doing and how to be successful in a new environment. This experience of living through innovation in real time may be jarring for some, and they may need help figuring out what to do. Provide details.  but also some people may be used to one way of doing it in another institution, it’s your job to not make any assumptions About what people can do and how they do it

Own your mistakes.

Always assume something will go amiss. If a mistake or a problem is something that is ultimately your responsibility, don’t hedge one bit. Make sure that you acknowledge the problem and move forward in rectifying the issue. If the problem is not your responsibility, own it anyway and commit to making sure that the issue will be addressed. Ultimately people don’t seem to care about who’s at fault for problems and mistakes; they just want the issue resolved. Importantly, your expressing concern about the issue being resolved shows that you are expressing concern for that individual.

Embrace tedium.

Sometimes rolling out initiatives or managing conferences involves tedious tasks like bundling cords, installing apps, or stuffing bags. Embrace this! Sometimes this a chance for fellowship with others, and sometimes it is a time for quiet repose in the midst of bustling activity. See every moment as an opportunity to connect with others or even to yourself.

Do you have other leadership fundamentals you noticed in your own team's initiatives or planning? Share them in the comments below.


All Comments

Posted on November 23, 2022

Love this reflection. For me communication is the big one, and also role modeling owning your mistakes.

Posted on December 02, 2022

Really appreciate this thoughtful reflection, Michael! I agree with you and JJ that communication is key. I also think that contributes to how we connect with people and demonstrate transparency in the decision-making process.

One of the attributes of leadership that you mentioned above that I find challenging is balancing a respect for tradition with forward progress and innovation. That phrase, "move at the speed of trust," is a valuable mantra in any change initiative. While I might be ready to forge ahead with a new idea, I know I won't get far if I leave others behind instead of communicating a rationale for change clearly and transparently and gaining buy-in from all stakeholders.

Thanks for giving me something to think about when it comes to leading and learning together!

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