I work across a few environments: when I’m not standing in front of educators or parents talking about wellbeing, I’m teaching the neuroscience of change in organisations, or helping facilitate week-long workshops in neuroscience and meditation, leading a group of 80 people within a wider group of up to 2000 participants. And, most importantly, parenting my 2 primary-aged children.
Whilst the environments may be different, there are some overarching similarities in leadership within these different situations. Below are the 5 main leaderships lessons I’ve learned that are just as applicable to leading our next generation of leaders within the walls of a classroom, as they are to parenting our own children, or facilitating change within major organisations.
1. Trust and respect:
The fundamentals of trust and respect are the basis of any relationship and are essential ingredients of a leader. This is true whether you’re leading a large company or the next generation in a classroom. Without trust and respect being first established, you can’t effectively lead. Trust is the basis of creating a sense of safety, which is imperative in any learning environment. Dr. Dan Siegel talks about the importance of safety in forming healthy attachments, which are the basic building block from which we can learn from others.
Respect has been reported as the single most powerful ingredient in nourishing relationships and creating a just society.
Mutual respect fosters collaboration and cooperation, which encourages productivity and quality work. Again, this is as important in the classroom as it is in the boardroom. Feelings of respect affects social engagement and studies have shown this is true across a wide range of institutions – from political ones to student engagement in school.
An optimal learning environment requires trust, respect and a sense of safety. When this is established, communication is enhanced, as too is response to direction and instruction, whilst distractions and behavioural disruptions are lessened.
2. Leading by example
Something that helps to establish the essential trust and respect is integrity, and leading by example. The old adage of treating others the way we want to be treated, as opposed to doing what I say instead of what I do. Having integrity and following through with what we say we’re going to do is important for any leader (anyone), but has another level of depth when it comes to leading our children. They learn from constantly watching us. Therefore our actions speak far louder to their brains wiring and formation, than our words do. In the same way that we cannot expect somebody to do something that we wouldn’t be prepared to do ourselves, we cannot hold children to higher standards than we ourselves maintain. Think about this considering things such as device usage, and the ways we speak to and relate to one-another.
Let’s consider our emotions and how we manage them.
- Have you ever witnessed somebody shouting at someone to stop shouting?
- How do you go at remaining calm and emotionally balanced amidst chaos or altercation?
We’re human and we are all at the mercy of our emotions sometimes. It’s important to recognise that it’s even more difficult for children to be able to manage their emotional state, as their prefrontal cortex–the part of brain that allows them to control emotions – is far from being fully developed. Those of you who have participated in our Wellbeing: it's not just a policy workshops, may remember an exercise which involves standing up, finding partners and sitting down again – without talking…and how that goes!!!
It serves as a nice reminder to us as to how easily subconscious patterns, and thoughts around social awkwardness can cause emotions which make us behave in a certain way even when we have the best intentions to follow instructions. If we find this difficult as adults, we can’t expect it to be easy for children. How we show up in each moment is always a choice. This however can easily be forgotten in the heat and chaos of life and we can find ourselves reacting to situations instead of responding.
I presented a workshop recently and in her introduction of me the Principal stated that she knew already this was going to be a great session as she’d been struck with how well I’d passed the ‘test’, by remaining calm amidst the flurry of tech problems we’d experienced in setting up! The truth is, this wasn’t hard for me. I’ve had enough tech issues in my time to simply know that we’ll get there in the end. This is a simple story with a powerful message: how many times do our children simply need us to remain calm in a situation when they do not yet know that it will be ok?
Simply showing up with the presence of remaining calm amidst the chaos lets them know that “you’ve got this” and it’s going to be ok. Neurologically, when we control our fight /flight stress response and keep regulating our nervous system, our children can attune to us and regulate their own. They cannot do this independently yet so they need us to be able to do this in order to develop their own healthy nervous systems. As a leader, we need to be what we want to see.
As a leader, we’re constantly under scrutiny. We’re being watched and learned from at a subconscious as well as conscious level from the observers. And it’s always a useful exercise to sometimes step back and look at how you’re leading by example. How are you choosing to be in every moment in order to lead to the best of your ability?
3. Training and mistake management
Instructions are difficult to follow if we don’t have clear guidelines and direction! Whether in a business or a classroom, results have a degree of dependence on how well the directions, expectations and goals are laid out at the beginning. Even with the best instructions and training, of course mistakes still happen. And how we perceive and deal with these as leaders has huge effects on our results. Research shows that it’s through mistakes that we learn the most. A great leader embraces mistakes, understanding that they are part of the process and opportunities for growth.
We’ve all heard of the importance of encouraging a “growth mindset” and the attitude that we’re always progressing and learning. Just because we don’t know something today doesn’t mean we can't learn it tomorrow. A good leader helps others develop skills by patiently nurturing, encouraging and embracing mistakes as opportunities to grow.
4. Effective 2-way communication
Not only does effective communication aid the explanation of rules and expectations, but clear communication is essential for leadership. You might have the best idea or information in the world to share, but if you can’t communicate it in a way that allows others to understand it, it hasn’t helped anyone.
A great leader knows that listening is just as, if not more important than talking. Knowing how and when to stop talking and listen instead, allowing the creative juices of another to flow, is a skill of a good leader.
Listening also helps a leader know when to be directive and when to be participative. Sometimes it’s important for a leader to make executive decisions for the benefit of the whole but other times participative leadership skills are more appropriate. This allows others to feel seen and valued and helps build a sense of “we”. In any leadership role this is a fine balance.
How do you manage it in your classroom and what do you notice?
5. Emotional intelligence/connection
None of the above is possible without emotional intelligence (EQ). EQ is comprised of at least three skills: emotional awareness; the ability to harness those emotions and apply them to tasks; and the ability to manage emotions, which includes both regulating one’s own emotions when necessary and helping others to do the same.
The importance of EQ in leadership is being increasingly recognised across all sectors.
The education sector is one where a high level of emotional intelligence is usually found as a baseline. If you’re a teacher, you probably have the ability to “read the room”, attune to your students and know what they need moment to moment, in addition to having a high level of emotional awareness and self-management. You probably have this, but how on earth do you maintain it continuously given the challenges of leading a classroom of up to 30 children, with the constantly increasing demands of the school system?
The ability to lead, motivate and inspire others requires strong connection. Connection builds trust and respect. Connection enhances communication which allows for clear instruction and re-direction to be given effectively. Connection requires EQ and the ability to be completely present with another. Only when we are truly present can we really listen and understand with compassion and empathy what’s going on for somebody else.
Without connection we cannot lead.
So the question is not, how do you lead? Instead, the question is, how do you connect, in order that you lead?
Sally Boardman initially worked as a psychologist before discovering the power of helping people understand how to use their brain and bodies to create true lasting change and transformation. She completed her MPhil in Psychology in the UK and originally worked is a rehabilitation psychologist when she came to Australia in 2001. She has extensive presentation skills and experience which she has gained through her career as a trainer, coach and facilitator. She has previous experience delivering PD to educators as well as within many other sectors.
She is a TEDx speaker and currently serves on the Leadership team for Dr Joe Dispenza where she assists with weeklong trainings of up to 2000 participants. Sally is passionate about helping the leaders of our next generation of leaders to thrive, and sustaining the mental health and well-being of our children and educational leaders.
Visit Sally's website: www.ourthrivingkids.com