Saturday, February 7, 2015

Day 7: Educational Piranhas #28daysofwriting

Mary and May (2009)
Earlier this week I was in a meeting with my appraiser and we were having a long conversation about all things education related, and of course what my goals might look like, and how we were going to get the 360 feedback.  As part of our conversation we had a general discussion about critical feedback and the way principals (headteachers) receive it and digest it.

The thing about leadership is that we often wonder if we are the only ones that think a certain way or feel a certain way, especially when it comes to receiving feedback.  Sometimes I imagine that the principal down the road is a super human that everyone thinks is the best thing since sliced bread, and they would never receive anything other than outstanding feedback.   Sometimes, the weight of imagining that I too should be the perfectly tailored, perfect leader is a little off-putting.

We can easily become isolated in our own little boxes, believing that we are the only ones to experience the not so fun parts of leadership, so to discuss this kind of thing with someone who deals with many other leaders is helpful.  It gives one a moment to take on board some perspective.  It is also enlightening to know that the so called 'super leaders' face the same things and feel the same way.

Part of our discussion was, where is the line between being very hard nosed about feedback that feels personal, relegating it to an unimportant status, and moving on, to one where you obsess over any negative statement to the point where all the positives are negated.  Does the modern leader that 'hardens up' and distances themselves from critical feedback make a better leader from the one that takes it personally and worries over it?

As we discussed this, we used the analogy that principalship was like travelling up the Nile, with a pack of piranhas trailing you.  The piranhas are the less than positive, critical feedback leaders receive.  Some of it constructive, some of it not so.  Your journey could be one of sheer hell, if your boats hull has insufficient armour, sink you if you have too much armour plating on the hull or bearable (even, dare I suggest, enjoyable) if you get the balance right.

We likened the not so positive feedback leaders sometimes get to as being gnawed at by piranhas.  Sometimes it feels like it is a constant, a little unfair and sometimes, quite random.  When this happens, it can be difficult to weed out perception from reality.

So the question was asked, how does a leader make sure the piranhas are kept at bay?  How do they make sure that the boat they are travelling on has sufficient enough armour that the piranhas, whilst gnawing, do not sink the boat?

It is interesting that at no point in our discussion did we suggest that we did not need the piranhas.  In fact, the feedback one gets from the piranhas is helpful and enlightening, especially if the leader was unaware their behaviour was causing friction.  

The conclusion we came up with, is that the leader, whilst on their journey up the Nile, needs to find the right balance between a hull that is strong and secure, but not too heavy in that it would sink them.

In other words, a good leader shows they are human, takes on board feedback, uses it to improve the way things are done but does not allow themselves to sink under the weight of it.  We did not think that the leader that journeys up the Nile in a heavy armour plated frigate was that of a good modern leader.  That, we felt, was a leader that ignores feedback and has armoured ears, which could, consequently turn into a disaster zone.

In conclusion, don't let the piranhas sink you, instead, use them to strengthen your leadership, grow your compassion and find your balance.

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