Leading towards Substantive Change

I’ve been reminded lately of my time in a leadership position of an arts organization, for which I am proud to say, I was responsible for many positive changes. I think leaders in schools and organizations are often called upon to “make change happen,” for reasons both valid and dubious at times. Having lived through some very painful organizational transitions across my career, I’ve had the chance to witness some outstanding– and not-so-outstanding– leadership during times of crisis and change. Leaders are sometimes put in a position of delivering bad news, of giving negative feedback, and of holding people accountable for behavior that does not meet expectations. Leadership can be a lonely job, especially when one is new to the position and/or when marked shifts in culture and practice in the institution are warranted. I’ve always said that most every boss behaves as the boss they wish they had, and so often conflict occurs simply because of the disconnect between the boss-your-boss-wishes-she-had and the boss-you-personally-need. Part of being a good leader is learning about the people you have been called to led, just as part of being a good teacher is about learning about the people you’ve been called to teach.

I believe any leader new to an organization needs to

  • spend more time listening than talking.
  • explicitly let the professionals they supervise know, in words and body language, that they are valued.
  • acknowledge and affirm when subordinates share concerns
  • never make assumptions about the backgrounds, challenges, or motivations of the people you work with.

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