Leading and Listening

Throughout May we facilitated our usual round of one on ones with 40 leaders, typically for an hour, compared to the three hours we allow for gatherings. I (Phil) also had the opportunity to read Leverage Leadership, after Rach, and was surprised by just how much resonated with my existing work with leaders. 

Bambrick-Santoyo (p.22) begins by describing how much regular half hour meetings between teachers improve students’ performance. He estimates that, over the year, such meetings help teachers find 30-40 solutions. Having seen how our leaders took to dialoguing at April’s gathering I can well imagine.

Just as Rach and I act as ‘sounding boards’ – listening first, before asking a few incisive questions that help leaders identify assumptions that limit them – the best Principals seem to lead from their ‘back pocket’ rather than dictate (p.41). We’ve found one on ones, and gatherings, have most impact when our final question invites leaders to identify their next step(s). In the same way, Leverage Leadership describes how teachers become more and more effective when they implement one or two improvements per week.

In a way that is not too dissimilar to Rachel’s, and my own, current roles with leaders, Bambrick-Santoyo believes a Principal’s number one priority is to,

‘…create the highest-leverage, most game changing 30 minute conversations possible’ (p. 23).

By receiving weekly observations and feedback, a teacher develops as much in one year as most teachers do in twenty’ (p. 61).

I’ve heard anyone can master anything in 10,000 hrs or 10 yrs. True, or not, my feeling is that South Africa’s children, and society as a whole, can’t afford to wait. We urgently need effective leadership, now!

Aware of the impact of facilitating opportunities for business, church and charity leaders to feedback one on one, I didn’t need asking twice when an opportunity to be on the receiving end arose. For 1 hour a month I just talk, whilst – apart from the odd God question – my Spiritual Director, MH, just listens.

I must have been talking a lot of books in May, since one of the questions MH posed after listening for some time was if I felt I’ve been connecting more with God on an intellectual level than emotionally recently. I am aware I have ‘seasons’ where one is more prominent and effective than the other, but without a thought I responded, “intellectually – definitely!” Ironic that I should react to a cognitive question from my gut. But, as I talked and thought more, I realised emotions played a significant part in what God has being doing in our lives this year. The process of selling our house, for example, was not entirely rational. In February, I cried in a coffee shop, after a film about pursuing dreams led to a reminder from God about some of my own that are unfulfilled. In May, I wrote about the impact of an emotional response to what I witnessed whist the Soul Survivor volunteers were here. And then there’s the Examen – recommended by MH – a practise that, through reflective prayer, seeks to understand what the emotions ones experienced in the giving and gains of each day are revealing about God in relation to self.

Why am I telling you this? Not sure, just felt I should.

Maybe, you’re a leader and feel you’d benefit from appointing some sort of a mentor / spiritual director. Or why not ‘Google’ Examen and try and build at least one into your week from now on? And what about those you lead – do you prioritise processing time with others, or find you are forever fighting fires?