Have you ever observed leaders who authentically appreciate, trust, and value the people they serve? Those leaders have an innate gift for developing and unleashing the greatness within every person they encounter. They inspire others to humbly give their hearts and minds to others and make contributions to something that matters. I often think about the leaders who breathed life into my ideas, who trusted me to bring those ideas to fruition, and unlocked the potential I didn’t know I had. For that, I’m eternally grateful.
When I was a new teacher, I worked for the New York City Department of Education as a classroom teacher. I adored my first principal, Beth Longo. She is the one who gave me my first foot in the door when I had little experience in education. She was a mentor who saw the leader in me. Beth had high expectations, pushed her teachers to try new practices, was honest in her feedback, and gave them the courage to reflect on the educators they were and wanted to be. She had the ability to be direct in her approach while remaining endearing all at once. One day, Beth pulled me into her office and said, “Lauren, our district superintendent is visiting our school tomorrow with her team and I am going to bring them into your classroom.” What happened next? I stared at her without answering. I could feel this confused look on my usually rosy turned pale face. She interrupted my silence by saying, “Lauren, I know you are thinking that since you are a new teacher, I shouldn’t be bringing these people into your classroom. Is that why you aren’t answering me? That’s what you are thinking isn’t it?” I finally blinked. “Well… ummm…hmmmm. Maybe?” There, I finally answered, not wanting to commit to a specific response. She interrupted me again. “Lauren, I’ll see you in your classroom tomorrow. Just do me a favor…be yourself.” In that moment, I could feel the rosiness restoring through my pale cheeks and my heart rate returning to a more normal beat.
Helping Others Succeed
In Brene Brown’s Dare to Lead Podcast, Adam Grant shared, “The most meaningful way to succeed is to help other people succeed.” Could shining the light on others, honoring who they really are, challenging them to do the hard things, and instilling a courageous spirit pave a path that shows others the leaders they are meant to be? There is a certain kind of excitement in inspiring others. When people feel that their work matters, they feel that they matter.
Learning About Yourself
The next day, my classroom instantly became a lab site, a revolving door. As I stood in the middle of my classroom, teaching and learning from my students, administrators who were also strangers took their place around the perimeter of my classroom. It felt like we were in the theater in the round. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw several guests approach my students. I can remember them asking, “What are you learning today?” To this very day, I don’t remember my guests’ faces or every interaction that happened in the room. What I do remember is what it felt like to be challenged and a good pressure to rise to the occasion by just being myself. I also vividly recall the conversation I had with Beth after the experience. She asked me this question, “Lauren, what did you learn about yourself as an educator today? I paused and the first thing I said was “I can do hard things while being myself.” She came back with another question. “Lauren, what did you learn from today that you can take with you for the rest of your career?” I replied, “I need time to think about that, Beth. Can I have some time to reflect?”
Learning From Yourself
It is 17 years later, and I am still thinking about Beth’s last question. If I were to answer what I learned from that experience today, I would respond with this: “Great leaders can help others find their inner drive and light sparks that ignite a sense of passion and purpose. They give you just the right amount of push, believe in you to grow into the leader you are destined to be, and encourage you to be the best version of yourself.” In the book Trust and Inspire, Stephen Covey shares the following sentiment and question: “Instead of asking why aren’t my people motivated? A better question to ask yourself is how can I better inspire those I lead?”As you proceed on your leadership journey, take a step into opportunities that can transform educators’ mindsets by letting them experience what it feels like to garner courage and step into hard things. There are future leaders waiting for you to recognize their innate gifts and unleash greatness within.