How do you find the balance between “mentoring” and “micro-managing”
to ensure people feel supported and comfortable taking risks?
Leaders empower their organization’s members; they do not dictate to or manage them. How do leaders empower their people? With a shared vision, a leader finds within each member a strength which promotes that vision. A leader lets the person know, and encourages that person in that area, building on that talent. That first step to knowing one’s team members is the first step towards building the trust that allows each member to speak up, knowing their leader supports their work.
Teachers will grow professionally when their administrators take a personal interest in their careers. When teachers feel cared for, just like students, it goes a long way toward creating a great school culture.
Carolyn Jensen, principal for Parkland School Division
Chapter 8, Innovator’s Mindset LOC 1846 if 3535
In many schools both students and teachers find themselves in a data swamp where the focus on remediation, interventions, and weaknesses under the guise of “school improvement” mean only negative conversations, expectations, and program implementations to improve text scores. Any recognition of what teachers have done well is undermined by mandates and requirements and meetings that tear at their professionalism. And leaders find themselves stuck in the muck of those mandates and struggle to clear the path for a focus on students as whole persons, not failures.
People who do have the opportunity to focus on their strengths every day are six times as likely to be engaged in their jobs and more than three times as likely to report having an excellent quality of life in general.” Tim Rath
Clearly we need to make sure our educators and students have ample opportunity to explore and practice in areas which they thrive. George Couros
Chapter 8, Innovator’s Mindset LOC 1714 of 3535.
So, What about mentoring members for improvement? Think about this from Tom Rath and George Couros:
If we want our team members to be actively engaged rather than disengaged and compliant, we, as peers, and leaders must focus on strengths. But how does that help us lead to mentoring?
Great leaders practice balancing trust and autonomy while providing strong mentorship…pushing others’ thinking and abilities by asking questions and challenging perceptions without micro-managing.
George Couros,Chapter 8, Innovator’s Mindset LOC 1740 of 3535
Chapter eight provided a great example of how to push thinking. Mandates are often categories of requirements, so why not form teams around those requirements — let members choose according to their interests. Remind them of their strengths, and give each team autonomy as they apply each one’s strengths to work together from their professional knowledge to innovate the solutions that would best fit the students’ strengths as well. What would happen?
While we supported and learned from one another, we also pushed each other to be better. The teachers and staff started to see each other as experts and valued their contribution and expertise.
Each individual is recognized for his or her own unique qualities and how those strengths support the overall vision of learning for our school
George Couros,Chapter 8, Innovator’s Mindset LOC 1870 of 3535
Grow the solutions locally. Build that community of professionals. Within that community, members see each other’s strengths, and merge their unique ideas into a focused solution based on that school’s students’ needs. Only then, when all members feel supported, does trust and collaboration move the organization forward. Without the input from professionals themselves, the culture is built only on compliance, not engagement, not empowerment, and teachers do not see or feel their value. With professionals who believe in themselves, are supported for their strengths, and participate with those strengths towards the school vision, then a culture of learning forms, and teachers and students begin to ask, “What else could I do to support our vision?” And that’s where teachers begin to mentor each other.
Learning is messy, and we have to be comfortable with risk, failure, growth, and revision.
George Couros,Chapter 8, Innovator’s Mindset LOC 1796 of 3535
What is the balance? Find and trust in the strengths of the people in your organization; bring the ideas from those strengths into the process of deciding solutions to issues. Model risk-taking with one’s own strengths and begin the journey of trust-building so that the members begin to question how to improve themselves.
Key to this issue of strengths-based leadership is taking the time to talk with your people, to never stop encouraging, recognizing, and supporting their leadership to make the school great for students. It’s specific, it’s modeling the expectation of celebration, it’s providing that celebration individually and for teams. It’s not a reward or announcement: it’s recognition and letting them know the value of their work to the school. The emphasis is on the doing and succeeding in small steps, and that their work and ideas make it happen and let it continue. It’s an ongoing conversation of the collaboration and commitment that teachers accept to get our job done.
Two questions suggested for this journey:
- Describe your dream position next year, what would it be? George Couros
- Where do you see your career in the next three to five years? Carolyn Jensen
Now, how do the answers help build the organization by letting the members shine through those answers?
The Innovator’s Mindset . Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead a Culture of Creativity. Dave Burgess Consulting 2015.
Tom Rath, Strengths Based Leadership: Great Leaders, Teams, and Why People Follow (New York: Gallup Press, 2008).
As a final note: Take this to the student level. Read Debbie Donsky’s The Truth of Who We Are — Let’s change the focus to strengths and talents and passions rather then remediation of weaknesses.
Geeky Gramma ~~
Retired Middle School Language Arts Teacher ~~
Writer and Thinker