Words Do Matter
I recently had the privilege of presenting, along with University of Dayton Hall of Fame football coach Mike Kelly, to Jim Place’s Graduate class, “Character Education: The Key to Success in Today’s World”. Before I expand on the experience, a few thoughts regarding Jim: while recognized as an outstanding teacher, educator, and football coach, his legacy is much more than that. Jim’s competitiveness and intensity has manifested itself into a passion that defines his uniqueness as an educator. He has devoted his life to making a difference in other people’s lives and whether in a classroom or a football field, he is a servant leader in every sense of the word.
More about the class. It’s a University of Dayton graduate course that educators take to renew their certificates, to reach another pay step or for general education. The goal of the class is to help school teachers, counselors, and administrators gain knowledge and skill that would enhance their ability as educators to focus on character as part of the students education and better prepare them for their future.
A requirement for the completion of the course is to write a reflection paper on the presenter’s topics. Jim has always been kind enough to share those papers and each year I continue to be blown away by how the message I share with the audience effects them both personally and professionally. While the disciplines and truths are part of The Leadership Pledge I have shared with audiences over 300 times the last 15 years, it’s rare that I get to read 60 papers that talk about the impact that just a simple thought or a metaphor can be the spark of caring that touches the tinder inside these educators. As I share these simple but powerful truths and the heartfelt responses think about what they mean to you from a personal and professional perspective.
1.Truth – You can make these students more than they are but you can’t make them something they’re not!
Teacher Reflection - This statement really hit home for me. My job would be so much easier if I could change my students but Pete made me realize after 18 years in the classroom this is impossible. My focus has got to be to provide them with love and the tools to help them to be the best person they can be and not who I think they should be. I need to help them identify their strengths and do everything in my power to help them realize their God-given potential.
Learning – How often have we tried to change our employees with little or no success? We can influence behavior but if a prospective hire does not bring the qualities and behaviors that are consistent with the requirements of the position, there’s very little chance. Our teachers do not have the privilege of choosing who shows up in the classroom. We do! Get out of the change business.
2.Truth – Change Just two simple words in your vocabulary; from ‘I have to’ to ’I get to’.
Teacher Reflection - I absolutely love this! Beyond the classroom I look at this from a parental point of view and it really struck a cord with me. I get to take my child to practice. How many parents, and I teach special needs, have children who will never set foot on a baseball field? That was the best thing my little ears could have heard.”
Learning - It’s a great reminder to be grateful for the things we get to do. If we value our family’s, our careers, our employees, and our friendships as blessings “have to” will no longer be part of our vocabulary.
3. Truth - Rules are for the weak and uncompromised standards of excellence are for the strong.
Teacher Reflection - This truth really spoke to me! When Pete followed it up with “rules without relationships create anarchy” I realized that I’ve been guilty of setting rules and consequences for not following them for most of my teaching career. My thought process was to teach them to follow directions, be responsible, and consequences are part of life. And I can’t even remember why some of these rules are in place. Probably from a student screwing up 10 years ago. Going forward I will make an effort to have far less rules but rather focus on expectations and standards of excellence.
Learning - To quote Marcus Buckingham and Curt Sanford from their book, ‘First Break All the Rules’, “Creating a culture of compliance, a company burdened by rules, slowly strangles its flexibility, responsiveness, and most importantly it’s good will!” So who or what is the culprit that causes professional and personal relationships to suffocate due to an overload of rules that ultimately sap our energy and enthusiasm? A lack of trust! Relationships can never reach their maximum potential when void of trust!
4. Truth - It can’t be an unconditional love without responsibility but rather a conditional love with consequences.
Teacher Reflection - Pete’s comment about conditional love was so insightful! Because I care so much for my students I find myself making excuses far too often for them which by Pete’s definition is unconditional love with responsibility. It makes me realize that conditional love is more powerful when accountability and successful outcomes are part of the relationship with my students.
Learning - Organizations that do it best win (however you keep score, you’ve got to win) and they also create an environment where employees feel valued, respected, and part of something special. No relationship will reach its maximum potential without love (conditional) at its core. Said another way, love for each other is about trust and mutual respect!
5. Truth - People can handle the truth if they know we care!
Teacher’s Reflection - I was immediately convicted because this is an area where I have fallen short. While I’m proud to say as a coach I have never cut a player but likewise I have not moved on coaches who were not a good fit for our program. His statement that is not my job to change them but to help them move on to an environment where they can be successful brought so much clarity. This was a profound moment for me and Pete’s message has helped me bring closure to what has been a very painful experience!
Learning - When confronted with performance issues we owe our employees the truth. And without it we place serious limitations on our ability as leaders to provide honest feedback thus denying them the opportunity to experience their God-given potential. But, and it’s a big one, they have to know we care!
5. Truth - The only time you get what you want is when you help others get what they want.
Teacher’s Reflection - Pete’s definition, “the only time you get what you want is when you help others get what they want” is a wonderful take on leadership. It implies that leadership is only successful when we recognize the needs of others, and work with them to help achieve their dreams and aspirations. I hope that’s what is happening each day in my classroom. I guess that’s why I signed up to be an educator ions ago.
Learning - That simple statement embodies servant leadership. The biblical version of servant leadership says, “It’s not about the shepherd, it’s about the sheep!” In any leadership role success will ultimately be determined by making a difference in other’s people’s lives. Remember, it’s about creating an environment where employees feel valued, appreciated, and part of something special.
In closing a couple of thoughts; there is a groundswell today purporting that greater than winning is the need to serve a higher purpose. Spending those few hours with the educators in Jim’s class each year always reminds me of the enormous responsibility they shoulder in helping prepare these young people for the rest of their lives. To be able to connect the dots between what they do every day and impact they have on these young people’s lives is their gift and their blessing! And for me, it’s one of the highlights of my year.