If you fail to honor your people,
They will fail to honor you;
It is said of a good leader that
When the work is done, the aim fulfilled,
The people will say, “We did this ourselves.
Lao Tzu, , 604-531 B. C., Founder of Taoism, Tao Te Ching
I can't think of a simpler concept in leadership, or one that would be considered more practical and authentic. In the measured contexts of our everyday lives as leaders, all teachers, whether they like it or not, are called upon to serve; primarily our students, but also each other, our student's parents and the learning community we are an integral part of. In humbly putting the needs of others ahead of our own as leaders, we honor them. The appreciation we receive as a result pays dividends as our followers are empowered to feel strong and supported in their important work. I strive as a leader to let good people do their work with my full endorsement, intervening only when they seek my assistance.
A former superintendent in my district said once that as a leader, you stand in front when things need defending and in back when they need celebrating… servant leadership in a nutshell. Servant leadership requires a good dose of humility to be effective, and the humility of great leaders resonates with people and inspires them to also be humble and supportive in their own leadership; to do whatever it takes to push others upward and hold them in high regard… to choose to see what's right with people.
Ben and Rosamund-Beth Zander refer to it as “giving people an A” in their book, “The Art of Possibility;” a game changer for me professionally and personally. The authors emphasize that, “giving an A is a fundamental, paradigmatic shift toward the realization that all is invented.” Alas, all is invented. The lens we look through is ours alone, and it affects the way we see every other person, and every interaction we have with them. We don't even have to know what others perspectives are to initiate an open and collaborative exchange with them; we just have to know that they all have one, and most importantly, be willing to listen to it.
The humble leader thinks deeply about perspective and how it affects the equilibrium of interdependency critical to success within any functional relationship. We have to truly listen to our followers; put aside our bias and personal perspectives to consider that there may be other ways, perhaps better ways to move our organizations forward productively and positively. The Zander's understand that,
when we give people an A we can be open to a perspective different from our own, For after all, it is only to a person to whom you have granted an A that you will truly listen, and it is in that rare instance when you have ears for another person that you can truly appreciate a fresh point of view.
Even the most cynical among us are susceptible to this approach. Ben Zander explains a paradoxical element to giving people an A when he says that “a cynic, after all, is a passionate person who does not want to be disappointed again.” So let's not disappoint our people; let's give them all an A and strive, as the Zander's suggest, to speak to their passion, not their cynicism.
To a person, everyone of us has been shaped and formed by the variables of time and experience, and as a result we have our own personal reality tunnels; those perspectives that guide our judgments, our actions and our relationships. Humble leaders understand this, and even more importantly they understand that the private logic within all of us will affect the dynamics of every interpersonal relationship we are challenged by.