C. Mae Waugh
Aspiring Leadership Academy
Framingham Public Schools
March 12, 2014
Teachers are innate leaders, for they lead students everyday in the journey of learning. While I haven’t been the leader of every single activity like Mr. Barry Jentz (class president, football captain, CEO), I have felt predisposed for leadership and I found his council quite compelling. He was a dynamic, candid, and genuine consultant, with anecdotes that were apropos and enlightening and I liked the interactive format of the lecture-turned discussion.
What rang most true with me was how he advised us to placate those who disagree with our decisions, because inevitably, there will always be people who are dissatisfied with the verdicts of the leadership. Obviously, one person cannot appease everyone on staff, but the way to make people valued is to actually listen to them. A leader does not have to agree with each operative, but she must validate them as contributors. According to Mr. Jentz, a good leader is not one who delegates decisions, but educates herself by connecting with each involved party in order to develop an educated view of the situation. In the classroom, we teach the students to paraphrase texts and their partners, but how often do we as adults actually paraphrase each other? Instead, conversations are competitions for air time. In order to be an admirable leader, we must first learn how to listen and then how to respond.
Mr. Jentz shared a story to illustrate how an exceptional leader manages a catastrophe: by communicating to learn and admitting that he or she does not have the answer always and immediately, but by researching solutions and gaining knowledge from invested parties, he or she can deduce a course of action. In his article, “First Time in a Position of Authority” he phrases it this way: “It’s critical to your success at the outset that you commit yourself to learning how to communicate to learn, as opposed to communicate simply to persuade, direct, or inform.”
What struck me as I read his article before the lecture was his section explaining the continuum of being too authoritative or too collaborative. I think about neophyte leaders with whom I have worked or been in contact and I can identify their exact places on the continuum. Some are far too collaborative and therefore lose authority, while others are so authoritative, their employees don’t feel like their opinions are heard. But what I never conceded was the idea that leaders who act this way are actually “blind” to the discrepancies between their professed and actual practice. Shortsightedly, I have judged them. Therefore, Jentz recommended finding a colleague who could double as an evaluator—someone who could step back and give you true feedback about the way in which you are truly representing yourself to the staff.
With refreshing honestly, Mr. Jentz spoke with us regarding the challenges and difficulties of first time-leaders. Those who become leaders often aspire due to their strong interpersonal skills, but according to Jentz, true leaders thrive when they become intrapersonal. He said in his article and reiterated in his lecture: “The task is onerous because you’ll inevitably be thrown back on yourself as never before and experience a heightened questioning of how much of what is going on is ‘me’ and how much is ‘them responding to my role’ or the ‘situation.’”
The solution? In the article, Mr. Jentz writes, “So you’ll need to look inward and take on the task of discovering and changing your attitude toward confusion so that you experience it not as a liability but as a resource, as a starting place for personal and organizational learning.” In the lecture, he surmised the advice concisely in one word: therapy. That was a concept that had never crossed my mind—that leaders need therapy, but it reminds me of a study I read while I was in college. “Avoidance behavior and the development of gastroduodenal ulcers” Brady et al (1958) is an often-cited study on stress in primates, in which rhesus monkeys were endowed with the ability to control whether they received electric shocks. T those with the control developed more ulcers than those monkeys who passively received the shocks, illustrating how leaders suffer from executive stress syndrome. Now we as aspiring leaders will not face that particular scenario, but we will struggle with the dynamics of authority, as Mr. Jentz presents. Although we may feel the same as yesterday, our place in the hierarchy has changed, and therefore so have we, and as soon as we reconcile this difference, we can harness it and not have it harness us.