In their book Multipliers, Liz Wiseman and Greg McKeown write that leaders who are multipliers “…operate from a belief that talent exists everywhere and they can use it at its highest if they can simply identify the genius in people.” As I read the above sentence, it strikes me that leaders who have truly internalized the mindset of a coach are multipliers. Take Christy, a principal, who consistently works on one overarching goal-to lead as a “coach leader.” She has worked hard to successfully integrate the skills of listening, paraphrasing, and presuming positive intent in her daily conversations. Additionally, she utilizes reflective feedback to inspire her teachers to their best thinking and best work. Still, like many dedicated leaders, Christy wasn’t satisfied. There was something she could sense was missing; she wanted to think like a coach. It wasn’t automatic, and that was the nuance that caused her to stretch, to strive, to grow.
Recently, Christy’s coaching skills were put to the test when she decided to develop a common lesson plan template for all teachers in her school to use. Obligingly, she collected samples from her usual dependable sources. At the next faculty meeting, she displayed the templates and asked teachers to evaluate the offerings in preparation for a consensus decision. Unexpectedly, there was immediate pushback from even her most ardent supporters. One challenged, “Who are the audiences for our lesson plans?” Others joined in with, “As the principal, what is your purpose for the template?” and “How can we all use the same template when our content areas are so diverse?”
As Christy shared her story she mused, “Because I’ve been coaching teachers for some time and because I’ve shared with them what I’m learning in my work with my coach, together we’ve learned to communicate. We are a school of big personalities. We’ve always spoken our minds. Now we can freely communicate while maintaining our relationships.”
Continuing, Christy reflected, “When the teacher asked, ‘What’s your purpose?’ It occurred to me that my purpose for reviewing lesson plans is to ensure a common set of standards for our lessons. I also realized that I always focus first on their essential questions and their diagnostic questions. When those questions are well developed, I feel we have our standard.” Christy’s next step was to take a risk. She agreed to support their thinking as long as they adhered to a set of collaboratively developed standards. When her supervisors supported her decision, teachers at her school were off and running with a renewed commitment to planning.
Christy declares that these days the lesson plans are phenomenal. Teachers include everything that needs to be included, and better yet, the actual lessons are as impressive as the plans that drive them. Best of all, the decision to write quality plans didn’t have to be a top-down decision. As Christy says, “It really isn’t about the plans; it’s about the planning conversations.”
When Christy was asked what it took for her to internalize the mind-set of a coach leader in response to this situation, she listed five essentials:
- A willingness to be coached by her teachers
- Trusting and trustworthy relationships-(“I trust that when I collaborate with those I lead, results will always be better.”)
- “It’s not about me; it’s about what works best for the teachers, and ultimately, the students.”
- Willingness to let go of “the” agenda
- Willingness to listen to alternative ideas
Christy will always challenge herself to be a better leader. That is in her make-up. And yet, these days, she knows that her coach mindset allows her to recruit the very best talent and unleash the genius in people.
By Reba Schumacher, PCC