True Leadership - Leading Those Who Are Affected Most

Eklund consultant Todd Battaglia offers some advice to all leaders from those leading a classroom or committee to those who are about to embark on leading a nation.

There are, of course, many ways of being a leader.  As a teacher for ten years, I was the leader of a classroom.  As a former teammate and coach, I was a leader on the playing field.  In my work with Eklund Consulting, I help educational leaders build their leadership skills to effectively run their schools.  I’ve read the books.  I’ve seen leaders struggle and succeed, and I have worked with them to dissect the aftermath of their leadership.

I am offering one tidbit of advice from what I have learned from experience and from Nathan Eklund to our new administration.

When we teach leaders how to lead, we talk about looking to those in the organization who will be affected the most when a decision is made by leadership.  Gaining input from all stakeholders and empathizing (or at least sympathizing) with how a decision will affect a particular group, helps to assure a successful implementation.  Politicians, generally, take into account these steps as they are making the decisions.  It is common to have different views and often bipartisan representation on decision-making committees in government.  However, once a decision is made, there will be groups that will be more affected negatively than others.  There always is.

At schools, with school administrators, we discuss that the job of a leader does not stop with making the final decisions, but that is where is the job of a leader begins.  Sure, there is the step of deciding how to disseminate the plan to the constituents, but there is more than that to being a leader.  In the decision-making process, it will become obvious to the leaders who will have the most difficult time with the final plan.  It is up to them to lead those people through the time ahead.  This is a skill many people who find themselves in leadership, especially in political leadership, do not have. 

How a leader chooses to reach out to those that will oppose or will be most negatively affected by the plan is, ultimately, the key to a healthy organization.

Government often struggles with communicating the decision-making process with transparency, leaving people with a feeling of wonder and frustration about how a decision was made.  Transparency is difficult and important.  This involves honest, difficult discussions about why decisions were made, what affects are believed to come from the decision, and how the leader can help the affected through the effects of the plan. We suggest that these are well-communicated personally to those most opposed or affected.  Done well, this often leads to a feeling of “I do not agree with this, but I understand why it should be done.”  Transparency also stops rumors and false information from spreading.  This particular area of honest, empathetic communication seems, historically, to have been difficult within government.  

Another action for successful leadership in this process is to set-up follow through and check points to continually address the decision and its effects with those most affected.  Not a casual “We’ll look how it’s going in a month,” but a date with a plan to look at the specifics of the plan’s actual effect.  This allows both the leader and the affected party to plan and prepare for that meeting with data and possible solutions.  Coming to a follow-up meeting with solutions allows for a more positive and effective meeting.  We have found this to be a lost step that leadership either excludes or neglects.  It is vital to engrain a follow-up communication step into the DNA of an organization. 

Honestly, as I get to this part, the wrap-up, I see that it is not only the future administration I hope reads this, but the last, and almost all of the past administrations.  I wish this wasn’t the case, but it is.  Maybe expecting the lessons I’ve learned to be able to work at such a grand scale is naïve and immature, but I can only go by my experience.  This works.

Leading people is hard, especially when there are so many who have different views.  I have seen leaders of schools and companies struggle with this.  I can only imagine the difficulty of leading a nation.