“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”
In many of my posts I’ve talked about what and how my school will change over the next year or so. I’ve even introduced why we should make these changes, and how, but until now I haven’t talked much about how the plan might be received by our staff and faculty.
Understanding the possible pitfalls that can silently derail a great idea, and having a plan to prevent them is as important as the plan itself. In this post I will offer insight about what matters most from a leader’s perspective when launching an initiative that attempts to change an organization’s culture.
Change is hard. Most people can relate to moments when change was necessary, like leaving home for college or a job, taking on new responsibility after getting married or having a child, or taking a new position in another city, for example. However positive these transitions may be they may have felt awful, at first. The gut wrenching feelings of excitement seemed much like the feelings of dread, the only difference being a conscious belief that the change was good, and overtime it would help to reach one’s personal goals.
In order to support change in my school, everyone will need to realize and accept that although uncomfortable at first, adopting the Technology Integration Plan will make us a better school with students equipped to learn in a digital world.
But the truth is, it’s nearly impossible to convince every member of an organization to share the same vision. Leaders can communicate the messages of why, what and how, but each person receives that message through their own set of filters.
Leaders must possess a set of unique skills that allow them to look inside, identify their own motivations, find strength in their convictions, and master the art of crucial conversation. I find myself in this position as we roll out the 2016 Technology Integration Plan.
Key Factors Self-differentiated Leaders Face
Regardless of the challenges ahead, I believe the initiative to integrate technology into daily lesson plans will be successful. I also expect my resolve will be tested by our faculty. Many will be anxious about the new expectations. My confidence is important because it will actually help to lessen their anxiety.
I, too, am vulnerable and must work to remain focused on the big picture without becoming emotionally stuck on my own ideas. Although the plan is clear, crucial conversations with teachers will help it fit our culture in ways I, alone could not predict. As a self-differentiated leader I walk a fine line between defending the plan and defending myself, and will have to have the stamina and wisdom to endure my critics without disengaging them from contributing to the plan’s success.
As the facilitator of the technology team, I must be comfortable with my reputation for being head-strong and remain persistent and focused on the plan goals – in spite of resistance. By keeping my motives clear, I will not buckle to the pressure to emotionally react to those who resist and even attempt to sabotage my efforts. I have developed the skill to avoid the path of personal defensiveness, blame, and intimidation, which ultimately leads to loss of respect.
These are some of the principles self-differentiated leaders follow. I realize leading change in my organization is as much about how people feel as what they do, which leads me to another set of skills to master; those of crucial conversations.
Many tools have helped me understand the dynamics of organizational change. Using these tools I have expressed WHY the Technology Integration Plan matters, identified behaviors that will affect the success of the plan, and developed a strategy to influence the behaviors that need to change. I have also established a process for implementing the strategy during its first year.
What I haven’t done, is come face-to-face with coworkers who refuse to change, which is inevitable.When stakes are high, and opinions vary – add in some emotions and conflict – and the plan is at risk of failing. These are moments when crucial conversations can make or break momentum. How I deal with these conversations is critical. I prepare myself for by anticipating how to think and act, in advance.
During each encounter with the tech team and our faculty I approach communication with three factors in mind; a sort of trifecta – what I want for myself, what I want for the other person, and what I want to come of our relationship. Three keys to effective leadership.
When emotions run high, communication can dip to a low. Unfortunately, these important factors of leadership are often thrown to the wayside during crucial conversations. Before the conversation even begins, I choose the outcome I expect and as long as I stay in control of my own behavior, it can be achieved.
Assuming information will be debated, I assess the conditions of the conversation and observe the level of silence and/or mud-slinging – hoping for none of the latter. These are indicators of the level of fear, and anxiety (often directed toward leaders) which I react to with caution.
Silence especially is a sign that teachers don’t feel safe expressing their opinions, which makes it impossible to gain their support. At these junctures I remain focused on the three goals in the trifecta. Thankfully, many of these crucial conversations have already taken place over the past few years, resulting in what is now a culture of comfortable exchanges of opinion that have led to trusting, respectful relationships.
As the leader, I create an environment that invites others to participate and share what they know – without fear of ridicule or retribution – while at the same time holding my resolve for the goals of the plan. This is not to say I am inflexible, just head strong. Through dialog, we exchange opinions respectfully.
I steer the conversation away from strong emotions, concentrating on the facts, but genuinely listen for idea that will make the goals more achievable. In high stakes conversations, how I behave can control the outcome of the conversation. That’s my role as a self-differentiated leader.
Regardless of when in the change process these crucial conversations occur, if mishandled, our team and teachers might never make it to the point of taking action on the plan. It’s the leader’s responsibility (mine) to keep communication respectful, to honestly listen and adapt the plan as needed, and encourage others to take risks and speak up.
I model this for my team so they can see that conflict is a positive part of growth in an organization.
One Plan – Many Benefits
This process of changing and growing is not new or unique to leaders in education. Successful leaders begin with the end in mind in every industry. They imagine success and what it looks like, and develop a vision that connects to the passion their employees feel. Our school wants students to be prepared for their futures. That goal includes technology and learning how to make decisions while using it.
Our employees agree about the importance of this objective. I anticipate these potentially emotional conversations may occasionally occur because teachers must change their behavior in order to find time in their whirlwind of responsibilities to accomplish it. But, I know how to keep calm and carry on.
We may not always agree about the methods to use to bring about change, or that every element of the initiative is necessary. Fortunately, long before the plan was developed, school leaders concluded that integrating technology into the classroom served the school in many ways, with mutual purpose. No matter the struggles we might face, we are likely to see positive results along the way.
While implementing the plan, I must remind myself that many benefits will come from integrating technology into teaching, and therefore, many methods can be included in the process. I continue to remain sensitive to how teachers feel as the plan proceeds, so they, too, feel it’s a win-win arrangement.
Who Really Decides?
Vital behaviors will change over time, as I remain focused on creating healthy conversations that enable teachers to accomplish the small, measurable goals of the plan. As the plan unfolds, I must create communication stories, or explanations that help teachers feel empowered, capable, and willing to change on their own, even if it is a bitter pill for some to swallow.
Although we all add to the pool of ideas, I must rely most heavily on the tech team to make decisions that are in line with our primary objectives. They know best how the implementation plan works, what to measure, and how to make adjusts, so they are also most qualified to make the daily decisions for achieving the goals. I reserve my role for tie breaking.
Strong leaders carefully choose their words and actions, and never lose sight of the hearts of the people involved. As the plan moves forward, I will seek feedback from my team and coworkers and respond objectively, without judgement to preserves my relationships, and ensure our faculty have a hand in how we grow as a school. I reap the reward of knowing the education we provide includes the integration of technology in meaningful ways that support Catholic education.
As long as my motives are in the right place, and the environment feels safe for conversation, the Technology Integration Plan will succeed in helping our school meet the needs of students learning in a digital age.
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