Can meaningful leadership exist without quality communication? Do great communicators always provide great leadership? What comprises a great communicator to you and your campus? Should communication be a priority for campus leaders? Why all the questions about communication?
The above is meant to illustrate the nebulous nature of what constitutes great communication on a campus. There is no one correct answer for a leader. If you polled your colleagues you would find responses all over the map. For example, take our current president and some will say he is a compelling communicator while others will view him as the antichrist. Politics aside, this point illustrates the importance of the message behind the communicator as well as where you are as a follower to accept their message.
Leadership and the work you do on a campus is worthwhile when you are focused on student learning. Where campus leaders fall into troubles is when they don’t tell their story. I was blessed to begin my career with a campus principal who is a compelling communicator and preached the importance of telling your story. Quite simply, if you don’t tell your story to your faculty, staff, and community someone else will tell it for you.
I work each day to intentionally communicate where we are now as a campus, where we need to go, and how we need to get there. I am by no means polished in my communication style but I work each day to get to this point. I have learned more from my own failings, as well as other failings, on the importance of meaningful communication. Thus far in my career I have learned two important lessons about telling your leadership story.
Lesson #1: Failure to tell your story means someone else will tell it for you. Don’t be naïve about this because I will give you a 100% guarantee someone else is telling a version of your story right now on your campus. The life lesson where this became crystallized for me was when I ran for a public office in my community. I did not do enough to tell my story while my opponent went door to door to spread a message which conflicted with my values, beliefs, and my story. The failure to tell my story adequately altered the professional lives of many people. Expending your time and resources to tell your story will never steer you wrong. My failure here was to believe I had done enough to tell my story. I needed to provide more effort in this instance. A leaders efforts to tell your story is ongoing and endless. Others are just waiting for you to tire so they can alter your story. Lesson learned.
Lesson #2: Tell your story directly to those who least want to hear it. Only telling your story to people who want something from you means you will find compliance and little meaningful growth. A campus leader must reach out to those who disagree with them and find common ground for which to work on. A leader who only seeks the support of those who agree with them turns a campus or a district into a compliance factory where growth is stifled. When you reach out to those who disagree in a positive fashion you will find meaningful campus growth. This existence of this type of campus environment means the story you tell becomes more nuanced over time and adapts to an environment where student learning is paramount and compliance to leadership simply because they hold a position does not exist.
Your leadership does not exist in a vacuum on your campus. Whether it is a discussion over procedures or the introduction of a new program on your campus get out in front of the message and tell your story. This can often mean you are placed into uncomfortable positions. I say, lean into the uncomfortable. Your staff will respect you and work with you in the long run because of it. Decrees from the mountain top are not an effective long-term communication tool.
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