New Year, Same Me
Each year, billions of people gather worldwide to ring in the new year. Cries of joy and excitement fill the air as friends celebrate the opportunity to start fresh and begin anew. Journals are filled with resolutions and vision boards decorated with pictures articulating hopeful outcomes for the upcoming months. And while all these actions are intended to promote positive change, I can’t help but wonder if there is a better way to go about things.
According to The Society of Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP) (Jan. 2017), “41% of Americans make New Year’s resolutions but only 9% feel they were successful in keeping their resolutions.” Why is that? Why do we find ourselves setting goals only to abandon our efforts shortly thereafter? Bas Verplanken, professor of social psychology at the University of Bath (as cited in SPSP), suggests that it is poor timing. The fact that the clock changed the calendar from one year to the next doesn’t generate readiness for change on the part of the goal-setter. All of this may be true. I wonder, however, if we just have it wrong all together. Is it possible that in our efforts to change we overlook the power of working to enhance the strengths we already possess?
As leaders, we each bring a unique perspective, identity and skillset to the role. There isn’t a single leader out there who is exactly like you. Have you ever considered what it could mean to completely show up in your role embracing your distinctive strengths, and rather than focusing on change, putting your efforts into amplifying those qualities? What would your team members feel like if you, as their leader, offered them the same opportunity? Would they excel to greater heights? Would they respond to new challenges with a stronger resolve to succeed? Would the team truly come together as a unit recognizing that the sum of all the team’s parts is actually what makes them a team after all?
The famous Tom Rath (2007), author of Strengths Finder 2.0, states that “people have several times more potential for growth when they invest energy in developing their strengths instead of correcting their deficiencies” (p. i). Furthermore, MasterClass (2022), shared that “Identifying the strengths of your team members and their intrinsic motivation encourages greater productivity and skill-building.”
As principals and supervisors, we have the opportunity to select individuals who we assess as having the greatest opportunity to generate a positive impact on the students we serve. We selected these leaders and teachers for a reason. There was something we identified as a match between our students’ needs and the skills these educators possessed. What are some ways that we as leaders can now maximize the growth of their identified strengths to optimize team outcomes and ensure learners experience the results they deserve? Here are a few to consider:
- Be curious. The greatest leaders are not those with all the answers, but rather those who have the best questions. Questions are a powerful impetus to meaningful actions. They draw out unique ideas and solutions to challenges. They tap into the minds and creative skills of those on the receiving end. Brooks and John (2018) of the Harvard Business Review shared that “asking a lot of questions unlocks learning and improves personal bonding.” What a real benefit for a team! If you want to increase the quality of your team and build on the unique strengths of its members, ask questions and lots of them. By doing so you are giving them permission to shine.
- Listen more. It comes as no surprise that if we are encouraged to ask questions, we should deeply listen with the intent to discover the new knowledge those questions were designed to facilitate. Leaders are often called upon to talk. The problem is when we primarily talk, we are not positioning ourselves to learn nor providing the opportunity for team members to elevate their own strengths and ideas—some of which we may not possess. Glen Llopis (2013), a contributor for Forbes, indicated that “85% of what we know we have learned through listening.” By listening well, we foster an engaging work environment where team members feel valued for the gifts they personally bring to their role and encourage them to use them.
- Recognize and affirm often and sincerely. Most everyone likes to be affirmed or recognized albeit in different ways. Some prefer it privately and others publicly. Some benefit from a face-to-face conversation and others a quick note. For some, even subtle “micro-affirmations” can go a long way. Diana Sadighi (2023) of the Employers Council, shared, “small statements and gestures may seem unimportant, but they deliver powerful outcomes.” Golden-Biddle’s (2014, as cited in Sadighi) research also suggests that “micro-moves are essential to facilitating engagement, initiating a cascading vitality for change, and providing hope that one’s efforts will make a difference.” Team members want to know their efforts make a difference, and leaders want to encourage those efforts to continue. By affirming the other’s strengths, the chances that they will lean into those strengths in the future increases.
These steps seem easy enough to do, but because they are so easy, they are often overlooked in the day-to-day business of leading schools. As principals and supervisors, people are our business, and their strengths is where success is to be found. As you launch into the spring, I invite you to discover what your individual team members already do well. Affirm them for those things. Ask questions and listen with purpose. You may be surprised how these small, yet deliberate actions can yield powerful results.
Dr. Steven L. Wurtz has served Arlington ISD as the Chief Academic Officer since October 2014. Prior to his current appointment, he served as an Area Superintendent of Elementary Schools supervising 26 schools and providing executive coaching to campus principals to facilitate implementation of research-based instructional leadership practices. Dr. Wurtz has led in various leadership positions within Grand Prairie ISD and Irving ISD including both as principal and Division Director of Elementary Teaching & Learning. He currently serves on the Urban Curriculum Council, Arlington Education Coalition and is a member of the editing Board for the University of Texas at Tyler’s journal: Diversity, Social Justice and the Educational Leader. A TEPSA member, he formerly served on the Board of Directors and the Advocacy Committee, and as TEPSA Region officer.
Brooks, A. W. & John, L. K. (2018, May-June). The surprising power of questions. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved January 5, 2023 from https://hbr.org/2018/05/the-surprising-power-of-questions
Llopis, G. (2023, January 5). 6 ways effective listening can make you a better leader. Forbes. Retrieved January 5, 2023 from https://www.forbes.com/sites/glennllopis/2013/05/20/6-effective-ways-listening-can-make-you-a-better-leader/?sh=6ef4c1dc1756
MasterClass. (2022, May 20). Team strengths: how to identify and foster team strengths. MasterClass. Retrieved January 5, 2023 from https://www.masterclass.com/articles/team-strengths
Rath, T. (2007). Strengths finder 2.0. Gallup Press.
Sadighi, D. (2023). Micro-affirmations: how small actions can yield big results. Employers Council. Retrieved January 5, 2023 from https://www.employerscouncil.org/resources/its-the-little-things-that-count-how-small-actions-can-yield-big-results/
The Society of Personality and Social Psychology. (2017, January 13). Thinking of changing your behavior in 2017? Try moving first. SPSP. Retrieved January 5, 2023 from https://spsp.org/news-center/press-release/thinking-changing-your-behavior-2017-try-moving-first