We can’t do it alone!
As SLPs, we lead our students, their families, and teams of professionals to help our kids achieve their communication goals. We need them to participate in our students’ treatment plans.
I’m not a “natural” leader.
I’m naturally a person who wants to take charge, but I’ve learned through the years that taking charge and leading aren’t the same thing. I’ve had to learn how to lead, and it hasn’t always been easy.
My first leadership gig was directing plays in the basement as a child. I can recall summers spent at my grandmother’s house, where my brother, my cousin and I would rummage through my grandmother’s extensive collection of fabric scraps and create costumes for plays we wrote. Bring the oldest, I was the director, and boy was I bossy. Things usually fell apart when my “crew” didn’t do exactly what I wanted.
Fast-forward to the present day, where I am now leading a team of SLPs in my district, as well as working with students at my school. The stakes are a little higher than when I was a kid. Thankfully, I’ve grown up quite a bit too.
I am constantly learning, usually through “trial and error” (a.k.a mistakes).
In my article about how to communicate with colleagues, I warn against getting into arguments with people over email. That was a lesson I learned the hard way during my first few years working in the schools.
I was working with someone who continually “forgot” to do key procedural things at my school, resulting in extra work on my part. I should have met with the person and discussed my concerns. Instead, I angrily sat down at the keyboard and fired off an email.
It didn’t end well. The recipient sent me a bristling response, and nothing positive came of it; other than me learning that I should never expect good results from tangling with someone over email.
I could tell many other stories, but the gist is that good leadership is something I’ve had to be willing to learn. This is why when I came across a list of impactful books about leadership several months ago, I eagerly jumped right in.
I recently finished Brave Leadership: Unleash Your Most Confident, Authentic, and Powerful Self to Get the Results You Need, by Kimberly Davis. It was a great read, full of research and insightful stories.
Here are some of my takeaways from Davis’s book.
1. People have to want to follow you.
The days of leaders expecting blind allegiance are over. In today’s workplace and schools, people have to make the choice to follow you. People choose what’s in their hearts, not just what their heads tell them to do.
To be a brave leader, you need to be genuine, reliable, worthy of trust, and believable. Here’s the thing- you don’t get to be the judge of whether you have those qualities. The people you’re leading are the ones who will decide.
To cultivate those qualities, focus on what’s real for the person you’re interacting with and ask yourself: What does this person need from me right now?
2. Discover your purpose.
What is the impact you want to have, beyond yourself? Davis calls this your super objective.
My super objective is to celebrate others’ successes.
Once you discover your super objective, let it become your compass. Ask yourself: Is my behavior reflecting my super objective?
3. Be aware of how you come across to others.
It’s an unavoidable fact that others make judgments about us all the time. It’s also possible that you might not be sending the message you think you are.
Start by examining your facial expression and body language. There are numerous articles online about how your posture can convey different messages. I’m not saying you can’t cross your arms during a meeting in an overly air-conditioned room. Just try to be mindful of what you’re doing, the context, and what messages it might send.
Find out what your students and colleagues are interested in by taking the time to talk with them. We all have lives outside of work, things we’re passionate about. When we truly connect with someone, we learn things about them we might never have known. They gain a better understanding of who we are, too.
For a fun (and free) pick-me-up, download my Positive Vibes Sticky Notes Template.
4. Take care of your needs.
We’re expected to balance more than ever before (family, friends, paperwork, emails, texts) and still somehow bring creativity and innovation into the office everyday.
While skipping your lunch to do your Medicaid billing might sound like a good idea, it’s not. When you don’t fulfill your own needs, your work suffers; and so does your health and your relationships.
If you think you might be a work martyr, reclaim your life by starting small. If you’re part of multiple committees and clubs at your school, focus on the one(s) you’re most passionate about and plan an exit strategy from the others. Schedule something just for you, such as a workout class, a massage, or acupuncture (my personal favorite), and make getting there a priority.
5. Check your mindset.
Do you have self-limiting beliefs like, “I’m not good at treating fluency disorders”?
Challenge these lines you’ve drawn for yourself by committing to fostering a growth mindset. While we all have different talents, most of us can become reasonably good at something if we put in the effort.
I recently wrote a post about cluttering fluency disorder. Before taking it upon myself to learn more about cluttering, I knew very little about it. After years of working with students who clutter, reading the research, and seeking help from other SLPs, I feel much more competent diagnosing and treating cluttering.
I don’t think we’ll ever feel 100% confident about our abilities to work with all of the areas within our scope of practice. Don’t let that get you down though.In reality, we often know more than we think we do, and what we don't know we can always learn.Click To Tweet
Take me for example. I have made my share of mistakes, but I truly believe I can become better leader. And so can you.
A special note: I am dedicating this post to Dan, my dear friend, mentor, and fellow SLP. Dan had a way of leaving people better than when he found them. He was my district’s lead SLP, and he freely shared his knowledge of communication disorders and his love of spicy peppers with all of us. He passed away in June 2017. He was an amazing leader and a large part of the inspiration for this blog.