As a young superintendent, I ran around trying to fix things. I remember a day that started with a 7:00 a.m. meeting with six union presidents, where they asked, “Do you know how bad morale is here?” That meeting was followed by several meetings where teachers reminded me that I was so intent on progress and performance that I didn’t pay enough attention to culture building. “Thank you is all they need to hear.”
In the next paycheck I included a simple letter to my staff that just said, “Thank you.” It received the largest and warmest reception of anything I wrote as a superintendent. After that I tried to be more conscientious about saying thank you and leaving a personal note for a teacher after a classroom visit. It was a great reminder that people need acknowledgment of the work they do and the contributions they make.
There was a church in our district called Grace and they lived up to the name. They hosted teacher appreciation breakfasts at the two elementary schools in their area and send volunteers on a regular basis. They actively supported a back to school rally we held before the start of the school year. They embraced schools and teachers and visibly showed their support and appreciation.
The lesson that I continue to relearn is that leading is more about relationships than it is about answers. People often become leaders because they have answers and can solve problems. And suddenly as a leader answers are less important than helping other people find meaning and purpose in their work, recognizing their contribution, and encouraging their hearts. The joy and satisfaction of leading is vicarious, it is drawn from the pleasure and accomplishment of those served. A simple word of thanks helps others make a difference.
Good Work is a series about finding and doing mission-related work. It started as a series of journal entries while serving as a public school superintendent. Tell us about how you found your work and what sustains you.