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Some Administrators Shine in Tough Times

By John Almond - March 4, 2010

To say that the budget forecast is grim is definitely an understatement.  Nonetheless, as a superintendent, you’re expected to be an instructional leader as well as a manager and continue to move the school district forward in terms of student achievement.  Unfortunately, many young principals have never experienced an economy of this nature, or, at a minimum, have only a faint memory of what it can be like to try to do more with less.  It’s during these tough times that leadership skills are put to the test.  The following leadership skills are extremely valuable during the good times and essential during challenging times.

  1. Lend an empathetic ear.  While denial is the natural response when things get tough, ignoring the emotions of your colleagues and staff members only causes greater challenges.  Create a forum for people to share their feelings, so that they can release them and move forward.  When people sense that someone doesn’t truly understand their emotions, they tend to stay charged and keep whining.  If you don’t want to be listening to the same complaints over and over, then listen with emotion.  If someone’s voice is loud and angry, you may want to speak to them in a louder voice to demonstrate that you really heard them.  At that point, continue the conversation by dropping your voice to a normal level.  More than likely, the other party will calm down because they believe that you really understood them.
  2. Don’t buy into the “world is coming to an end” story.  During these tough times, there is no doubt that revenue limits are shrinking, grants are difficult to obtain, and, due to layoffs, people are being asked to do more.  It is still necessary, however, to lead your administrative team to the understanding that, even during the darkest times, many districts will continue to perform admirably, and we intend to be one of those districts.  Your administrative team needs to shift out of its doom and gloom view of the world, and, with enough repetition, people will hopefully come to understand that results can be achieved even in the worst of conditions.
  3. Acknowledge the little steps along the way.  Frustration runs high when things aren’t going well. Oftentimes, employees’ confidence is shaken.  When confidence is low, performance almost always follows.  Before long, you realize that you’re into a downward cycle of lower motivation and performance.  It doesn’t have to be this way, however.  Appreciate the little steps along the way during challenging times.  Let your administrative team and the members of your staff know that you not only appreciate the things they do, but also who they are and the efforts they make.  If at all possible, build fun into your appreciation.  Good organizations of any type often thrive during rough times because they learn to hone their people skills.  They have discovered that it’s the bad times that make them so much better during the good times.

Source:  John Almond is the Director of District Support Services for the educational consulting firm Total School Solutions (TSS).