It can be very easy to disconnect from the teachers you manage when the pressure is on. Gerhard Erasmus looks at how to utilise relationship building skills to get the best out of your staff through relationship building.
As a young teenager, I read Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People (Vermilion; 1994). One of the few things I remember is the importance of someone’s name. A fair few times I have surprised people in training sessions or at seminars by how quickly I could memorise everyone in the room’s names. But it is a memory trick that I learned as a magician rather than the influence of the book.
A few days ago, the same book popped up in conversation, and I wondered how relevant those ideas from so many years ago would still be today. So, I revisited the book, and decided to write a blog post around the following themes from the book as they can relate to what happens in the teachers’ room (aka staffroom):
- Self-interest versus selflessness
- Importance versus humility
- Positivity versus negativity
- Sincerity and appreciation versus insincerity and flattery
But before I delve in, I should point out that while I am writing from a management point of view, many of the ideas would be applicable to teachers dealing with other teachers, or with students, or even with customers of your teaching institution. So, I have divided the blog post into four parts with a quick discussion on how to use each theme so you can see how best to build better relationships.
1. Self-interest versus selflessness
Carnegie starts with the premise that people are generally self-serving and self-important, and that those who are selfless tend to succeed more. It is basically the premise on which servant leadership is built, meaning that you achieve success through prioritising the growth and wellbeing of others.
Your organisation (and you as a person) cannot operate without some element of self-interest. This means you need to ensure that expectations are clear and there is accountability around deliverables and goals. There also needs to be professional development set around the goals and objectives of the organisation. If your school only teaches young learners, then it might be ineffective to spend hours on professional development around teaching business English if that is not a focus of your organisation.
The selflessness element is covered through ensuring appropriate work-life balance in actions rather than just in words. Employees should be given a sufficient sick-leave buffer, paid leave, and be paid appropriately for the environment in which they are working. There also needs to be consistent and visible support, and values of empathy and mentorship should be modelled by leadership and encouraged among staff members.
These two elements are balanced through a shared vision, continuous development and support to turn your organisation into a learning organisation, and consistent open dialogue. This allows you to incorporate the values of your staff into your organisation and allows you and your staff to find an appropriate balance between self-interest and selflessness.
2. Importance versus humility
As with the first theme, it is important to remember that you cannot completely remove or fight against importance. The key issue is to actually understand and harness it. This can be done through acknowledging your staff’s value, providing them with sufficient resources and support, and encouraging them to take on leadership roles where they can show their value and increase their self-belief.
As a manager, you need to engage in active listening. Learn to listen to understand rather than listening to respond. Encourage collaborative decision making by incorporating your staff in decisions and be open to feedback as a manager. Feedback should not only come from the top down. Also, realise that you also have things to learn so engage in continuous professional development of your own. All of these show humility rather than your own self-importance.
To find the balance between humility and importance, a shared vision is again important, but so is mutual respect and engaging with a feedback loop, where feedback is ongoing and goes both ways. Value transparency and be as transparent as possible but realise that conflict is inevitable and that you need to get good at conflict resolution.
3. Positivity versus negativity
When I started writing this post, I wondered how I would approach this theme. Simply because it is easy to say we should be as positive as possible. But how? And does negativity have a role to play?
For positivity, it is important to be encouraging and appreciative of effort. It is also important to recognise excellence and celebrate successes without being toxically positive. Not everything is perfect! Inspirational leadership is important where you lead by example and show commitment, optimism, and enthusiasm, but also remain realistic and grounded.
Embrace the inevitable negatives through transparency, principled conflict resolution, and by providing constructive feedback on performance, lessons, or other issues in your organisation. Remember you don’t always have to be positive and optimistic, but be fair, and honest about people and situations.
You can balance positivity and negativity through clear and honest communication, wellbeing programs where staff realise it is OK to feel down and out and they will be supported, encouraging peer support and collaboration, and most importantly, building an organisation where team cohesion and organisational culture is nurtured and developed.
4. Sincerity and appreciation versus insincerity and flattery
This is the only of the themes where the ‘negative’ element needs to be avoided. It is also a summary of ideas I have mentioned above. When you give feedback, make sure it is honest and specific. When you give recognition, make sure it is meaningful ad specific. Check in regularly with your staff, but not as a habit. Do so because you view relationship building as important.
Avoid inconsistent feedback (giving feedback only because you are upset about something or because you have received a complaint). But, at the same time, avoid empty praise where you are just giving praise for the sake of giving praise. Also, and this probably doesn’t even need to be stated, do not play people off against each other or show favouritism.
While some of Carnegie’s ideas might seem outdated, and the internet has changed a lot about how we work and build relationships, the themes are still very relevant today. Despite all the nice tools and gadgets we have, people are still at the centre of what we do. And if you want to be able to positively influence teachers, you need to show that you really care about them, build proper relationships, but be fair and transparent. That does not mean always being positive, but rather be authentic, and honest.
Carnegie, D. (1994). How to Win Friends and Influence People. London: Vermillion