17 Jan Why leaders lead, part 04 — Results

When I started teaching, a colleague of mine and I started the Leadership team — a student-centric group aiming to improve the school culture and experience. It’s divided into nine units with teachers heading each of them, according to their strengths and interests. They’re all named after a value they find important : courage, loyalty, responsibility. Here’s a story about my unit, trust.


Why leaders lead, part 04 – Results

The four parts of this story aim to show why leaders do what they do. Those who lead don’t choose to do so as to merit a better rank, achieve results, receive the credit, garner praise, or be shown recognition. In teams where leadership is valued and cultivated by all team members, motivation stems instead from more collective reasons :

  • Team members are trusted as experts within their domains and are expected to counsel leaders and teammates with solutions instead of bringing forth problems.
  • Results are secondary to the growth of team members, allowing them to better their craft and to develop their leadership abilities.
  • All team members vie for the growth of their team, and sacrifice their time and effort to protect its integrity

Part 04. Results

There are over 500 students at my school, with around 400 of them old enough to qualify for the swim team. They practice for months and then take part in a two day competition. It’s the biggest sporting event of the year. This past season, more than 90 of them did, so about 1 in 4 students. Every classroom has at least a handful. And they’re all told that their teachers are invited and might come encourage them during the big event.

So the Leadership team knew what to do : promote the hell out of the event. Here’s what they decided to do to mark the event :

  • Letters to all teachers at the start of the season.
  • Emails to all teachers at the start, mid and end of the season.
  • Reminders added to the principal’s newsletter for parents and teachers.
  • Our Twitter feed filled with scheduled tweets concerning the timeline of the events.
  • Hundreds of origami fish were posted in the front windows of the school weeks prior to the event.
  • An origami fish distributed to each teacher’s mailbox, including information on the timeline and location of the event.

The conclusion : a total of three teachers showed up. One being myself, the others being my Leadership team co-founder (who helped coach the team) and the other my phys-ed colleague. Our principal came as well.

Some of the swimmers were also student leaders that helped with the promotional campaign. It’s hard to put their expressed feelings into words, but it was some mix of betrayal and disappointment. They were ready to publicly make a point out of it. My co-founder was as frustrated as I was, so they had our support.

A team with strong leadership does what it does because it knows it’s for the good of others, even if no one realizes it. It doesn’t expect anything from anyone, except for excellence from itself.

But something happened… an 11 or 12-year old kid changed all of our minds. Her reasoning : the Leadership team doesn’t do what it does to be applauded or to be recognized. It does what it does because it knows it’s for the good of others, even if no one realizes it. It doesn’t expect anything from anyone, except for excellence from itself. It doesn’t base the quality of its efforts on the results it attains, especially when they’re dependant on factors outside of the team’s control.

I still wonder how she came up with that reasoning. Sure, my relentless emphasis on sacrifice and building a culture of trust could have something to do with it, but they’re still abstract concepts for a kid. It took incredible courage for her to stand up to her peers and teachers, as well as fortitude to stand by the principles she debated against most of the time. Not a swimmer herself, she recognized that the personal feelings her peers were experiencing were clouding their judgement. With the integrity of the team about to be potentially compromised, she stood up for it, knowing she was acting for the collective good.

Whenever I believe my Leadership program is the best there is, I remind myself of this event. Never doubt the value of teaching leadership principles. But always refine the way you teach those values, and constantly question their contribution to the greatness of the team itself.