I am moving in to a new role in the next month - as an assistant superintendent of human resource services for Greater St. Albert Catholic Schools. I am excited about this new challenge in my career and I have also been reflective on my experiences thus far. I am 20 years into an education career, where I have served as a teacher, counsellor, consultant, instructor at the UofA, assistant principal, manager at AB Ed, and a principal. In addition to those roles, I have also had two other smaller careers - in the restaurant business (12 years 7 restaurants), for the City of Edmonton with summer programs (13 summers), not to mention the number of seasons coaching basketball or other sports. Throughout all those experiences I have come to determine a few truths about myself, organizations and leadership.
After reflecting on all of the different and varying places I have worked, I can confidently declare that I was happiest when I felt valued by my supervisor/manager/leader. This was true when I was a bus boy or bartender, leader-in-training or the summer program coordinator, teacher or principal. The opportunity for feeling great job satisfaction wasn’t based in the job duties themselves, but was a direct reflection of my relationship with my supervisors. When I felt that my supervisors liked me, appreciated me and valued me, I would work tremendously hard, showed my sense of humour, and I was comfortable enough to help my organization get better. When I didn’t feel valued or appreciated, I could be gossipy, disconnected, and impatient. This version of myself was certainly not the best. As I look back on my career, I am fortunate that most of the time I had great relationships with my supervisors, but not always. And I think it is recognizing this that has helped me be a better leader for others, although certainly I made my share of mistakes as well.
The research would confirm my observations. When organizations have leadership that demonstrates genuine gratitude for their employees, the employees report high levels of engagement and perform better than their peers who feel disconnected. (Take a look at this article here: https://hbr.org/amp/2020/01/the-little-things-that-make-employees-feel-appreciated) This is human nature after all, as Dr. Jody Carrington says, “humans are wired for connection.” When organizations embrace this, they can help their staff and ultimately their organization reach their full potential. But a cautionary tale to anyone who decides to build a program in their organization to make this happen - this is a feeling that comes from human interaction, it has to be genuine. Anyone in an organization can tell when this is inauthentic, when it comes from an organizational goal or it is a strategy in an organizational plan, but not really lived as a value. This only happens when leaders feel it and express in authentic ways to their staff. There is no short cut or easy 3 step program; this is about organizational culture and it is established by the expressions these values in words and actions right from the top of any organization. As the principal of a school, in other words, this value would need to come from me - in what I say and in how I act and more importantly react in my interactions with staff.
An example of this lived in action, is how many times I chose to stand at the front doors of my school in greet staff and students instead of checking my email, or walked around the school visiting classrooms instead of writing that report that needed to get done. I would choose to save some of the work I can do at home, to make time for people - saying good morning, asking how they are doing and spending time appreciating their efforts with students. Although, as I reflect back on my principal career, I know there were times I hunkered down in my office too trying to get the paper work done, there is certainly a balance needed in leadership. The highlights of my career have happened when our connections with staff are be so positive, I am blessed to be invited to special events like weddings and baptisms!
What does this understanding mean for me as I enter into a new role? As/ a principal I have endeavoured to ensure all my staff feel valued, and I know I was not always successful in this goal. At times, I had to make decisions that impacted my goal of connection with staff and at other times I have been careless with my words or actions. That being said, whenever I had a chance to repair a relationship or reconnect, I would take it. As a leader at the organizational level, I will continue to do the same - build relationships and connect with school staff, and express my genuine gratitude for their hard work. I will look for opportunities to offer support in times of crisis and follow through on commitments. I will do my best to serve our school leadership teams so they feel confident in their relationship with me, and supported to do the their best work with their students and staff. Whenever needed, difficult conversations will be done with respect and empathy, as I do my best to understand and appreciate other people’s experiences and circumstances. I know that at the end of the day, I can help ensure that all staff feel appreciated and valued, and when they do it will me great things for our students.
Joe Dumont Twitter @principaldumont