What Teaching 2nd Graders in Summer School Taught Me About True Leadership

I’ve been in many leadership roles, within the military, business, academics and beyond. All come with unique challenges. But, by far, my most challenging role as a leader was over this past summer as an ELA summer school teacher for 2nd graders. They are a fun but tough bunch. As a teacher you come into the classroom with tons of plans, benchmarks, milestones and data, ready to “grow some brains” as the students would call it. I walked in with a vision and an understanding of where I wanted my students to be by the end of the summer. Then, from day one I realized that what I wanted didn’t matter if my scholars didn’t want it for themselves. And in order for them to want to achieve the vision and big goals I set, they needed to understand why those plans exists, and most importantly what was in it for them as individuals and as a collective. In other words, as Simon Sinek so eloquently explains in one of his TED Talks, they didn’t buy into the “what” or the “how” until they understood the “why”. The following five tips will surely help with the “why” and the overall effectiveness of your leadership.

  1. Communicate Inside-Out: WHY-HOW-WHAT (instead of just the what and the how)

  2. Be Intentional About Developing Your Desired Culture: when it comes to leading, cohesion, loyalty, mutual respect and collective pride isn’t happenstance.

  3. Focus on Assets: I call this counting your blessings, rather than worry about what’s not

  4. Listen More & Talk Less: I can sure run my mouth, but I’ve learned to hush up and listen up more often. Great leaders listen to all stakeholders involved, even if they’re just 2nd graders.

  5. Engage the Community: we’re all connected, therefore we’re all affected. Continuously seek out alliances, advocates, and others you can help out.

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