The top three variables for employers: dollars, job security, and promotions are consistent with the perspectives of some of today’s leaders in relation to their employees.
It is worth comparing these with the top three variables chosen by employees namely, appreciation, a feeling of belonging, and sympathy for personal problems.
Employee Motivations: Appreciation
When I was a superintendent of schools, many principals shared their feelings with me from time to time on how much they valued being told that their work was appreciated and that a supervisor valued qualities such as their commitment to students and work ethic.
Direct, specific, meaningful, and genuine feedback motivated them to do even more and to be better at what they did. Their comments included popular sayings such as “You can catch bees with honey, not vinegar!” These were confident, successful adults! One could be so easily tempted to think that they did not need to be affirmed and validated. But another lesson that we can all learn is that even the most confident and successful employees thrive on being validated by their supervisors. There is almost a human need for reaffirmation especially from those who have the responsibility to evaluate performance or to determine one’s promotion.
Employee Motivations: Feeling of Belonging
The second on this list a feeling of belonging should not be underestimated, either. A workplace that has this ethos is also one that has lower turnover rates. People want to be there. There is a sense of collegiality a notion that goes beyond congeniality. Sergiovanni (1990) used these terms and made distinctions between them years ago. More recently, others, such as Jasper (2014), have made similar observations. Where true collegiality exists, people are highly motivated to work toward common goals and outcomes.
More recent work on professional learning communities (PLCs) has highlighted the difference between congeniality and collegiality. My own observation is that the change in behaviors of those engaged in PLCs over the years has been phenomenal. In the early years, when there wasn’t a deep understanding of how PLCs operate at their best, there were superficial notions of what successful PLCs looked like.
People falsely equated “noise” with a real desire to solve problems related to the school. Consequently, they did not ensure that improvement was the primary reason for these gatherings. There has, however, been a discernible difference in how PLCs are functioning today. Educators have expanded their ideas about PLCs with the research that has been available in recent years. As noted above, PLCs can have a real impact when collegiality is at its best.
Employee Motivations: Sympathy for Personal Problems
The third variable ranked by employees is “sympathy for personal problems.” Employees do not leave their problems at home or at the front gate of the school. The issues that they are facing at home or in the community are always with them. Only a few individuals can simply shake off problems, do their jobs, and pick up later from where they left off the previous day. Their concerns on and off the job can affect their interactions with their colleagues and students.
I remember working with a principal who suggested to staff that they should leave their problems behind and not take them into his school. His unwillingness to see staff members in their multiple roles as coaches, parents, religious leaders or community members reflected his lack of a strong people orientation in the workplace. Not surprisingly, he was neither liked nor respected. People would not go to him if they had personal problems.
Being attuned to the personal problems of staff can help aspiring and seasoned leaders alike see people in the totality of their human character, qualities, values, aspirations, and worldviews. It also helps them suspend judgment when problems or conflicts arise. Asking the custodian about her sick child, taking the first-period class for a teacher who had a dental appointment, or covering for the school secretary who is going through a divorce can make a difference in the culture of the school and the relationships that are forged.
It is in small ways that we demonstrate our humanity, caring, and concern for others in the workplace. And instead of using the term “sympathy” for personal problems, I would make a slight change to take this idea to a new level by describing this variable as “empathy for personal problems.”
Empathy: A Quintessential Leadership Competence
The ability to be empathetic has profound implications for the way we engage one another at an interpersonal level. It is the quintessential human characteristic one that demonstrates genuineness and loyalty and engenders a strong sense of connection with people. Empathy describes the feeling or reaction that most people welcome, especially when they are having problems.
Six basic steps and a few strategies for developing empathy, as we teach this skill to our students in the same way we approach teaching other skills. These steps include the following:
Framed within the context of the province’s Human Rights Code, this strategy envisions an education system in which:
- All students, parents, and other members of the school community are welcomed and respected.
- Every student is supported and inspired to succeed in a culture of high expectations for learning.
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