Whose Time Is It Anyway?

Blog / Produced by The High Calling
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"The leaders who work most effectively, it seems to me, never say 'I.' And that's not because they have trained themselves not to say 'I.' They don't think 'I.' They think 'we'; they think 'team.' They understand their job to be to make the team function..."

Peter Drucker

In my position as a new administrator in a new school, I was anxious to do well. I wanted to be efficient, to foster relationships and create a positive work environment. I worked long hours, took time to know people personally, and learned the systems in place. I particularly prided myself on running a great meeting. I didn’t waste time, began and ended promptly, and gave people a few minutes at the end of the meetings to bring up their concerns.

Imagine my surprise when one day a teacher came to my office with a CD recording of a program she heard on the radio the day before.

"Would you listen to this and let me know if we can discuss this in one of our meetings?" she asked.

I listened. It was a story about a high performing school that had been teacher driven until it was co-opted by a more bureaucratic top-down approach to education. I had a strong suspicion that this message was meant for me. It was an indirect but very effective and painful critique of my style as an administrator. My well-intentioned quest for efficiency had backfired.

Sitting with my boss, mulling this information over with him, I was hurt and discouraged. My efforts to move things along in a timely fashion (my time, of course) were not appreciated.

"Well," said my boss, "it depends on whether the meeting is about you or about them."

It was a moment—one of those times when the lens through which you view the world gets turned upside down. For me, the meetings were about getting things done and getting on to the next task without wasting time. For my colleagues, the meetings were about conversation and personal connection, not efficiency. For them, the meetings were like sitting down at the dinner table as a family and reconnecting after a week of just saying “hi” in the halls. My success as a leader of this group would directly relate to my ability to make these meetings more about their need for connection than my need for efficiency.

There was a happy outcome. I went to the next meeting with the CD and asked the question, "Do we need to change the format of the meetings?" The answer was a resounding "Yes!" So we all talked about what we wanted from the meetings, and together we crafted a successful format that satisfied everyone.

And we still got out on time.

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