I sat down at a meeting this morning and started to pull out my computer and settle into my space. “You know Daniel, I haven’t heard any of your positive messages recently.” The comment came from the principal of one of our middle schools who was sitting next to me. Not exactly the unsolicited feedback I was anticipating.
The comment was innocent enough. As I engaged her in a short conversation about what was behind her statement, she seemed to be referencing more narrowly a practice I have of texting out motivational quotes at random times. Whether she meant her comment more universally about my leadership, I don’t know, but regardless, it thrust me into reflection mode.
Now, when we list off desirable leadership characteristics, I usually don’t see “thoughtful” on the board. At the end of the day, we have to be accountable for the learning outcomes of our students, and not for handwriting thank you notes. Yet I’ve come to believe that it is often the little things, the small efforts we make to acknowledge the worth and efforts of others, that make the difference in leadership. Those small efforts are exponentially more powerful when they are unanticipated and outside of the normal work flow.
I think the comment this morning was poignant for me because it reflected a missed opportunity on my part, and I know better. I know that the hand-written thank you note, the unexpected catered lunch, or the positive quote in a text, are powerful motivational actions whose impact far outweigh the time or resources it takes to make them happen.
Truth be told, the pace and rigor of the past few weeks has to some degree pulled me away from the strategic stance that helps me prioritize thoughtful leadership. I’ve only been at my new job for a few months now, and already I have moments when I allow the daily exigencies of the work to cloud my long term vision. Under compression, we take things and people for granted. We look for shortcuts.
This morning came as a gentle reminder that I cannot allow myself to be swallowed up by the enormity of the task. My drive to get work done should never crowd out my ability to reflect on whether I am doing work thoughtfully along the way.