August 27, 2013

Questions.....they're not about you

It's just another day.  When you're a leader, the days are filled with this scenario.  It's what your job is all about really.  People coming to you with questions.  Questions.  It can seem endless some days.  Question after question.  Some are big and very important.  Those seem to bother you less, as a leader you know you are there to answer those questions.  If not right now, you will find the answer.  If you think it will be a growth experience for your team member, then you put them on the path, but either way, leaders get excited about those kinds of questions.  However, there are also the questions you get that can make you shake your head.  Maybe you pull out some hair, or if you are like me and get worried its getting to thin, you leave it there and just let it get grayer at a faster pace.  They are the little questions, questions that you are sure you have answered, or at least confident that anyone that has been hanging around your building should be able to answer.  But they still crop up....and they can drive a leader crazy.  But should it?

We are all busy people.  Our staff is busy carrying out their mission.  I am fond of saying, "teachers are where the rubber meets the road."  I can preach all I want, provide some excellent Professional Development, and support staff with a budget that provides wanted resources, but all comes down to the hard work of the staff to ensure we are completing our mission of student learning.  That is our goal.
So should I get that upset when they come to me with questions I have already answered in the e-mail that went out last week.....or yesterday? When it was something I clearly noted in the last staff meeting?  I suppose I could.  I could send out another e-mail, stating it over again with a couple of exclamation points at the end.  But will that help? Or just chase away questions?

Is suppose it depends on your leadership style.  I prefer a servant leadership style.  I am constantly asking myself, "what can I do to make their job easier?"   This practice comes without spotlights, and recognition is not what its about either. Instead, you are focused on your team and giving them whatever it is they need.  Sometimes......they just need an answer to a question.  

What you have to remember as a leader is that not every answer needs to be given right away.  Not every answer needs to come directly from you.  Sometimes, you should ask the question right back.  Sometimes, you can just show them how to find the answer for themselves.  If it is something you know you have told them, discussed with them, and shared your beliefs on.....well, maybe they are coming to see if you changed you mind.  Many times, they may be hoping you changed your mind.  Either way, there doesn't seem to be a need to get upset.  Take a breath, get some perspective, and try some empathy.

Taking on the leadership role in a school is not an easy matter.  You now have chosen to be the "go to" person for a whole building.  Not just teachers, but for students, parents, school board members, the superintendent and a whole bunch of community members.  You are now seen as thee answer person.  The person who is responsible.  The person with the vision.  The LEADER.  I am hoping you didn't take this role on as a feather in your hat, or because it was the next job on the ladder.  You have taken a role, consciously or not, that is no longer about you.  You are now there to make sure everything goes well and smoothly for everyone else.

My guess is, you knew what you were getting into and that you did it for the right reasons. Yes, even the best leaders get frustrated with the day to day, the wasteful paperwork, the demands on your time by so many people and probably some of the repeated questions.  But if you take a minute, and recall what it was like when you were back in the classroom, with that laser like focus on your students and giving them the best that you had.....well, you can probably remember that you too forgot some of the answers that were provided to you. Information that was shared at a staff meeting (when you were thinking of what to make for dinner for your family), or when the principal popped into a team meeting and shared when classroom budgets needed to be turned in (and you forgot to write it down as you worked on improving lesson plans), or the time when the procedure for posting something to your classroom website was shared in an e-mail (and you accidentally put it in the trash forgetting that the trash is emptied at the end of each semester to save storage space).  It happens to all of us.....and Leaders, instead of taking it personally, step back....put on your empathy shoes.....and remember that they are human too....and our job is to serve them and to clear the that they can become the leaders......tomorrow.  Hopefully, they'll be a leader with empathy and patience.....just like you.

So take on those questions with a smile.  All of them.  Give them the answer they need, even if it is how to find the answer for themselves, and be the leader they can count on. The one they trust enough to go to with the smallest of questions, the questions that are requests for information you already shared, and the questions that are really requests for you to change your mind. Remember, the questions are really more about them and not about you.


  1. Tom you could not be more correct! This time of year the questions come fast & furious. It's vital to show patience and care in answering questions. To not answer or to disregard will do damage well beyond "the moment".

    I appreciated reading your post, it reminded me, that as leaders we are all experience similar things. Thank you for sharing Tom, this was a timely and needed read.

  2. Enjoy your posts as well. Great take on servant leadership. Every interaction (even incessant questions) are a chance to build relationship and serve others.