The Key to Leadership in School Administration, “Mirror, mirror on the wall…”

How do you as an school administrator, executive or leader get honest feedback?

The solution can be as simple as a polite, “please tell me what I don’t want to hear.”

Then, receive that information with a smile, and realize that a friend is a person who stabs you in the front.

Honest feedback can mean the life or death of your school or project. A leader who does not have accurate information is like the pilot of an airliner flying with their eyes wide closed.

Leaders need to ask themselves how do I find out what I don’t want to know? When is the advice from those around me sincere?” — Curtis Panasuk

People being creative in an elevatorHere are 3 things that executives and leaders can start doing today.  I used these when I was a CEO.

1. If you get bad news, immediately smile and thank the person, and acknowledge how much you appreciate that they took the effort to tell you. As a CEO, you don’t want to become known as a Chief “Execution” Officer who shoots messengers.

2. At the end of every meeting ask the question, “Is there anything else that we need to hear or talk about.” This is where you can open the “spigot” of what may be on their minds, and smoldering under the surface.

3. Every day, ask your employees and your team, “please tell me what I don’t want to hear.” Then, receive that information in a friendly manner (again, smile), and realize that a friend is a person who stabs you in the front.

4. Finally, remind your team that you work for THEM to provide the things (coaching, training, etc.) that they need to succeed, and you want hear what they need.

I teach that leadership solutions can be found by looking back in history, and by looking at how other countries and companies solved your problem.  Solutions can even be found by looking in children’s books.

A great lesson in leadership feedback can be found on your children’s bookshelf, and it is titled “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” by Hans Christian Andersen, which was written 182 years ago.

Over 600 years ago, the court jester (or, motley fool), was actually hired to say, “the emperor has no clothes.”

The court jester was considered a leader’s most important adviser, and was someone who presented the cold-hard facts in a way that got their attention with laughs.

Leadership, creativity and the court jester

The leaders at that time relied on their jester to use humor point out the folly and mistakes that they were about to make.

The court jester’s primary job was to challenge (speak truth to power)  the leaders decisions, and secondly provide entertainment. They were not only given permission to speak freely, it was part of their job description.

For example, if the King of England was plotting to invade France, the Jester might joke, “Sire, why bother, you have plenty of fine wine in your cellar, and if you invade, the blood of the sons of England will flow like red wine.”

We all have access to court jesters today, they are our comedians, and they fill a vital role in challenging the actions of government and business, and pointing out folly in our personal daily lives. Pay attention to them, they just might prevent you and our society from making mistakes.

Comedian Steve Colbert

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