Saturday, February 8, 2020

The Ripple Effect of Our Actions

I vividly remember a mistake I made one year when I was a summer school principal.

A teacher had come to me, letting me know that another staff member was consistently coming in late (right as the kids were arriving). This teacher didn't want to be a "tattletale", but did feel like it was affecting the kids and the rest of the team.

Instead of addressing it directly with that staff member, I sent out a general email to the whole staff with a reminder of our hours and when we were supposed to be there in the morning. "I'm protecting the teacher who told me," I told myself. "Now no one will know who snitched."

Later, I found out the ripple effect - a couple of different people came to me, looking unsettled, and asked if that was targeted at them. "I feel bad, I know there was one day that I had to juggle daycare dropoff because my spouse was out of town and I was a few minutes late, but I will make sure that doesn't happen again." "Have I done something wrong?" "Was that about there something we need to talk about?" Yikes - I felt bad! This reminder had NOTHING to do with them. Instead of addressing the issue where it was happening, I had created a sense of unease and guilt among my staff. That is the exact opposite of what I meant to do!

What did I learn from this incident? I took the cowardly way out. I didn't want to deal with conflict directly, so I found a way to avoid it (and even justified it in my mind).

Okay, I know this wasn't a huge deal in the grand scheme of things (one email about showing up on time), but it taught me an important lesson about dealing with conflict and how, as a leader, your words & actions can be magnified. This lesson is now coming to mind as I am on the other side, feeling a little anxious, and being 99.9% sure it's not about me (but is it...?).

Being a leader is hard. You have so much power, and something small can turn into something big. People are quick to interpret things, and they may interpret them differently than what you intended. As leaders, we need to be careful, and mindful of how our actions affect others. As followers, we need to be gracious to our leaders, because they are human too!

If there's one thing I've learned, though, it's that shying away from healthy conflict - accountability, honest conversations, and tough love - is not helpful. I'm hoping for more of that in my world, because even though it can be harder in the short-term, it leads to better relationships and a healthier environment in the end!

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