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Conform to Influence, pages 200-206

Part Two: Leadership Tactics, 2. Leadership Skills, H. Conform to Influence, (pages 200-206)


H. Conform to Influence

As the leader, it’s often said that it is easier to slow someone down than have to speed them up. That is when the leader has a highly motivated staff member, they can sometimes move too fast and get ahead of where the team is. On the contrary staff members who lack motivation can drag their heels and slow the team down. However, being highly motivated can have its drawbacks. Being new to a team and being highly motivated can alienate existing team members. Highly functioning teams have a cadence to how they operate. A highly motivated new person will undoubtedly bring novel ideas and approaches with them to the team. However, even if their ideas and approaches are more effective, they have the probability of being viewed as negative because they are disrupting the rhythm of the team. So, how does the new person, with more effective methods get the other teammates to buy in? You conform. By not conforming, you are putting your ego in front of the mission of the team. Buy not giving in, “it would mean that you thought your personal feelings were more important than the team… and the most important thing in a team is the team.” However, conforming or giving in does not mean you have to lower your standards. The strategy is to begin to influence the other teammates. Influence begins with building relationships. If you have no relationship, you have no influence. Additionally, “you can’t change the group if you are not in the group.” Once you are in the group, don’t be overly aggressive. Take your time and “earn your influence”. If you encounter a situation when a teammate is badmouthing leadership, try not to take a side. Rather, look to engage in conversation to elicit why they feel so negatively. Conversations grow relationships. “Be balanced, Build relationships, Lead.”

Over twenty years ago, I started my teaching career by teaching mathematics at a high poverty urban high school. Most did not have this district high on their wish list of places to work. To say it was not a highly sought after position would be an understatement. However, it was exactly where I wanted to be. I was highly motivated to make a positive impact on my students. I came in as they say “guns a blazing”. I had all kinds of questions, ideas, and new ways of doing things. However, my department head and her best friend, who was also a veteran math teacher, did not seem to approve of me. Reflecting, I now understand their actions. However, during that time I was baffled, to say the least. They viewed me as a threat to how things were being done. They were content with the status quo where I felt strongly that we needed to do better. I could have conformed and slowly built influence, but I didn’t realize it at that time. So, I went ahead and implemented my ideas not caring how the department head felt about me. Luckily, I became friends with another veteran well-respected math teacher. It became a very symbiotic relationship. He taught me to slow down and to look at the bigger picture of my actions when it came to the whole math department. In return, my enthusiasm rubbed off on him and he told me on more than one occasion that he no longer felt burned out. A few other math teachers started to ask us questions as to what we were doing differently and they in turn started to modify their practices. A few years later, the high school underwent a radical change. The ninth-grade was isolated from the rest of the building and block scheduling was implemented in an attempt to drastically improve both academics and behaviors. An assistant principal was put in charge and told to build a team of teachers. That assistant principal chose me to lead the ninth grade math team. He also asked me to recruit other math teachers. I asked my friend and three other teachers, all with many more years of experience, and they all immediately said yes. Looking back, I could have conformed. However, I still built influence by building relationships. And in the end, it all worked out well for us and the students.

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© 2019 by Erik Bentzel. 

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