“You Can Do This!”

3 08 2013

Chemistry Teacher with Students in ClassOne of the most inspiring examples of leadership I ever witnessed took place in a classroom of mine.  A dozen years ago, I took a substitute math and science teaching position in a small private school. I started four months into the year and filled the position until the school year ended.

I’d been having a tough time teaching a certain class effectively.  One of my colleagues named Kyle happened to be the math chair of the school.  He volunteered to come in and teach a lesson.  I would watch him teach and increase my own confidence.  I accepted his offer.

He came in and taught a rudimentary algebra lesson, easy stuff for him.  He wrote a problem on the chalkboard, illustrating a certain algebraic function.  Then he looked out at the class comprised of kids from grades 7-9 and said, “I bet you guys can do this.”

Often people use sarcasm and trash-talk to try to get people to perform.  You see this often in sports contests.  Others try to guilt people into better performance in this or that arena of life.  But this teacher, an ace, used an opposite tack.  He set the bar high and confidently told the students they had what it took.

The result? You guessed it.  The students rose to the challenge, solved the problem on the board and learned.

I can’t tell you what concept we learned that day.  But I will never forget his leadership in the classroom.  It’s why he was a great teacher.

You can take away a number of helpful things from this example:

  • If you set the bar high for those you’re responsible for, you will be pleasantly surprised to watch them meet and exceed the goal.  Often we set it too low and then are baffled and frustrated by mediocre performance.  The same is true for the goals we set for ourselves.
  • Positive expressions of affirmation and encouragement will always be better than sarcasm and talking people down.  I’ve never yet met a great leader who is fundamentally sarcastic and pessimistic.

Challenge: Set some high goals for yourself for the slower Summer months as well as the time after Labor Day when the pace accelerates.  If you’re a leader, issue inspiring and tough challenges for those under you.  Then watch as you meet the objectives you’ve set.  It’s really not that hard.  It’s the pessimism, the internal and external trash-talk, that make the meeting of lofty goals difficult.  But you’re better than that!

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2 responses

4 08 2013
David Kanigan

This post is required reading for leaders. Nicely done Christian.

4 08 2013
Christian Fahey

Thank you David. When Kyle taught this class for me and urged the students the way he did, it made a deep and lasting impression on me. You’re right–this kind of thing is good for all leaders. Thanks for stopping by!

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