“You Can Do This!”

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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Manageable Goals: A Key To Growth

Manageable GoalsGoals.  How do you hit them?  How do you place them within sane and profitable range?  How do you avoid the extremes of setting the bar too low—and being thus unchallenged and bored—and shooting unrealistically high—and being discouraged and defeated?

Today, one of my colleagues and I were discussing the importance of setting goals that were challenging yet attainable.  My friend told me that when he was an insurance salesman, he and his fellow agents would huddle in the mornings and lay out their sales goals for that particular day.  His buddies would generally shoot for the moon:  “I’m gonna sell ten policies today.”  He would set more modest but sufficiently difficult targets: “I’m going to sell two of this policy and one of that package.”  And he would usually hit the mark, while his co-workers failed to meet theirs and were thus discouraged.

There’s an old adage that says “slow and steady wins the race.”  This, of course, is a nod to Aesop’s famous story of The Tortoise and the Hare.  Through patient plodding, the much slower and ungainly tortoise won the race over the flashy and fleet-of-foot hare.  If you persevere, you win.

This is not to discourage the practice of giving yourself a worthy but difficult task.  But it is important to keep a healthy balance between mediocrity and insanity.  Those who avoid the shoals on either side generally sail on to success.

What are your goals for 1) continuing education—whether at a learning institution or through self-education via reading, listening and viewing, 2) physical fitness and weight loss, 3) strengthening your relationships, 4) improving your vocational skills?  Have you written them down, which is critical to their fulfillment, having engaged your conscious and subconscious mind by doing so?  Have you a process, broken down into manageable bites—“baby steps”—whereby you can meet these destinations?

Here are some of the benefits one derives from setting goals and then meeting them:

  • You get the benefit of meeting the goal itself.  If you lose that portly thirty pounds, you feel better about yourself and have become healthier.  If you learn a new skill, you can use that to help others, elevate your station and earn more.
  • You receive a boost in self-confidence and self-respect rooted in genuine accomplishment, rather than in aspiration and fantasy.
  • You strengthen your goal-attainment muscles because you are encouraged that, yes, you can do this!

Set goals.  Set them high enough to stretch you.  Write them down, with concrete dates and metrics indicating you’ve met them.  Then hit them!

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“I Bet You Can Do This”

One 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: Before the New Year, barely two weeks away, set some high goals for yourself for the coming year.  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!