The ASCD article, “Road Tested / How Your Leadership is Contagious,” reminds me of this video about a six-year-old Geogia orphan who targets people who are not smiling and tries to make them smile by giving them a small toy without expecting anything in return. Clearly, at a young age, he has discovered the joy of having a purpose in life, setting a goal, and taking action to improve the lives of others around him.
In the article, an unmotivated leader of a turnaround team is charged with improving a school’s behavior and academic achievement. A girl’s small act of kindness spontaneously makes him smile which transforms his attitude and behavior towards the schools’ students and staff members. His positive reaction to this random act of kindness prompts similar positive gestures towards him by other students.
After witnessing the behavioral ripple effect from this small deed, he was motivated to start recognizing positive behaviors exhibited by students and teachers throughout the school. The other members on his team began to follow his lead and do the same. This positive reinforcement of acknowledging proper behavior by teachers and staff throughout the school campus yielded incredible results. Behavior issues were significantly diminished and the school’s climate began to change for the better. There were no immediate changes in academic achievement, but it is certainly possible that this positive cultural shift may eventually have a substantial impact on it as well.
Staff and teachers who have a positive attitude about trying new things and actively engage in learning new teaching methods most likely have a leader who supports and encourages that type of behavior. On the other hand, staff members who do not show initiative in embracing new ideas and trying new teaching methods might behave that way because they are afraid of the potential consequences that may be inflicted by an unsupportive leader.
A good way to know what kind of leader you are is to look at the behavior of the people around you. Observe your team members to ascertain their level of vulnerability and engagement during conversations. Look at staff members’ willingness to try new things and share ideas. Evaluate behaviors as a measurement of your leadership style. If team members are quiet, avoid you, or shift blame and dodge responsibility, they might be telling you something about how you are treating them. You reap what you sow.
Like the boy in the video, we all have the power to make someone smile or feel good about something. Behavior is contagious and has the power to motivate or stifle others. Over the Labor Day weekend, our faculty and staff received a simple “thank you” email from the Head of School. I was delighted by her thoughtfulness to take the time to simply express gratitude without an ulterior motive. As a new faculty member, I felt like an important member of the team and was eager to go back to school and do the same for my students.
Positive reinforcement can create a safe environment where people feel valued, appreciated, and trusted. A leader who models this behavior develops a faculty who foster it in their students. It could be a beautiful “pay it forward” movement.