Here is something I have thought a lot about in my own life and I hope you can take part in this exercise with me.
Think of all of the serious relationships you have had in your life that ended. What was the constant in all of those relationships?
Without knowing the story or context, I already know one answer for sure.
It was me (you).
This is not to say that the other person was infallible in the relationship, but it is taking ownership of the process of moving forward.
When I was younger, it was easy to talk about a past relationship and think of all the things that they did wrong, but was I perfect in any of the situations? Not even close.
And even if it was close, how did simply pointing to the inadequacies of others make me better for future relationships? It didn’t.
You can learn from past relationships about the things you don’t want from someone else in the future. That is always valuable.
But what is most vital is saying, how could I have been better in the situation?
Easy to say, hard to do. But the hard things are often the elements that lead to growth.
Now take this concept to education and leadership.
I remember watching an aspiring administrator (their words) post something on social media regarding a “bad leader” and how they sucked because of a, b, and c (and more!).
What followed next was the social media pile-on, with many others sharing stories of the bad leaders they had in their careers and what they shouldn’t have done.
Can the don’ts of our careers be valuable learning experiences? Of course!
But my question is, does that type of conversation inspire the next generation of leaders?
For example, if I said, “My principal is terrible because the lack of trust and autonomy they provide me makes me feel like they don’t value me in my work and I hate going to school every day,” what type of conversation is that likely to inspire? Probably a pile-on of the past screwups of other leaders.
Change the statement to what you would hope.
“The best principal I have ever had not only made me feel supported but encouraged me to take risks in my growth to help students. One of the ways they did this was by asking me questions to help me figure out my own way forward when trying something new.”
This shares what you would hope for and a quick strategy that illustrates the positive action.
Now, what type of conversation would that encourage?
As noted earlier in the post, I have often focused on the weaknesses of others while also disregarding my potential areas of growth. I have done this both personally and professionally.
But what I try to do now is point to the strengths of others to provide examples of what does, while also doing my best to point at myself in areas of shortcomings.
A couple of things I know.
1. I have control of myself and my actions. If I want to get better and commit to that, it can happen. What I can’t do is control the actions of others.
2. That being said, I can try to positively influence others by showing a way forward and providing examples of what has worked versus pointing consistently to the flaws of others. I can’t control the actions of others, but I can do my best to provide examples that are aspirational instead of detrimental.
All people have weaknesses. That includes me.
The best way to help move people forward is to be an example of growth through our humility while also creating spaces to point to what works versus what doesn’t.
What is the space you are creating for yourself and others for growth?