Friday, December 7, 2012

what don't you know about yourself?

Yesterday in class I gave my students the opportunity to assess the course - what they learned, how the different tools impacted their learning, and what they most liked/disliked about the course as a whole.  The final question I always ask on these course evaluations is "What should the instructor know about himself that he might not know?"  This always gives me a chance to talk about the Johari Window and help students better understand the need for reflection and feedback.  While most students are very kind, there are always a few students that point out things that give me pause to think and reflect on what I do, whether it be how I conduct myself in class, how my clothes look on me ("your tie always shifts to the left") or how I am perceived by different types of students.
For me, this is an important question from which I can learn - and an important question from which my students can also learn.  Having to reflect on the an aspect of someone else's life that may not be known to them - and then having to write that down - helps one critically look at and think about their own life.  My students have to decide whether or not what they see in my (especially that which is hidden from me) is of value enough to them to put on paper and let me know.  They are questioning their own values and beliefs and then putting words to them in a way that I will need to understand (I have to remember that a lot of what the answers to this question tell me is as much about the student as it is about me). I also believe that through having to think about and answer this question my students learn  how to ask for and accept feedback.

Now comes the hard part - am I willing to listen to and accept what my students tell me about myself that I might not yet know?  Two examples of what I am wrestling with based on yesterday's feedback:

  1. Over the past several semesters, more and more students keep telling me that I do not recognize the amount of influence and impact I have on students (I think they mean that in a positive sense) - and truthfully, I don't recognize that impact...I do what I do in a passionate manner because that's who I am. That being said, when one knows they have that type of influence, how will they use it?  My current definition of leadership includes the phrase "stewarding the power given to one to influence others towards a goal that impacts the common good."  I am wrestling with how to best use that influence to make an even bigger impact on those who study and learn with me.
  2. I ask a lot of questions in my classes, probing deeply with students to get at the heart of an answer.  I will often put students on the spot, sometimes having them stand to share their answers; I believe this is good practice in getting them comfortable speaking in front of a group.  I always get feedback from a few students (this semester was no exception) that my technique of asking questions embarrasses some students and makes them afraid.  I really wrestle with this, wanting to create a safe classroom for all and working to move students to the next level of their thinking and building their competency of speaking in public.
All that being said, here is what I would say to all leaders:
  • provide opportunity for those around you to give you feedback on those areas in which you might not know about yourself - you will learn and they will feel heard
  • be courageous enough to hear that feedback and consider what might need to be changed (remember that what you are hearing is also them telling you about them)
  • let others know what you heard and how you have changed as a result of their feedback (I always start every new course by going over feedback from the previous class)
  • encourage your team to do this with each other by giving them a venue and a tool in which to do so
  • embrace the opportunity for feedback - when people come to me and tell me something they appreciate about me, I will often ask them WHY they appreciate that - it gives me a chance to learn more about myself and about that person
  • tell your best people that you NEED them to give you honest feedback on a regular basis, especially on those items of which you are not aware
That's all for today...we head into finals next week so everyone is busy writing finals, studying for finals, and then grading finals.  So you may or may not hear from me over the next few weeks, but I will be looking at the world through leadership lenses, hoping to find more and more ways to THINK ABOUT LEADERSHIP for 2013...

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