by Aubrey Patterson
Of course, the scenario you're about to read is all too familiar, but are you fortunate enough to know someone who leads like Carla?
Like a Duck
The day is just beginning and the telephones are lighting up.
Line 1: A teacher is calling in sick.
Line 2: An angry parent.
A whimper and crying eyes staring up: A little one is seeking an ice pack.
A tap on the shoulder: The new teacher asking where to find a student’s file.
This would be an awfully eventful two minutes for most.
Carla politely puts the teacher on hold and pages the assistant principal; she then offers a kind greeting and exquisite manners to a slightly confused and well-meaning mom; gives a hug and an ice pack to poor little Michael (while offering a silent thank you to her principal for the phone headset); and gives wide-eyes and a smile while mouthing, “just a sec” to the teacher waiting for that file.
With every action and word, Carla communicates compassion, confidence, and a sense of calm.
Feedback is measured not at your mouth but at the other person's ear. (Kim Scott)
Staff and families are used to Carla’s superpowers; what they don’t see is that her mind is churning full speed and she is simplifying and clarifying with deeply ingrained habits.
Like a duck swimming in a busy pond, Carla is completely cool, calm and ready on the surface, but so much is happening underneath. Such confidence and chill vibe doesn’t just magically happen or come in a course, but from the sum of many consistently practiced and refined habits.
Clarity and a Kind Voice
There is one requisite skill for all of us who'd like to more frequently lead like a duck in difficult situations: a kind voice.
Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? If everything happened smoothly, it wouldn’t seem such a daunting task. But with many interactions coming with emotion, urgency and at inopportune times, it can be difficult to use a kind voice in every moment.
Luckily, repetition creates habits and opportunities to practice a kind voice are very easy to find in a school:
A mom new to town calls about her first child going to school and anxiety is just dripping off her first few words.
A student with a scraped his knee is in need of some motherly love and a bandaid to make it all better.
Grandma frantically calls with “Sally didn’t get off the bus at her stop!” and needs calm and kind reassurance: “More than likely Sally fell asleep on the bus after a fun-filled day. Please give me a sec to check with the driver for you.”
Suzy comes running through the office doors saying “Am I late? My mom didn’t wake me up!” and is greeted with a smile and a “Well, I am happy you are here today!”
Each gracious interaction strengthens our ability to call upon our kind voice in other moments. Every wildly busy snapshot of time holds within it an opportunity to calm the waters, exercise a kind voice, and get a bit better prepared for the inevitable next time.
When clarity is delivered with a kind voice, we leave and model a positive wake that washes over the entire school community.