February 21, 2014
In our work in public schools, if we rely too heavily on position power as the way we work with people, we get short term compliance and at times long term resentment. A step higher is the use of legitimate power which just as it sounds, is rational and expected based on the different roles and responsibilities each of us has. Yes, there are times when in the legitimate use of one’s authority it goes against the will of others. In those times the challenge is not so much the courage to make the decision as it is the wisdom to know what the right decision is given diverse interests. However, if to the best of our ability and in all situations we can elevate our interactions and use expert, referent, or personal/professional influence in how we work with people, we can see relationships begin to transform and shift to a better and healthier place. Often these interactions lead to transformational relationships that reflect mutual trust, treating each other with dignity and respect, valuing, appreciation, listening, etc. These interactions and relationships result in people wanting to do what is right and best; and, performance is not wholly dependent on rewards, consequences, or the position power of others.
Consider a school employee who given their position demands and expects that a student comply with directions when there is no relationship. Now, sometimes we are just in a situation and this just has to happen for safe and orderly operations; still, that dynamic is about the use of rewards, coercive, and/or legitimate “power” to cause the student to act in a certain way. These interactions are more about rules and compliance; and not so much about understanding and mutual respect. The student may comply, but the behavior may be short lived and likely will not result in any lasting or positive momentum. This is not to suggest that these are not useful tools; but rather, to say that they are somewhat limited in their effectiveness.
Compare that situation to one in which the school employee treats each and every student with dignity and respect and draws them with affirmations into expectations that reinforce their value, as well as the value of the directions, assignments, or learning opportunities. Students who experience these interactions have a different tone about them. Often these interactions are so effective it results in the students doing what they were supposed to do in those moments, and going further in that positive direction even when the school employee is not present.
Engaging in constructive ways motivates others by touching their heart, and inspires them to be better as a person and committed to something larger and more important. These relationships grow from intentional investments from each of us to others, and they need to be nurtured and developed over time. Think of the school staff in your past who brought out the best in you; how did they make you feel and how did you feel about them and yourself as a result of that relationship? We rarely remember those with whom we just complied at that time. We never forget those who inspired us to be more!
This same dynamic exists in how we as adults interact with each other. How we work together matters; it matters for people in similar positions and it matters when there are legitimate differences in positions. If a relationship is defined only along the lines of positional power – it really just operates at a functional level, at best. If we can step up our own performance and move ourselves and then others into a higher, more transformational approach to work and interactions, it changes the climate in a positive way. There will still be work performed; yet, likely more productivity and with qualitatively better results. There will still be times when reasonable people share healthy disagreements; however, these will be constructive along the lines of doing what is right, rather than from an ego driven need for being right.
When we work together with effective relationships and momentum it transforms each of us, enhances the climate where we work, and advances the educational interests of each student we serve. Thank you for managing how you interact with people. Thank you for seeking the best in all relationships. Thank you for being the best you can be in all things.