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Lessons in Self- Management

by Ann Kox , American School of Rio de Janeiro Applying the Research Shared in the Harvard Business Review to the Realm of Educational Leadership Learning and applying research and best practices–this is something that comes up frequently in education circles. In my experience it is often discussed in the context of what we can externally influence: achievement, effective teaching practices, school climate, analyzing data, creating PLCs, etc. There tends to be much less talk about internal factors. I recently read a collection of works written from leaders at the Harvard Business Review that focused on the various factors and considerations in effective self-management and the research behind self-management. The collections of essays from various authors caused me to reflect on the importance of not just managing the logistics and demands of our everyday work lives, but managing ourselves in a larger context of our life. The research indicates that there are internal characteristics of a leader that can greatly impact both the organizations and the individuals within organizations. There are 11 essays in this collection, but I selected three to piece together my own reflection and learning.

Tony Schwartz and Catherine McCarthy wrote “Manage Your Energy, Not Your Time.”

Though many organizations recognize the value in investing in the skills, knowledge and competence of their people, they do not typically address how to sustain people’s personal capacity and energy. A study done in the Wachovia banks included specific lessons as part of a program to help people reflect on and develop their energy in four areas: physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. Those who participated in this work outperformed the control group in the year following the program. One year later, ¾ of the participants reported that it had a positive effect on their relationships and productivity. The point is that there are a finite number of hours in a day, and working longer hours can contribute to other areas of our lives suffering, and feeling out of balance, frustrated, drained. This work describes how simple habits, routines and rituals can augment our energy and help us to distribute this evenly in our lives so that one area isn’t robbed by the other. There are things we can do and learn that will prompt lasting change and a positive impact on all domains of our lives (not just work). Start with an evaluation, then make some changes. While some changes may be obvious (applying the research regarding diet, exercise and sleep), other are less obvious (allocate time for the most important tasks in your day, use the “long lens” and “reverse lens” in stressful situations, live your core values).

My learning: 1) conduct a personal energy audit and write down changes needed; 2) consider how this work can fit into a staff wellness program (these are big in the States, and that is my next stop).

Edward M. Hallowell wrote “Overloaded Circuits.” The author discusses attention deficit trait at length ADT, a cousin to ADD, which is now “epidemic in organizations,” causing brain overload, “distractibility, inner frenzy and impatience.” If not addressed, it will can take down very gifted professionals. I never heard of ADT (Attention Deficit Trait) but I am familiar with the idea and used to joke about “job-induced ADHD,” which would be pretty much the same thing. In education (as other professions) we are used to responding to multiple demands and having to be flexible and calm. We laugh and nod when we may want to scream and shout. This research shows that work habits that foster disruption and fragmentation (which the author notes includes probably all of us) create internal states of panic and fear. “As a specialist in learning disabilities, I have found that the most dangerous disability is not any formally diagnosable condition like dyslexia or ADD. It is fear. Fear shifts us into survival mode and thus prevents fluid learning and nuanced understanding.” My experience is that the fear can manifest as a subtle tug as often as a flaming signals , and that the subtle tug is the harder one to address because we are taught to ignore and proceed. The problem is that when we are in this state, even unconsciously, we interpret communication “primitively,” firing signals of fear and anxiety that block the communication. That is where miscommunication and misinterpretation and ineffective interactions abound.

The good news is that there are habits regarding how we structure and execute our day that can greatly reduce the overload –such as scheduling email checking twice daily and following the the OHIO rule (only handle it once) and consciously planning to interact 4 – 6 hours daily with those who promote positive feelings. Positive gains can be realized through gaining awareness of the effects of negative interactions and overload and analyzing/valuing those interactions and situations that promote positive feelings.

My learning: The psychological effects of overload are real and need to be taken into account when working with staff and students. It is important to be aware of our personal states when entering interactions, and to have strategies and habits that support relaxed and positive states that will be more productive.

Robert E. Quinn’s work “Moments of Greatness: Entering the Fundamental State of Leadership.”

Quinn presents a riveting description of what he calls the “fundamental state of leadership” — a state in which we are able to elevate the performance of others, a state in which we feel in touch with our core values and feel confident and true to our values. In this state we are focused not on ourselves, but on others and the collective good. We move from problem solving to purpose finding. We are results-oriented. We are in tune, aware, open and responsive to stimuli, adaptable, credible and unique. “In this externally open state, no two people are alike.” How wonderful is that? Even to read about it is exciting. Quinn posits that we have all experienced this kind of ON at some point. This is not a state we would live in all of the time, but we need to know how to get there and recognize when we are there to make the most of it. How can we ask transformative questions to get there? There are many powerful questions that can push us into this state, one being “What results do I want to create?” Quinn explores a number of questions that can push us from our comfort zone into exploring “possibilities that do not yet exist;” moving from compliance to acting with confidence and a “willingness to initiate productive conflict;” moving from own own interests into the collective good; and moving from relying on routines to “acknowledging the need for major change.”

My learning: I never had words for it but I have experienced this state and it is exciting to put words to it and, better yet, to be able to explore the questions that can get us back there. The most powerful aspect of this state, in my mind, is the infectious, empowering, positive effect on others. In conclusion, I appreciate the chance to process these ideas and reflecting in writing to make sense of this important research. Not sure why it takes the Harvard Business Review to validate these ideas and help us to explore the power of attending to ourselves. I think that education and educators can greatly benefit from discussing and applying this research from the business world.

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