Saturday, December 27, 2008

Great Leaders, Part 1


"If the bottom line of life is happiness, then it makes perfect sense to say that it is the journey that counts, not reaching the destination."
~Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

What do great leaders do differently from leaders? What separates an average leader from an extraordinary leader? One characteristic that has been weighing heavily on my mind of late is attitude. Great leaders set the example and must remember that everything counts. My office is housed upstairs in our school, and the quarters are, to say the least, cramped. It can be difficult to stay positive 100% of the time when there are days when you feel everyone is on top of one another. I began to notice that if I came in feeling grumpy, by nine in the morning, my whole office staff was on edge, which effects the parents who come in or call, and the teachers who tend to drop by and say hello while making copies. And this, of course, could have a less-than-positive effect on the children in those classrooms. I decided to try a little experiment. After all, I could not possibly have this much of an impact on everyone. Could I?

For one week, I came in bright-eyed and cheery, greeting everyone I ran into, shaking hands with one and all, even bringing coffee into the office staff. They thought I had gone a little haywire, but hey, I could tell that everyone was feeling good about themselves. All right, so this was fun, and I found myself feeling very productive and on top of my game, even though I had forced myself to play this little game. I wrote all of my observations in a notebook.

The next week, I purposefully went out of my way to be grumpy, cut people off in mid-sentence, yell at my office staff (even though it was difficult to find anything they were doing wrong), and just be in an overall foul mood. At around 2:00 in the afternoon, mid-week of the experiment, a teacher came looking for me. I was holed up in my office and hadn't seen her or heard from her all week. She plopped herself down in a chair opposite my desk and said, "So, I hear you're in a pretty bad mood. People are wondering what's wrong with you." I was dumbfounded. I was also happy to know that people noticed my moods.

Whether or not our moods have a positive or negative impact on the people we work with, it is our responsibility to put a positive spin on things. We have the power and obligation to filter what comes out of our mouths, what information we share with others, and to model what kind of behavior we expect out of people. It all starts with our attitude. We set the tone.

In the words of the Hungarian psychology professor, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, "People who learn to control inner experience will be able to determine the quality of their lives." And if we can accomplish this for ourselves, who knows what we might be able to help others accomplish. It's worth a try, and those we serve are worth it.