The danger of treating your staff like family


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You're listening to School Leadership Reimagined, episode number 211.

Welcome to the School Leadership Reimagined podcast...

where we rethink what's possible to transform your school. If you're tired of settling for small wins and incremental improvement, then stay tuned to discover powerful and practical strategies for getting every teacher in your school moving towards excellence. Now, here's your host, Robyn Jackson.

Hey, builders, welcome to another episode of the school leadership reimagined podcast. I'm your host, Robyn Jackson.

And today we're going to talk about why you shouldn't treat your team like family. Now I've heard it said a lot. People say Oh, at our school, we have a family atmosphere, our staff is more like a family. And people think it's a good thing. I even did a quick survey online. And there are a lot of articles out there telling you that treating your team like family is actually a good leadership practice. And they're not wrong. It is a good leadership practice. But if you're going to be a builder, you need something else. And we're going to talk about why that is why it's really a trap. When you start treating your team like family when you start devoting yourself to building a family like culture in your school. And we're going to tell you what you should be doing instead. But before we do that, a couple of just quick reminders. First of all, I've talked the last couple of episodes about the fact that I often do some private one on one consulting, usually with superintendents, associate superintendents, central office, folks.

Now, the first you know cohort the opportunity for kind of the slots that I had available. For you know, this air this time, right now that that's passed. Unfortunately, we've gotten all we need for that. So if you are interested, or if you want to grab one of those slots, I still encourage you to go ahead and make a call because there are going to be some slots that open up later on in the summer. And you want to if you want to grab those spots, because there's some people are saying, and I just want to get through this in the school year first. And you know that I'd like to work with you later in the summer. And if that's you, then I encourage you to make a call now. And here's why summers getting quickly filled up, not just with the consulting slots, but with all the other things I have going on have a ton of keynotes going on this summer that I'll tell you about in just a second. And so I'm not going to have the same capacity to do the one on one work that I've been doing. So if you are interested in that. And I know that's only a small section of this listening audience. But if that's you, if you are a superintendent and the Sophie, associate superintendent, a central office administrator and you want some support, and it's quick, it's a month of support and as to get something specific done that you need done and to do it and do it well and get the support you need. So that you can get set up for the rest of the year. If that's something that you're interested in, then I encourage you to go to mind steps in the upper right hand corner, there's a button that says schedule a call, click that button and schedule a call. When you do that you're going to get on the phone with John, John is going to talk to you and tell you a little bit more about the program. And he's also going to see if it's the right fit. And by right fit. I mean is Do you are you working on something that we can actually support you with. And then once you go through all of that, then if it is a good fit, then you and I will talk and we will set some goals, we'll set up some times to work. And then you get that individual one on one support for the length of that month to really get something specific done for your district, and for your job. And so again, mindset, click on schedule a call, talk to John see if it's a good fit. And then if it is, then we'll start working together over the summer.

Alright, so that's the first thing. 

Second thing I'm really excited about. Because this summer, we're going to do something different. So normally in the summer for the podcast, we do rewind episodes, and they'll probably be a few of those as well. But we're going to do a lot more Live episodes this summer because this is what I'm calling the summer of success, the summer of success. And this year this summer, we're going to be sharing some success stories of builders. One of the things that I think is really important is that a lot of times when you're listening to the podcast you hear me talking about builders ship about how incredible Well, it is how about how life altering it is. But I think it's really important that you hear from people who are like you who are actually in the trenches doing this work, and hear the difference that that adopting these principles has made on their work. And so we're going to be doing a series where I'm going to be talking to some of the builders and builders ship University who have been doing this work, because they've really their stories are so incredibly inspiring. And I feel like it's important to hear it. But in addition to that, we're also going to be talking about some of the success secrets. What is the difference between somebody who kind of says, Yeah, I want to be a builder, and they kind of, you know, start doing some of the work versus somebody who embraces it fully, what are some of the secrets, the practical secrets that they are using to not only install builder ship principles into their buildings, but to turn that to leverage those principles to leverage builder ship into huge success, you are going to be blown away by this series. So we're going to be starting the series up in the late latter half of June. Next week, of course, is our summer reading episode. And so that's happening next week. And we'll be sharing the summer reading list for the year. But after the summer reading episode, the next episode, after that, we're going to be starting the summer Success Series, you do not want to miss it, you're going to be so inspired, you're going to be so excited about that. That's the second thing. Third thing is that we're probably going to do another intake for builders ship University this summer sometime in July. So if you are have been wanting to join build a ship University, first thing is always get on the waitlist because when a slot opens up, we go to people on the waitlist, we tell them the slots opened up, and then you have a couple of days to get that slot. And then we move to the next person on the waitlist until that slots closed. But in July, we're going to be doing a huge intake for a builder ship University, that'll be our third intake for the year. And we only are going to do for this year. So we're going to do one in July, we'll do one latter half of the year towards the end of the year.

So this is your opportunity. Now here's why you do want to join bill to ship University this summer. Because if you do that, then you have the support and the mentorship, you need to start the year on the right foot. Right. One of the this is a wonderful opportunity to join because you have time to get things straight before your teachers come back, you have time to get support. As you navigate the beginning of the year, you have time to put some systems in place to make this year better, easier, more effective as you're working with your teachers and your students and pursuing your vision. So look out for that, listen out for that that's coming up as well. Okay, I think that's all of our announcements for today. Let's dive in to why your stash and not be like a family. So back in the early spring, we did a course called the culture cure. And one of the things we did is we looked at the difference between toxic cultures good enough cultures and 100% cultures. And the first thing that happens in toxic culture is usually it's because you're acting like a boss, or as we like to say you're acting like a boss whole. And so usually you are using strategies that are both wholly strategy strategies. And that is what's keeping your your your culture toxic. But if you have a good enough culture, usually it's because you're using leadership strategies. And listen, this is how we were all trained, right? We were all taught these leadership strategies. And the problem with leadership strategies is they they're great to get you to good enough, but they're terrible. If you want to go to 100%. If you want to go to 100%, you need builder ship strategies. And so I've been doing this kind of series, often one where I've been looking at the difference between that toxic culture that good enough culture and 100% culture, the boss strategies, the leadership strategies that are built to share strategies. And I've been thinking about this one for a while, and not sure I wanted to take it on because I hear so many people when I visit schools are saying, you know, our staff is just like a family.

And I don't want to burst any bubbles. 

But here's the reality. If you are treating your staff like family, if you are building a family like culture and atmosphere in your school, you're gonna stay stuck it good enough. And so I think it's really important that I talk to you about the dangers of calling your staff, a family, calling your school, a family culture, and why that's going to keep you stuck, why that's going to backfire. And so that's why we're going to do today's episode. So the first thing is that if you have a toxic culture, you don't have a family atmosphere you might think you do but what you really have is just a bunch of cliques. You have a group of people who are acting like a family but in many ways it's not like a family like mom, dad, sister, brother. It's more like a mob family, right? So they are they're going around and they are galvanising against each other. And they're fighting for power and turf and territory, and you've got a whole bunch of cliques. But the, and the cliques work well together, right, because they are, you know, they, they support each other they, they, they, they hang out together, they, they provide cover for each other. But when those clicks, fight against other clicks, you know, everything, everything becomes a problem. There's a great African proverb that I love, which is that when the elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers. And when you have cliques in your culture, it's usually the kids who suffer the most, when you have that inner fighting with these cliques and factions happening in your culture, we all know about that that's toxic. So we think that the solution is what we need to do is rather than having everybody fight, we need to have families. But here's the problem.

First of all, family means something different to different people, right? Everybody has a different kind of family. And so when you say we're like family, whose idea of family are you actually like, for some people, the family means something very dysfunctional. For other people, it's great, it's healthy for other people. I don't know, I never had a family before. So I don't even know what it's supposed to feel like. So when you describe yourself as a family culture, when you tell people well, like our schools, like one great big family that's going to conjure different images and different people's minds, because family means something different to everybody else. But here's the bigger problem. When you have a family, and you create this family like culture, you also adopt not just the good parts of family, but you also adopt a lot of the dysfunctions of family, fun family structures, don't work in work cultures, let me tell you why it's a family, you are born into a family or adopted into a family. And it's your family, right? You can't ever get rid of it. Or you might not like each other, you might not get along. But that's always going to be my mother, that's always going to be my sister. And so because of that families feel permanent, because they are right family as family, it just is what it is. But in a job, it's not permanent. People can move on, people get promoted, people move, people decide to have children, people decide to work part time, people want a different kind of challenge. All kinds of things happen.

So when you create a family atmosphere, you are falsely claiming that we're connected to each other by something stronger, within when, when in reality, it's not permanent work. 

It's temporary, it's transitory, it's supposed to be right. So the moment you create family atmospheres, you create a lot of guilt when when it's time for people to go, when it's time for people to move on. You make people feel guilty about leaving you make people think that it's permanent, when work is not permanent. The second thing that happens is that what holds families together are usually blood ties, you don't have those blood ties at work. So if you don't have something bigger, like a strong vision, mission and core values to bond you, then you just have this idea that we are family, and that creates its own dysfunction, because the family becomes more important than the purpose of the work. Right? It's more important that I don't upset people in my organization, it's more important that I maintain the relationships with my team than it is to move the work. And that makes feedback harder. That makes holding people accountable harder. It makes support harder it makes it makes building your culture and building a healthy culture a 100% culture harder, because there's nothing bigger. The family is the purpose. There's nothing else driving that the fact that we are family is what's holding us together, rather than a bigger vision, mission and core values. Even when we say it's the vision that's important, and we're a family and we're pursuing the vision, if you really want to preserve the family part, the relationship trumps everything else. And so I've seen a lot of dysfunction. When that happens. I've been in schools that have said, We're like family. And so people don't get that hard feedback that they sometimes need because I don't want to hurt that person's feelings because you know how they are. And we're a family and being a family is more important than giving tough feedback. The other thing that happens is that a lot of roles get bent, right? So rather than helping people be accountable to the process, you start bending rolls, and sometimes it's just a slight bending, but other times that bending rolls can get really, really toxic really quickly. I've been in schools where people are not accountable to anything because family, right so people never show up on time for meetings. Well, you know, we're a family, we have a loose culture. And so stuff doesn't get accomplished in meetings. People don't get their paperwork in on time because we're a family and you know, cultures lose and I knew you'd have good intentions and Ansel stuff doesn't get done efficiently. People are not being held accountable. Because again, the family is more important than the work.

Next thing that often happens is that family implies similarity, right? 

The reason that we're family is that we share DNA, we share blood. That's what a family is. That's what creates at its very element a family. And so what happens is that in cultures that are family oriented, you tend to gravitate towards people who are like you, you tend to gravitate towards hiring people who share your same outlook and share your same temperament and, and share your same perspective. And so the more you create a family atmosphere, the less diverse the culture becomes over time. Because again, we're trying to preserve the family. So you pick people that are a good fit for the family, rather than picking people who are bringing the diverse talents and perspectives that are needed to get you to 100%. The longer you stay stuck in this family atmosphere, the more that you begin to quiet people begin to stateful thing, opinions that are that feel different, because again, you're trying to keep the peace, you're trying to preserve the family, the more you begin to focus on conformity and compliance, because again, we don't want to upset the applecart, we have to preserve the family, the more you begin to look for people who look like you, because you are a family, and you want people like you to join your family, you don't want anybody to different because they will upset your family. Another challenge with having families is that, that that a lot of times, family dysfunction creeps into the workplace, people get emotional, they begin to fight, they get feeling hurt feelings. Think about all the dysfunctions that happen in families. And then ask yourself, do you want that creeping into your workplace? Do you want those dysfunctions just show up in meetings, but a lot of times when you have a family atmosphere, and you adopt the persona of a family, you also start to introduce into the workplace, a lot of family dysfunction. Alright, so again, I get it. I mean, people love the idea of working together, we're loyal to each other, we look out for each other, we see each other as human beings, you know, that's the best thing that happened. But here's the thing, you can have all of that without creating a family atmosphere. So what do you do instead? If it's not a family, what do you have? Well, as builders, we like to build communities, not families.

Now, why communities, first of all, a community is a group of people who have come together for a specific purpose. Everybody has a role, there's lots of diversity, we need each other, it's codependent, we're all working towards the same thing. But we get to maintain our own individual identity, their own individual homes within the community, you still have this connection and, and this cohesion that happens, but you don't bring in the dysfunctions. Nobody is expected to, you know, get along and love each other. And, and that's not the expectation of a community. Like when you walk into a family, you're you you are expected to everybody's supposed to love each other and get along. And so you put up with a lot of stuff, right? Think about, you know, being at the Thanksgiving table, or some holiday table. And you've got that uncle that spouts all kinds of foolishness at the table politically, or, you know, is slightly misogynistic because of a generational piece or, you know, whatever, says something that's vaguely racist, and, you know, share something at the dinner table that is offensive. A lot of times people will just say, Well, you know, that's, that's uncle owl, he, you know, he does that. But you know, he's a good guy, we love him. He's been doing it for years. You overlook stuff, you make excuses for stuff you put up with stuff, but in a community that would never be tolerated because it threatens the health of the community. And so that's the difference. When you think about a family and you think about, you know, creating this sense of permanence, you know, because you're bound by blood and DNA and a community, you move in, you move out, people move in and out all the time. And every time somebody moves in, we look to find out how do we help them be a part of this community feel connected to the community and contribute to the community and a family. You have a lot of dysfunctions that come because there's so much emotional attachment and expectations around family and a community lot less dysfunction, right? Because you don't come in with the same expectations. There's not that same motor, emotion and a commute To me, it's about a greater good in a family, it's about preserving the family above all else. And a community, it's about achieving the goals of the community, above all else, and I could go on and on and on. What I'm hoping you'll see, however, is that you don't have to be a family to have a healthy culture. And in fact, trying to promote a family culture or preserving a family culture may actually be holding you back, may actually be keeping you from your goals may actually be undermining the work you're doing and keeping you stuck, and good enough, because you're so busy trying to build a family. What builders do is we say we're a community, not a family, doesn't mean I don't care about you doesn't mean that I don't support you doesn't mean that I just treat you as a cog in our machine to get to our goal.

No, as a community, everybody is valuable. 

You know, another thing about families that that family dynamics that I see in a lot of schools, is that because you're a family, every family has a mommy and a daddy, I mean, I mean, every family has, has parents. And so when you have a school, that is a family atmosphere, you as the leader in that family, you start taking on characteristics of being a parent, rather than being a professional. So you start to feel like you have to take care of everybody. And that's why a lot of y'all are just so burned out right now. Because you're trying to be parent, instead of building a community where everybody's doing work and moving towards your goal. And so as a result, you're the bottleneck in your school, you're the one that everybody comes to, to resolve conflicts. I mean, how many times have you been in your office? And you are being people come into your office wanting adults, you know, wanting you to solve interpersonal conflicts, as if you were, you know, refereeing a brother and sister fight? Because why? Because you're a family, and families need parents and families expect parents to do things for them. You How many times have you decided to stay late, and do the extra work and send everybody else home? Because you know, we're family? And I'll just do more? Because I want to watch out for them. How, how many times have you been up late worrying about something in your building, because as the parent in that family, you feel is your responsibility to solve everybody else's problems, to make it safe for everybody else to work to do extra so that other people can feel safe and comfortable? That's the challenge of being a family.

But in a community, everybody's pulling their own weight, there is no mommy, No daddy, in a community, you even you have people who occupy different positions. But those positions are interconnected, those positions are mutually responsible to each other. And so there's far less of a hierarchy and more of a team pulling together to achieve a bigger goal. Which means then that instead of feeling like you have to figure it out for people as you would in a family, you're part of a community and you're figuring out how do I create structures and that empower people to take ownership of their own problems and solve their own problems? How do I put things in place so that the community thrives rather than refereeing fights amongst people, you put structures in place, you know, communities often have constitutions or, or laws or things that they've all agreed upon together. And so you abide by those that vision, mission and core values, and use that so that other people solve their own problems, and you're not in the middle of it. And that's the power of building that community. So here's my challenge for you this week. As we come to the end of the school year, and you're being reflective about your culture. How many times have you been operating? From the premise that your community is a family? And because it's a family and you're the parent in that family? How many times have you stayed late? How many times have you worked weekends? How many times have you done things that you had no business doing? Because you felt that you had to as the parent of that family? Stop. It's not working.

I mean, that's the most important reason to stop not just because it's, it's, it's, you know, it's it's exhausting and all of that, because, I mean, there's some things that are exhausting that are absolutely worth it, because you get the payoff at the end. But the more you do this, the more that you intervene, the more you take on the parent role in that family. The more work you create for yourself and the more dysfunction you create in your school. So stop. It is it's not serving your team to take on stuff to protect them to shield them. To hide them, these are grownups. Right. What you should be doing as the builder is looking and seeing what what are the obstacles in their way? What are the pressures that they're facing, and then build something better build a structure, where you eliminate those obstacles so that people can be their best selves. And then they can give their best selves to their students, your job is not to throw yourself in front of every train to save your quote, unquote, children, your job is to stop making it an either or situation to begin with, untie them from the train tracks, set them free, so that you don't ever have to worry about it again, the horrible metaphor, but you get my point, right? The your job is not to rescue people or parent people. Your job as a builder is to put structures in place that eliminate obstacles that allow people to do their best work, so that you can achieve a goal for your students. And the moment you shift from thinking of yourself as this, you know, parent, in your school, to thinking of yourself as a builder of a community, in your school, every thing changes everything. 

So that's my challenge for you this week. 

Oh, you think about that seriously. And a lot of the work we do and build a ship University is about putting those structures in place. And what's so wonderful about doing that is that every time you put a structure in place, that helps you take yourself out of the parent role, and put yourself into the builder role. You create more space for other people to step up. And it's not like you're abandoning the role and saying, I'm tired, y'all do it? No, it's that you are stepping out of a role you never should have been in the first place. So that you can step into a role that is that where you were supposed to be all along. When you stop parenting your staff, and you start building a school where everybody can thrive. That's what opens things up. That's what creates that, that that positive culture, that's what creates that forward momentum. That's what helps other people step up. You know, people, I know, they act like they want to be parented. But in most cases, they really don't, they just don't have another opportunity, though. Because they're, they're stuck in a culture, that's a family. So the only way that I can get something done is I have to go to mommy, and daddy and main office and get their permission, or get their intervention in order to get stuff done. And so people get trapped there.

But when you create a community, instead of a family, you open up space for people to step into the role that they should be occupying your staff is not that your staff is not your kid, your your your staff, or group of professionals that you're working with together to build a vision, mission and core values. So stop, if you have been trying to build a family. And as a result, you've occupied that parental role. Stop. Stop being a builder, focus on building community, focus on putting structures in place that are empowering, focus on removing obstacles that get in the way of other people being empowered to take on this work, focus not on the culture, but on the bigger vision, mission and core values and that reshapes your culture. And of course, if you want to learn how to do that, then I would invite you to join us and fellowship university that's exactly what we do their you know, level want to build a ship University is really about putting the structures in place, so that people begin to take ownership. And what's amazing than this, that's I can't wait for you to hear these success stories this summer, when we do start talking about the secrets of success is that when people do that, they think that everything's gonna fall apart, but the culture gets better. Because when you stop being a family, you get rid of all the dysfunctions that come with family, you get rid of all the pre pre existing roles that people are trapped in and families, you get rid of all of the, you know, the misplaced loyalties that come with being a family, you get rid of all of the junk and baggage that comes with being a family and you can now free people up to be the professionals that they were meant to be. And that only happens when you start building community and set a family like a builder. 

I'll talk to you next time.

Hey, if you're ready to get started being a builder right away, then I want to invite you to join us at builder ship University. It's our exclusive online community for builders just like you where you'll be able to get the exact training that you need to turn your school into a success story right now with the people and resources you already have. Inside. You'll find our best online courses, live trainings with me tons of resources, templates and exemplars and monthly live office hours with me where you can ask me anything and get my help on whatever challenge you're facing right now. If you're tired of hitting obstacle after obstacle and you're sick of tiny little incremental gains each year, if you're ready to make a dramatic difference in your school right now, then you need to Join builders ship University.

 Just go to and get started writing your school success story today.

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