People don't tear down
what they helped build


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You're listening to School Leadership Reimagined episode number 61

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 a challenge that I've been hearing a lot of you tell me that you're facing at your schools right now. So tell me if this sounds familiar. You see something happening in your school that's not working and you want to fix it. So you come in with the thing that you think will fix it, and you honestly believe that if everybody in your school would just do this thing, then it would be better for kids. Everyone would be better off. And so you come to your staff, you present your idea. Maybe it's a new curriculum, maybe it's a new master schedule format. Maybe it's something as simple as how you're going to handle lunches or, or you're going to devote more time for math because you're seeing a dip in maths boards, whatever it is.

You go to your staff and you tell them,"This is where we're headed right now and here's why." 

You explain it all to them and you meet resistance. Maybe it's passive aggressive resistance where they nod in the meeting and then they leave the meeting and they have the meeting after the meeting where they totally destroy what you just said. Maybe it's more active resistance where people are going around and they're not only refusing, but they're getting other people to refuse to do what you're asking them to do. Or maybe people are, you know, kind of doing part of what you're asking them to do, but not the whole thing. Maybe they get more active than that. Maybe they call the union on you and report you to the union and and try to get you fired because you're violating their rights. Maybe they complain. Maybe they say they're going to do it, but when they close a classroom doors, they do something else all together.

If you've ever faced anything like what I've just described, I have a Mindsteps-ism for you, but before I jump into that, I want to talk to you about builder's lab. Is he, one of the things that I've been noticing as I've been working with a lot of principals lately is this, it's really hard to create a vision that you're actually excited about. I'm not talking about a vision statement that you put on the wall, but it's not alive in your, in school. I'm talking about a vision that you really, really excited about and even if you create one, it's really hard to get your people on board so that they not only support your vision, but they're actively working to help you build that together and if you're facing kind of struggle, then I really want to invite you to build your slab because we tackle exactly that sort of thing.

At builder's lab, we spend three days together. 

We help you develop a vision that you're actually excited about and then we show you how to get your people on board so that everybody is not only supporting your vision, they are actively working together with you to help you build that vision. And then we help you figure out the right pathway so that you don't waste time doing work that doesn't matter and you can focus on the things that really do matter. And finally we help you develop a concrete 90 day plan. When you walk out of builder's lab, you will know exactly what you need to do in the next 90 days to move your school closer to your vision, your mission, and your core values. You leave with a concrete plan and then we don't just send you off with a plan and say good luck.

We actually follow up with you over the next 90 days to make sure that your plan ins and success. So we have two builders labs coming up in the summer. The first one is June 29 through July one right here in Washington DC and I have to tell you that's a great time to be in DC. That's right before the 4th of July holiday. So come to DC, extend your trip for a couple of days. Enjoy the 4th of July fireworks right here in DC.

We have a lot of free things going on then. 

So that is July, I'm sorry, June 29th of July 1st and then we have a second builders lab this summer happening out West. We're going to Vegas baby. So that builders lab is happening July 20 through 22 2020 in Las Vegas. While we're not going to be right on the strip, we're actually going to be in a gorgeous resort just off the strip.That way nobody gets distracted by slot machines. But then after builder's lab is over, if you want to go on a strip, I can't say anything cause remember what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. That's up to you. Just make sure you're back the next day on time. We've got a lot of work to do. So either of those dates. Washington D C June 29th of July one or Las Vegas, Nevada, July 25th July 22 and you can get your tickets at Mindsteps inc com slash builders dash lab. That's Mindsteps inc com slash builders dash lab. And if you have any questions, give us a call in our office. +1 888-565-8881. Okay, so I'm sure you are waiting with bated breath to find out what is the solution when people are actively trying to destroy something that you are trying to build. Well, I've got a Mindsteps isn't for you and it's simply this.

People don't destroy what they helped build. I'll say it again. People don't destroy what they helped build. So if you have people who are actively fighting something that you're doing, they're actively working against you, they are trying to destroy something that you are building, then the solution is not to get into fights with them. The solution is to invite them to build. Remember, one of the big distinctions between a boss and a leader and a builder is this. A boss says, go, a leader says let's go, and a builder says, come when you invite people to join you in building the thing that you're trying to build, rather than announcing to them that this is what we're going to do without their input or telling them. We're trying to convince them after the fact. Invite them to be in a process as you're building.

If you get them building with you, they will not destroy what they helped build.

I mean, think about it. You know there's a really interesting research study and I am going to probably massacre it, but they talk about something called the Ikea effect. Have you ever bought something from Ikea and built it yourself? You know, some piece of furniture or something? Every time I buy something from my kid, the instructions are like one page long or they're a bunch of pictures. I put something together when I'm done. I always have leftover parts and it doesn't always look alike what that piece of furniture looked like in the showroom. But you know something, it doesn't matter because I have this sense of pride because I helped build the thing. So I tell people all the time, Oh yeah, that cabinet over there, I put that together. And the the study said that I Kia effect is that idea that you enjoy something so much more when you put it together yourself.

So rather than going to the store and buying something off the shelf, you actually get more enjoyment out of something that you put together yourself. And that makes a lot of sense because again, the idea is simply this, people do not destroy what they helped build. So how do you invite people to help you build something without seeding all control to other people? How do you invite people to help you build something without having them take it over and take it in a direction that's driven by agendas that may not match yours? How do you invite people to help you build something when you're not sure if you can trust them to be a part of the process? We'll have three simple tips for you today. The first one is this, why before, what now? I'm sure by now you've seen Simon sine X Ted talk start with why.

We all know we need to start with why. 

But a lot of times we end up going in front of people after we made the decision. And when we start with why we are trying to convince them to do something that we've already decided to do. And we go and start with our why and we don't ever consider their why. So we tell people we need to do this because test scores are where they, you know, at a certain place or we tell them, we need to do this because district is coming down on us about this or we need to do this because I went to this great conference and I, I saw somebody and they worked for their schools. So maybe it can work for us or we need to do this because, um, the, the, the nation's research is saying that we need to shift in this direction and we're explaining a why, but we don't explain why they need to do it.

So what you have seen the research, so what, you went to a conference. So what the district has picked this curriculum. A lot of people say, you know, I've been in this district for a long time and they pick a new curriculum every two years. So why should I get attached to this one? If you go with your why rather than their why, then you will always fail. They'll never join you in building it because people don't care about your why. They just care about their own. Why. So yes, start with why. But don't start with your whys. Start with their why. And always start with why before what? A lot of times we sit in our offices or we sit in our leadership team meetings or we sit at our district meetings and we get a new idea or we're introduced to a new idea.

We're asked to do something new and we have time to process it. 

It may take weeks for us to think something through and just make a decision and then we go in front of our staff and we expect them to get on board and in five minutes because by that time we've already made the decision and it seems obvious to us, but you have to remember they're hearing it for the first time and so we just go on announcing and give two sentences about why and then say, okay, now go forth and let's do this. Of course you're going to get resistance. Why? Because you have started with your why because you haven't given them an opportunity to process. It's your initiative. They don't have an opportunity to own it. If you want to help people own it, if you really want them to be a part of it, you have to spend some time thinking about why it makes sense for them, why it would be good or beneficial to them to do this new thing.

And then you have to give people time to think. We get really impatient. We're saying, Oh, I've got this sense of urgency. We've got to do this right now. We don't have time to coddle adults, but these are the adults who are going to have to do what you're asking them to do. And just like it took you time to get to that point. Just like you had to process things. In order to get to that point, you've got to give people that same opportunity for time, that same opportunity for processing, or you're going to face resistance. So first start with why before, what and what does that look like? Well, it may mean that you have to spend some time talking to people before you've made a decision. This was a hard one for me, but one of my mentors told me this years ago, and I started doing it and I started seeing a difference a lot of times what I would do as a leader, my leadership style back then was that I would get a new idea, um, see a problem, read, research, whatever.

I would spend a couple of days or a couple of weeks really thinking about it in my office all alone. 

And then once I figured out the solution, I would emerge from my office and I would announce I have the solution and my staff will look at me like, are you serious? Are you kidding me? And then I would pronounce a solution and then I'd get so frustrated that they weren't as excited about it as I was. And my mentor told me, Robin, you spent so much time thinking about it, that you're excited about it and you're giving them the punchline, but you haven't told them the joke. And so what you need to start doing is as you were thinking about it, you need to say to your staff, here's a challenge that I'm seeing and here's what I'm thinking about right now and I haven't made a decision yet, but here's what I'm considering.

And that gives people time to consider it with you. That gives people warning that this is a challenge that you're seeing. It also gives you feedback, and I would often argue, well, I don't want feedback. I'm still trying to figure it out, but via merge from my thinking cave and make an announcement and a pronouncement, and I haven't walked people through my thinking process, I haven't spent time engaging them in. Why if I haven't given them time to process along with me, then they are going to tear it down. They're going to resist. They're not going to fully commit to it. And so I've learned to do that. I've learned to say, here's something I'm thinking about right now. I'm just starting to think about it. It's something that I'm exploring. I'm not even sure I'm ready to hear feedback on it yet. But I wanted to give you a heads up that this is where my head is right now. And just doing that kind of created a calm, you know, when to, even now when I do that with my team, they get an opportunity to kind of process with me. And then the why becomes a lot more obvious because they've been along for my whole thinking process. 

So the first step is to start with WHY before, WHAT.

So now everybody should get on board. Cause I've explained to them why it's really about bringing people along your thinking process throughout the entire thinking process so that they can start to understand why. And it's also about considering more than just your why, but also thinking about what is their why and presenting the idea to them in a way that also appeals to their why. Now, the second tip is that when you are trying to build something, if you don't want people to destroy it, you're going to have to find constructive ways for people to give you pushback in a way that doesn't become destructive to your idea.

Remember, people don't tear down what they helped build. So if you are going in front of people with a new idea, with a new initiative, if you don't give people time to push back, if you don't give them an opportunity to be heard, then they can't support it. They don't feel like they're part of building it. So one of the things that we figured out a few years ago was that in every transformation process, there needs to be a time early in the process. Once they understand thinking, to give people time to legitimately push back and to hear it. And if you're anything like me, you don't like to hear people push back. I used to hate it. I would get knots in my stomach when people came into my office and they pushed back. They complained. I don't like it. To this day, I am. You know, I, I work really hard at it, but I do not take criticism well. I'd take it personally if you know. So if you're like me, then when I say solicit pushback, you're probably saying, are you kidding me? There's no way but hear me out.

The problem with pushback is that most of the time we don't give pushback a container. 

Then it spills all over idea and it just joys our idea before I ate. Idea even has a chance to breathe. But if you deliberately plan for pushback, you can actually solicit that pushback, put it in its proper place, in its proper perspective, and keep it from destroying your initiative. So if you don't give pushback its own special place, then people will push back anyway. They're going to do it anyway. But if you don't give it its own special place, then a lot of times the pushback comes up while you're trying to get moving. So one of the things we show you at builder's lab and one of the things that we've been teaching for several years is that in the change process you need something that we call the Explorer stage.

And during the explore stage you actually go out early in the process after you've shared your thinking and you start it with the why, then you actually go out and you intentionally solicit pushback. You let people complain you, you take in all of their complaints. I was working in a school recently and we actually did a staff meeting and people, we were introducing this new idea, we were talking about why and immediately the feeling in the room just kind of shifted and the principals up and I'm sitting in a bag and I'm supporting the principal and we're talking about why we're doing this. And people couldn't even hear the why because they were just like, Oh no, it's going to be one more thing and we don't have enough time as it is. And you know the complaints started and usually when that happens, you know, as a leader, what you've been taught to do is you try to convince them that they're not as stressed as they really are or try to convince people that it's not going to be one more thing when it, that's the way it feels.

A lot of times that's the way it actually is. 

And what this principal did because he's shifting from leadership to buildership is instead of trying to defend his idea, instead of trying to address the pushback, he said, tell me more. And then he people got started and so that it wouldn't become this kind of pile on where you know everybody's negativity is feeding everybody else's. He says, no, I don't want you to talk about it. I want you to think about what I'm asking. And then he passed out a sticky note and he said, before you leave, I want you to write down one concern you have and any questions that you have about the process. And then what he did is he and his admin team took all of notes back to their office. They looked at them, they examine the pushback, they categorize it.

Some of it was legitimate, others, it wasn't necessarily legitimate, but it signaled kind of some angst that was happening under the surface with his staff and then he went back to his staff and he began to talk about some of the things that they were saying and he used their words to talk about it and so now because he's using their words, they feel like they've been heard, but they also feel like their words are now a part of the process. It's powerful. Something as simple as that where people feel like, you know what? I am a part of this process because I did have an opportunity to share my concerns, to ask questions, to make suggestions, and now people are on board. Even though there's still some trepidation among some of his staff about this initiative that he's trying to do. People are on board because just by creating a space for their pushback, now they own part of it.

Now they have helped build this thing! 

They've also made some adjustments because there were some legitimate concerns. And again, that signals that this is something that we are building together. This is not an initiative I am pushing on you. We're going to build it together. So the third thing that you can do to kind of get people to help you build something so that they won't destroy it is that you need to get people involved immediately. And that brings me to the third tip, which is simply this. If you want people to help you build something, rather than try to destroy it, you have to give them the tools. And so what does that mean? Does it mean that you announced an initiative and then say, so next week everybody's required to go to training and then to get a thick binder and then they're expected to do it.

That's not what I mean. Sometimes you have to give people the tools that are not so tangible. Sometimes you have to give people different kinds of tools. Um, for instance, let's say you want to go to PLCs. Well, what I've seen a lot of schools do is they announced we're doing PLCs, they put people in a room together and then they expect them to play nice and they never show them how to work or they put them in a room together. They give them some, you know, highly scripted agenda that they have to follow or a protocol that they have to follow. And they never talk to people about why they need to follow that protocol or how that protocol can help them. And so the best they get, it's compliance or sometimes those tools are not so tangible, like a protocol or an agenda.

Sometimes the tools are a lot more intangible. 

So people say, okay, we're going to go and examine data. And then we give people a whole bunch of data and all the tools and the protocols examined data, but we don't kind of equip people to work with each other, to ask questions of each other to, to really create a highly functioning team. If you want to have people help you build, but you don't them the tools that they need to help you build, they'll tear it down. You've got to give them the tool. So here's what I mean by that. Let's say that you want, uh, people to plan lessons differently. You want to increase differentiated instruction. I'm not just talking about sending people to DII training. I'm not just talking about giving people a DUI book or having them watch a webinar. I'm talking about sitting down first telling them that you're thinking about moving to more differentiated instruction, talking about why you think that's a need for your school, soliciting their pushback and then asking them in order to make this work, what needs to happen.

And sometimes they're going to say things like, I need more time, or I need more resources. You're going to hear that. But when people say they need more time, often they're saying, I need better tools. I need better help prioritizing. Sometimes they're really saying I need more time. And you have to be able to dig that, dig through that and figure it out. But what you want to do is you want to start asking them, what do you need? You want to start observing people. I remember one school we worked in and we were having them do some co-planning and we realized that there were some interpersonal skills that were missing for some of the teachers.

They hated going to co-planning because they didn't know how to make their ideas heard in this group of very vocal teachers. 

And so they ended up sitting back in the back and not contributing at all. Because I said nobody listens to me. And when we created some, some protocols not, I hate to use the protocols because you know, I imagined the sheet where you say this and I say that, but we worked them through, we gave them some ideas about how they can enter into that conversation and get their ideas heard. And once we did that, that teacher who was kind of surly and sitting back and kind of, you know, poo-pooing the, the, the planning meetings became a big advocate for the planning meetings. Another school where I worked, they were doing a new curriculum and the teachers had gotten the curriculum, but they were struggling with the new curriculum and it came down to the fact that they didn't understand how to kind of take the standards that were in the new curriculum and really understand what those standards were asking students to do or how those standards were asking students to think.

We went back and we showed them how to do that, and all of a sudden the new curriculum is great. They're advocates for the new curriculum, so if you want people to help you build, you have to give them the tools they need to help you build. And sometimes those tools are not tangible things like curriculum guides or pacing guides or data sheets. Sometimes those tools are intangible things like interpersonal skills or space and how to organize the space or strategies for understanding some of the underlying assumptions of your curriculum. So when you're looking at launching something new, don't just think about all of the kind of surface things. Also figure out what are the skills, what are the tools that my staff really needs to not only just comply, but to actually take this and own this for themselves. Remember, people do not destroy what they helped build.

So let's recap what you can do to help people build rather than destroy. 

Number one. Why before what? And it's not just your why. It has to be there. Why to number two? You actually need to actively solicit pushback. Don't dread pushback. Create a space for it because even their pushback is helping you build. And then number three, make sure that people have the right tools that they need to build. Sometimes those tools are tangible, but in a lot of cases, those tools are actually intangible. And if you can give people the right tools, they're more likely to help you build. Is he? Here's the thing, a lot of times when people are destroying something that we bring to them, it's because they don't have any connection to it. They don't, they don't feel like they own it. But when you can help people feel like they own it, that they're a part of it, then they won't destroy it.

I mean, we don't destroy our own stuff. So if you can get people involved in building early in the process, they're less likely to destroy it. So the next time you're trying to launch something in your school, rather than presenting it to people after you've emerged from your thinking, gave actually get people involved early. Get them started building because that's what builders do. Builders build other builders, so get people involved right away so that rather than destroying what you're trying to build, they can help you build it together like a builder. Now let's talk about next week where I'm going to be bringing to you another Mindsteps ism. And this one is one of my favorites. In fact, a superintendent said to me recently that he's going to actually have this printed on a tee shirt. Are you ready for it? Here it is. The fish rots from the head... Now I'll tell you what that means next time. 

And until then, don't forget about builder's lab. Just go to That's to get your tickets and I'll talk to you next time.

I'll talk to you next time.

Bye for now. See you next time. 

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