Helpful Not Successful

Certain compliments or feedback just hit you in an extra special way.

The world is filled with knowers of things. People who are as my friend, Molly, would say, “experts in their own opinions.”

The older I get, the less drawn I am to the knowing people. I’m more drawn to the curious people. Curiosity is life-giving. Knowing feels like the end, and I don’t draw energy from it.

So when I say someone is coachable, it’s one of my highest compliments. I don’t mean it in a way that suggests that they have deficits or need coaching. I mean it in the sense of, “Wow, I love how this person is an open-minded learner.”

I was recently leading a mid-year performance review with a colleague whom I admire deeply. I had so much fun celebrating this person in writing and calling out their unique gifts and talents which are having a deeply, positive and profound impact on our school district. It was such a delight. I didn’t want the writing to end. It brought me great joy, and it brought me great joy to watch this person read it too.

At the end of the conference, this individual told me that they were sending their review to their mom. I just loved that so much. It reminded me that every adult is someone’s kid, and we should handle with care. In fact, I’ve been seeing administrators on websites and when leading workshops, including a picture of their childhood selves. Such a great way to humanize ourselves especially when we seem to hold positional power and authority in rooms.

Anyway, not much later this professional came back and said, “My mom loved it. She told me she was so proud of me, but she was most proud to read that I am coachable.” Mom gets it.

I recently had the pleasure of joining George Couros on his podcast. He said something that struck me as important. He said, “I never suggest to someone something I don’t do myself.” He expands on this further in his most recent blog post. Such a good post. You can check it out here.

Anyway, I think its important that when we want to see something in our schools and organizational cultures, we first ask ourselves if we are modeling that which we want to see. If we want to grow a culture of coaching and collaboration, we must first ask ourselves to embody a culture of coaching and collaboration. By nature of titles alone, some of us have perceived positional authority. So, it may not come naturally for others to give us feedback or collaborate with us as peers. We must then create the conditions where that feels more natural. Everyone we come into contact with has something to teach us. We can learn from every person regardless of role or level of experience. The sooner we consistently model what it looks like to be coachable, the more likely it will be that others themselves will want to leverage coaching to grow their professional practices.

Modeling and conditions matter, and our ability to name what we model and WHY we are modeling it matters too. So, this is not an exhaustive list, and I’m not a coaching expert, but here are a few thoughts below for those of us trying to deepen our cultures of coaching and collaboration:

Go First

When it comes to vulnerability, go first. Whether you are a district or building leader or teacher leader, trust follows vulnerability it does not proceed it. As a job coach once told me, “Meghan, people don’t like perfect people.” Ha! There are no perfect people. You don’t need to know everything or do everything perfectly. In fact, quite the opposite. Talk about making mistakes and show others what it looks like to learn from them. Ask for input and feedback if you genuinely are struggling with something or want to make it better. Admit when you don’t know something. Doing so gives others permission to do the same. If you are growing a coaching relationships with a colleague, ask them to observe you and to give you feedback before you start a coaching cycle together. Practice being an imperfect learner in front of others. In doing so, it’s more likely that others will do the same.

Don’t Skip Over Strengths

We spend a lot of time in schools addressing “deficits.” Certainly, students need essential skills. And yes, we want to ensure that classrooms are well-managed and that we are standards-aligned with our instruction. Those types of essentials aside, we need to ensure that we aren’t spending the majority of our time on perceived weaknesses. That is energy draining versus gaining. There are incredible gifts and talents that learners, adults and students alike, bring into our schools every day. A big part of coaching is amplifying those strengths, expressing with specificity the incredible magic that we see in others, and inspiring and energizing people to deepen those strengths even further. I love working on stuff that I already feel like I’m good at. I will do what I have to – to get the other stuff done that is harder for me – the stuff I’m not so good at, but I don’t want to live in that space for the majority of my day. No one does. People have what Todd Rose would call “jagged profiles.” Dr. Tim Kubik calls us “spikey.” Whatever words you want to use, that’s part of the human experience. Our schools perform at optimal levels when we work together and leverage the strengths of each individual. Tim also said something recently that struck me. He said something like maybe it’s not about being a good teacher or a bad teacher. Maybe it’s simply about great teaching moments. And I would add, it’s about cultivating the conditions that make more great teaching moments possible. The sooner we can pull ourselves away from the crippling pressure that we are defined by every move and every mistake we make, the better. Strengths and deficits don’t define us. Our work does not define us. We can enjoy our work and believe deeply in it while also maintaining a healthy mindset about where our value comes from as human beings.

Helpful not Successful

I recently revisited a video, “The Simple Secret to Happiness” where Ryan Estis so states in so many words that instead of being focused on being successful, we should focus on being helpful, and in doing so, success will follow. I think sometimes the word “help” can make others feel like they are lacking in something so perhaps the word supportive is better. Nonetheless, the spirit behind this is important. As James P. Comer has said, “No significant learning occurs without a significant relationship.” The way we come alongside others matters. People can sense when we are truly listening to understand and when our questions are genuinely curious. People can sense when you truly want to be helpful and be a part of solutions. When we roll up ourselves and come alongside others in ways that feel helpful and supportive, that does a lot to deepen relationships and trust. When the focus is on what you can control (yourself) and how you show up for others, the intentional care you put into the process will almost always lead to great results. Focusing on doing small things well with great consistency and celebrating that growth along the way feels better than obsessing over the distance to the end result.

These jobs aren’t getting any easier, but we are getting better. So, keep being coachable. Be the change you wish to see.

Perhaps my friend, Mike Kleba, co-author of Otherful, said it best, “Our ability to impact others = how much others can impact us.”

4 thoughts on “Helpful Not Successful

Add yours

  1. Great post. Love how you described “knowing” and “curious” people. In work and home life, give me curious people! They’re so much more interesting and enjoyable to be with! It’s a skill we don’t encourage enough. I’m drawn to the curious people. I love too how you call out that everyone is someone’s child. I try to remind myself that when I have a tough conversation. Everyone has something going on that they’re facing. I think it explains better than anything else some of the crazy behaviors we see. When you’re able to get them more on the table, it addresses a lot of the challenges. Thanks for a sharing!


  2. Hello old friend. You have started off my day with some great thoughts. Happiness has been in my mind much of late. You always did, and continue to, inspire me. Hope all is well with you on your journey.


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