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Before You Blame the Leader.....

April 23, 2018

It happens to people that I admire all too often, and every time it does, the sting lingers. They work hard to serve others only to find themselves distrusted and even disrespected, and this leaves them feeling far more than merely frustrated. It leaves them feeling betrayed as well. 

 

Have you been there?

 

I have, and I was reminded of this when Lisa Meade bravely threw down some great perspective on her blog Sunday morning. 

 

 

Go read her post and then understand: It left me reeling and admittedly, cheering. Loudly.

 

I know all too well how quickly leaders in any field are shamed and blamed when things go wrong or even (and this is my favorite) BEFORE things go wrong. I know how many of my own friends and colleagues in the field of education quietly endure this reality day after day, too. 

 

I empathize. Strongly. And perhaps you might wonder why. After all, I'm not a superintendent or a curriculum director or a principal. I'm just the person that some of them hire to facilitate professional learning and even, very hard conversations. This makes me a different kind of leader inside of many different schools and districts: One that is called upon temporarily, depended upon heavily, and discarded easily, if that should become a more comfortable alternative to necessary but uncomfortable change.

 

What's more, I know that often, the misinformed skeptics inside of any system believe me to be far less trustworthy than any or all of their other leaders combined, simply because I'm a consultant. And not just any kind of consultant.....an independent consultant. 

 

That reality provokes distrust and even disrespect from many who feel that trust must be earned, including people I once called friends. 

 

"We hate consultants," one of them admitted to me, not so long ago. She's in a leadership position of sorts herself and has some influence over who does what inside of her local system. The first one to complain when she feels she's being unfairly judged, I was surprised by her thoughtlessness and spent some time rationalizing it in order to avoid accepting her low opinion of people like....me.

 

Maybe she forgot that I was a consultant, I told myself.

 

Perhaps she was trying to impress me as a no-nonsense woman who couldn't be easily duped. 

 

Or maybe she assumed I was desperate to work there and this was a bit of preventative boundary setting.

 

I'm uncertain what her intentions were, but it still hurts when I think about it.  And it should. Her words were ignorant and thoughtless. 

 

Don't get me wrong: I know that some consultants are overpaid and under worked. Some have questionable expertise. Others are charismatic but ill-equipped to provoke let alone sustain meaningful learning or work inside of any system. Perhaps my friend wanted me to admit that I've suffered under their leadership, as much as anyone else has. And I have. Too many of us have, and this is why it stings so much when anyone paints consultants with a wide brush. 

 

The consultants I admire have incredible expertise which requires a level of study --not simply academic degrees, but daily, dedicated study--that few are willing to pursue once they've earned the letters after their name. They often sacrifice long and short term job security and all of the benefits that go along with it--including health insurance and retirement--in order to do what they do, too.

 

Consultants are often the last to know but the first to be blamed when things go wrong inside of a system, and while they might be appreciated by other leaders they're often distrusted by those they lead long before they even make formal introductions.

 

Many are distrusted from the moment they begin defining themselves as consultants, and because they know they are distrusted, they also know that they must work much harder than many professionals do in order to over-deliver, provide immediate support, and lean in and listen hard to those they serve. Including and especially those who spend significant time undermining them at every pass. 

 

So why do they do it?

 

I can promise you that most aren't motivated by money. If they were, they'd pick a far more predictable path. Consulting rarely provides a steady paycheck, and even when it should, invoices aren't always processed efficiently. Expenses are high as well, and consultants aren't paid for their sick or personal or vacation days. 

 

Yeah, most consultants do what they do because they have incredibly good intentions. And those intentions are often the byproduct of painful lessons and experiences. 

 

Intentions, not motives. The distinction matters, and Lisa clarified it for me. Maybe this is clarifying for you, too. Perhaps it can help you get clear with others. 

 

What happens when we don't trust people--right out of the gate--to do good work for the right reasons?

 

What happens when we question peoples' motives before we come to understand their intentions?

 

And for crying out loud--why can't we have begin by having faith in people and trusting them unless they earn our distrust?

 

Finally, why does it feel okay to distrust, disrespect, and undermine people who appear to have more authority or power or control than we do?

 

How is that even helpful?

 

More importantly, how might we stop being hurtful?

 

Ellen is always good to remind me that human beings are hard-wired for negativity, and we're largely unconscious of it. This helps me understand people like my consultant-hating friend. Hurt people hurt people. I get this. And it cools the sting.  A little. 

 

I'm still grateful to Lisa for starting this conversation though, and I'm hoping that others will contribute to it as well. 

 

How might we get better at distinguishing a leader's motives from his or her intentions?

 

I hope you'll drop by again on Wednesday, because Ellen will be sharing some thoughts that might shine a brighter light on these phenomena and illuminate better pathways forward. We'd love to talk with you more inside of our Facebook group as well. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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