Over my Christmas break, while I was trying to focus on other things (with limited success), I started to think about the idea of authenticity within leadership. I started to pay close attention to much of what I was seeing posted online, particularly on twitter, by 'leaders in education' and I couldn't help but feel some disappointment. You see, without sounding overly critical, I got this feeling that many of the gurus out there in cyberspace (some of whom I have had real-life interactions with) might have authenticity issues. Here's the thing, our current (very useful) culture of positive thinking looks down on anything that resembles "negativity", however, if we're thinking critically, we can't simply accept everything that is thrown our way; this connects perfectly to the kind of digital literacy that we have to teach our students: beware of disingenuous individuals; don't "buy everything that popular people are selling" just because they happen to be popular and ALWAYS, ALWAYS think for yourself. Now, as ironic as it may sound, within education I'm finding a number of individuals whose leadership and influence simply wouldn't stand up to the kind of analysis I've described here; I'm seeing this as a phenomenon that applies to the leadership (not only admin or beyond) within our profession at large.
So, what exactly am I trying to say? First and foremost, whether it's in person or online, those who have decided to influence others, those who have decided, even if only through accepting a particular position, to LEAD are obliged to earn the respect and TRUST of those they'd hope to lead. Leadership is difficult - I will certainly concede that! - But the very first step, and quite possibly the most important step, in leadership is to earn the trust of those you'd like to positively influence.
So how can we (and yes, I do consider all of us capable of providing positive influence in our profession), earn the trust of those we'd hope to influence? Dr. Joe Martin says that students ask three questions of their teachers and I agree with him; while watching the video, consider that the students he's referring to are professionals you'd hope to influence:
My biggest concern while following tweets and other social media posts from "leaders in education" stems from question three. I find myself wondering if the gurus always "mean what they say", not because I don't think they are experts, but because it often seems that they aren't taking the time to evaluate what they post or think thoroughly about the quality and/or standpoint that they are sharing, retweeting, etc. I'm also not a fan of the "retweet is not an endorsement" disclaimer that has found its way into several profiles.
Rather than simply outlining a concern, I have come up with four tips to help potential influencers in avoiding the trust and authenticity issues that I have noticed:
Read everything you post THOROUGHLY!
Have you ever had a friend share one of those misinformed Facebook posts? You know, the ones that attack not-for-profits and charities with made up statistics for example? Leaders can't make the mistake of posting misinformation: either your reputation will suffer or those who follow your lead will be misinformed - neither option has a good outcome for you or the profession.
Respond when people interact with you!
Heaven forbid that a like-minded professional tries to make contact with you OVER SOCIAL MEDIA! It makes sense that influencers with large followings might have to be very economical with their 'reply time', but I don't think that gives anyone license to be that "sorry, too many followers, too important" person. Even 'liking' a reply or comment might be enough acknowledgement for someone trying to interact with you.
It often seems that some gurus are just sitting there at a desk hammering the share button at a few websites of choice, maybe a couple of days a week - this is probably not the best example of digital leadership. We don't have to be glued to our smartphones or tablets, but mobilization of knowledge is exactly where our society, and education in general, is heading; those who seek to lead and influence the profession should model this reality (within reason, of course).
Create your own content!
I don't mean tweet a picture of your family dinner here (though you certainly can!). I just mean that influencers would do well to create some content that is relevant to their role rather than ONLY sharing the great thinking of others (the value of which I am not dismissing). 'Your own content' could include a broad range of items including blogs, photos, musings, lesson plans, and any other relevant, shareable content. Most influencers do a fairly decent job on this one.
To sum up, we all have the capacity to influence our profession and the digital tools that we have access to provide us with a forum to reach an audience of educators who are willing to listen and be influenced. If our colleagues are listening to us, we better make sure that we're genuine and authentic. Those of us who are in a position to lead (which is arguably all of us!) should work at earning the trust of the professionals we may have influence over and these four pointers provide some influence that I hope will be helpful.