Leading is Listening

By: Mallory Ellington

Before this school year started I had to take a strengths finder personality test. We were using it as an aspect of our professional development to start the year. Personally, I was looking forward to spending time looking at the strengths of our school’s faculty. We had plenty of technology and online related sessions planned, but a chance to still get to know my coworkers while sitting six feet away or in our own classrooms was what I wanted the most.

I had not taken this particular kind of test since college and honestly could not remember what my results were then. Nothing came as too big of a surprise as I read over my current results, but one description that stood out was ‘developer.’ I felt that this would be important as I took on a new role as 8th grade team lead this year and it was certainly something I had seen put to good use when I ran a residential summer camp program.

Honestly, I love to lead. At one point, earlier in life, I would have never believed this to be true or even thought possible. But somewhere along the way I discovered that I enjoyed it and was able to cultivate skills in order to lead well. And this is one of the things I love most about leading, I get to develop the teams I am leading, I get to develop the individuals I am leading. I get to honor the differences in each of my team members and help ensure they are seen and heard.

I always want to hear and see all sides, all stories. As I have gotten older this desire to hear all sides and stories has only grown. Every voice deserves to be heard, everyone should get an opportunity to say what is on their mind, what is on their heart. No voice should be silenced and all should have a seat at the table.

Unfortunately, that is not reality for all people. There are voices that are shut out because they aren’t dominant or because they were not invited to speak or even be there in the first place. I used to think that it was my job to speak up for those voices. But I was missing the bigger picture. Yes, there are moments when someone literally cannot speak for themselves and someone can step in. But the reality is, all voices should be heard. And if I have a seat at the table, if I have the mic in front of me then I want to make sure I pass that mic along. It should not be about me speaking up for everyone around me, instead I should step back and allow them to speak.

Leading teams continues to make it clear to me that everyone deserves the opportunity to speak for themselves. So as I lead, as I develop my teams (whether I select who is on the team or not) I work to make sure that everyone has a seat at the table. That everyone has the opportunity to speak and be heard. My greatest desire is to make sure that this is true. Being a leader does not mean that my voice is the most valuable or that I deserve the best seat at the table. Being a leader means I honor the voices around me. I honor the differences in my team and ensure that they are heard.

Voices should be heard, talents seen, and growth cultivated. Working in teams allows us to see differences and be made better by them. Different backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives are a good and necessary thing. One person does not hold all the answers or all understanding, recognizing and leaning into differences is important and to the benefit of all. So listen to the person to your left, to your right, and much further down the table. Because each of those voices and stories matters.

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