Mar 14, 2023
More often than not, things feel normal again at schools. At least that’s what I’ve seen and heard from you and your colleagues, most recently during the 2023 NBOA Annual Meeting in Los Angeles this past February. Concerns about the health and wellness of our students, faculty and staff, however, remain in the zeitgeist. And when the wellbeing of any of these groups is frayed, emotions can run high.
I continue to be impressed by the quality of conversations among school leadership regarding the commitment to faculty, staff and student wellness and the ways leadership backs that commitment thoughtfully and with the appropriate human and financial resources. But even in the best of circumstances, staying attuned to emotional undercurrents of the community will serve leaders well. That’s why I read with great interest the recent Harvard Business Review article, “ Managing Your Team’s Emotional Dynamic,” authored by Amit Goldenberg. The article is rich with key takeaways for leaders looking to understand emotional undercurrents and ways to channel these human reactions.
Consider these hypothetical scenarios, adapted for the independent school context. Example one: an individual faculty member, let’s say a department head, tells you they feel strongly that they are not receiving the financial resources that they need. Example two: you sit in on a faculty meeting in which two or three faculty begin voicing that their academic areas need more financial support and that the current budget process seems inadequate — and perhaps additional voices pile on. The first situation with a single individual is going to be much easier to manage than the second with the group. Sometimes feelings take on a life of their own, Goldenberg explains.
Dealing directly with the emotional response when it’s contained to one individual or avoiding it in the first place are both, of course, desirable. But when you need to address team-wide emotions — and all leaders most likely will at some point — Goldenberg offers tools that may help. These three areas stood out as relevant to our schools:
When emotions are running high, it’s up to leaders within schools to respond to them strategically, based on the specific circumstances. Endeavoring to bottle up frustration or even anger in the long-term will become only more damaging and unhealthy. Instead, engaging a strategy or two, like those outlined here, provides you and the team the opportunity to address the core issue, regain cultural equilibrium and refocus on achieving the next accomplishment. I hope that the next time you uncover this dynamic, you will feel better prepared to lead the team forward in a way that people feel both heard and motivated to make progress.