PROVE or IMPROVE – My pride in the 99

You can make the same shift as 99 students of whom I am greatly proud. They inspire me to make the same choice that I commend to you today. They chose to improve, rather than to prove.

I’ve had a 100 undergrads this semester. I required that they take the Student Leadership Practices Inventory (360), which had them answer 30 questions about how they lead. They also had to send the tool to at least 5 observers. Then when they got their results back, they had to write a 2-3 page reflection.

Over the past 3 weeks I have graded those 100 reflection papers.  And just one person.  Only one of 100 argued with their results. That person wrote things like, “most of them don’t see me up close,” and “they don’t realize what I have to deal with,” and “they don’t know why I have to work the way I do.” This person was PROVING that s/he was okay and missing the chance for IMPROVING how s/he behaved.

We have a choice, when it comes to feedback — in a 360, but also in the day-to-day feedback that comes, for example, from a frustrated parent, a challenging boss, an angry teenager, or a confused employee.  We can choose our stand-point.  Will I (without consciously choosing to, but out of mental habit) defend — from my perspective; prove my position, rightness, and my legitimacy or worth?  Or can I choose to take the standpoint of learning about the other’s standpoint and gain the opportunity to improve how I work with them?

I was so proud of how my students chose to listen, to learn, to pore over their data, and to write about their strategies to continue paying attention and practicing new tools of leading.  They know – because we’ve discussed it a lot – that people can’t see their intent, only their behaviors.  So the 99 could see this wasn’t a judgment of their character or person, but only a reflection on their actions.  And they know that just as others can’t see their intent (or values, experience, beliefs, etc.), so also they can’t see what others perceive and believe unless they ask.  So, they’re asking and listening.

So often when we think of leaders, we think of SPEAKERS.  We can choose to improve by continually realizing that it’s through LISTENING that we

Lead with our best self!

  • Bravo, Dan – 100 papers, even short papers, is a lot, but you are giving the students the kind of feedback they need and don’t get from so many academic exercises that don’t include both critical thinking and communication!

  • Amen. Always inspirational Dan! I look forward to Mondays and reading your prospective. I read recently, the letters in LISTEN when rearranged spell SILENT:) That’s what you have to be to reflect, right? The lesson for the day: Listen, be silent and reflect, improve. SPOT ON.~ xo M

  • The one student who argued with their results, if that is a fair way to describe it, describes a situation we all find ourselves at times. We act, and do not explain, or act without considering how people will interpret the act. We can say that people do not see our intent, but they certainly do find an intent in our actions, and judge us by this.

    There is the reverse lesson to what you taught, which is we should not judge people’s actions so harshly, unless we really understand their situations.

    In this case, your lesson, no matter how many times repeated, did not reach the one student. Have you asked whether your behavior could be improved so as to have reached that one outlier?

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