By: Steven G. Ezikian, MSBO Immediate Past President, Deputy Superintendent, Wayne RESA
As I am ending my term on the MSBO Board of Directors and retirement is no longer something out on the far horizon, I thought I would share in my last article in the eNews & Views, the six most important things that I have learned in my various roles as a business official and in leadership (and none of them have anything to with the GASB, Accounting Codes, the 1022 Manual, federal grant management or anything with a number in it.) So, here they are, with a little bit of commentary, and not in any particular order.
- Where ever you are, be there – This is a quote from a book about Jim Elliot, a missionary who was killed in 1956 while on mission in Ecuador. For me, this means being present in every situation. To be the most effective business official, manager, colleague, husband, father or friend, giving the people in front of you and around you your undivided attention is a gift. I have learned that to give my best to anything or anyone I have to be committed to offering all of me, in that moment, to that endeavor and not just a part of me.
- You are who you are when no one is looking – I think I got this one second hand, but I believe it is from a book by Bill Hybels. It speaks of integrity. It is about understanding who you really are when you have no possibility of an audience. When you are assessing your own virtue it is not what you do, what you say or how you act when you have an audience, but about what you say, do, act or think alone in the car or in the seclusion of your own head. This has been a bit of a reality check when I go to the place where I think too highly of myself and then find deep humility in my own reflection in the mirror.
- In any conflict you must assume that you are at least 10% at fault – I know exactly where this came from. It was in 2002, and from Chuck Dean, a man I served with as an elder of the church I attended. There was an animated discussion going on amongst those of us involved in church leadership. It quickly became apparent that there was some animosity between two of the elders in the group. Chuck stood up and looked at the two elders and then the rest of us and said, “I have found it really helpful when I am trying to resolve conflict, instead of trying to feed conflict, if I assume that I am 10% at fault with regard to the conflict. It is easier to come to an amicable resolution instead of having polarizing positional arguments when you have to admit that it is at least partially your fault.”
- Listen – From a study we did at Wayne RESA around Cognitive Coaching based on the books and materials by Robert Garmston. Listening is not just hearing. Real listening seeks to hear (or read) to understand. That means you ask probing questions, and have reflective conversations and paraphrase while receiving information from others to ensure, as much as possible, that you understand what the other party is trying to convey. Obtaining a high level of understanding from the communications that you receive is your responsibility as a listener. If the person or topic that you are communicating with and about is important, the obligation rests on you to do everything that you can to understand the message and intent. I highly recommend Garmston’s work.
- Compromise is not a failure – In my second school business official position in 1994 I was told, after I accepted the position, “oh, by the way, you are the district’s chief labor negotiator!” How convenient that they left this tidbit out of the interview process. Well, armed with my high ideals, lots of data, my five-year budget projection and all my positions on any topic that might come up in the negotiations process, I went into my first negotiations session with the teacher’s union and soon realized that just because I could speak from now until the end of time about my budgets and my positions and ideals, that does nothing to help you come to an agreement with a union who shares none of those things. Having had my high horse kicked out from underneath me, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to attend a pilot program offered by the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service on what I now understand to be the genesis of what we now call Interest Based Bargaining. The idea is that both parties in the negotiations process agree to follow a prescribed format to present each parties “interests” around the labor relationship. Interests are not positions. Interests speak to things that each party is trying to solve through the negotiations process and engages the other party to help solve those things collaboratively. Admittedly, this process takes a big commitment of time, but also yields more sustainable results. Over time I have used this process not only in at the negotiations table but in any situation where there may be dissimilar positions regarding how to approach an issue. The process forces each party to place value in the other party’s interest and kindles productive and collaborative problem solving.
- It is not about me – Infancy is the one time in life when it is legitimately, and truly, all about you. Unfortunately, I do not think that we every really outgrow that self-interest, we just get better at hiding it or at least expressing it in more socially acceptable ways. I have, over the years, come to understand that it is ultimately far more gratifying and rewarding to count others as more significant than myself and adopt an attitude of servant leadership. In the work world, this looks like considering the very broad impact of decisions and being empathetic about how your work affects others. It is about being a problem solver and not a problem perpetuator. Ultimately, it is about helping the people around you trust you and know that you are on their team.