Written By: Hans Appel
“Leadership is the skill of influencing people to action, with character that inspires confidence and excellence.”
-James C Hunter
Last week, our school was thrilled to bring in leadership expert James C Hunter to speak to our district about the incredible influence educators have on the world. Hunter is a bestselling author, world renowned speaker, and leadership consultant. He works with fortune 500 companies, all the military branches, and countless organizations around the world. His work with servant leadership, character, and creating excellence have become the backbone to the Character Strong program, which EMS implemented last year. After spending the past week in Brazil, he flew into the Tri-Cities to check out our Award Winning Culture.
One of the highlights with Hunter included him regaling us with tales from behind the scenes of his critically acclaimed book “The Servant” over dinner. There’s something truly special about asking an author specific questions about choice, process, and background that led to such groundbreaking work. We were also fortunate to interview him for our Student-Led Leadership Podcast, Award Winning Culture: Hosted by Wildcat Nation. Hunter joined in our staff meeting as leadership students taught our teachers how to “Find Your Why” using Simon Sinek material and he even took a school tour of our new flexible seating classrooms. It was an exceptional time with this Character Strong gentleman!
During Hunter’s formal presentation for our district, he differentiated between Power vs Authority; explaining how “authority is the skill of getting people to willingly do your will because of your personal influence.” On the other hand he said:
“power is the ability to force or coerce others to do your will (even if they would choose not to) because of your position or your might.”
He explained that leaders with authority can influence greatness out of their folks by explaining that people will say things like “I’ll do it for her...but not for him.” He challenged principals by saying “are you the type of leader who creates a culture where teachers want to transfer to.” Furthermore, he believes that teachers should be striving for classrooms that students are begging to get into.
As you can imagine, the 2 ½ hour presentation was peppered with Wooden-esk leadership brilliance. It’s the type of learning experience we dream our students might have, in our own classrooms..
Electric and Empowering!
To be fair, my 24 hours with Hunter included so many lessons, takeaways and insights, I couldn’t possibly do it justice in a single blog. So, I anticipate sprinkling bits of wisdom throughout my blog series. But here’s one story that stood out from the experience...
A couple days prior to Hunter’s presentation, our principal (Jennifer Klauss) mentioned in a staff meeting that she would love #WildcatNation staff members to sit up close in the Richland High School Auditorium, for the leadership presentation. She explained that this would be a great way to show respect to Mr. Hunter and that she did not anticipate the auditorium being filled so it would be nice to all move toward the front. There was no mandate or requirement. She certainly made no threat or attempt to force us to sit up front. She simply said “I’d really appreciate it, if you guys would help me out and sit near the front” and then articulated why this was important to her.
The morning of Hunter’s presentation was filled with excitement! Numerous EMS staff members showed up early with anticipation of listening to someone who’s work we had studied all last year. There was a buzz in the room, as folks were passing out handouts, helping set up technology, and chatting about Hunter’s books. As expected, every EMS staff member that entering the auditorium, invariably made their way down to the front few rows.
Standing near me was a ‘leader’ from another building. It became clear to me that no other school, had been given the expectation to sit up near the front. Indeed, as educators from other buildings walked in, they were immediately barked at by this leader with comments like:
“MOVE TO THE FRONT!” “YOUR NOT SITTING IN THE BACK!” “SLIDE DOWN!” “I DON’T WANT ANYONE SITTING IN THE BACK!” “I DON’T WANT TO ASK AGAIN!” “WE NEED EVERYONE TO MOVE TO THE FRONT!”
Most everyone obeyed the ‘order’ and moved toward the desired front region of the auditorium. Although, it may not surprise you that there were about 4 educators, who came in and sat in the very last possible row of the auditorium. I’m not even sure they could see the stage, as they had a partially obstructed view. From my vantage point, it appeared to be a complete ‘screw you’ to the LOUD leader who was attempting to control the environment, as people entered the building.
I couldn’t help but imagine if these 4 adults were instead students in a class led by this ‘leader’, how might this power struggle play out? Ultimatums? Threats? Calling an Administrator? Referral? Worse yet…Police?
At the same time, standing near this almighty powerful ‘leader’ was a counselor, a vice principal and an officer from my school. While the other school’s ‘leader’ was shouting orders, these 3 servant leaders greeted, smiled and welcomed people into the auditorium. They shook hands, and happily showed up early to enhance others affect. It was a completely different experience, depending on who greeted you and what building you were from.
I thought back to how different this might have gone, had this leader and other district leaders taken the time to set clear expectations of sitting in the front and explaining the ‘WHY’ behind the request. It was also a little sad to see how this quick negative experience for some, walking into the building, dampened their mood. Creating a welcome, positive start didn’t seem like rocket science but I could visualize how this negative greeting might play out in a classroom setting.
Hunter, who has interacted with the best and worst leadership examples in the world is keenly aware of organizational climate and culture. He’s the kind of guy that listens uber closely and sees even the things you’re trying to hide. When he speaks, there is no wasted motion as every word has meaning and intention behind it. I expect he noticed part of the scene as at one point, he leaned over toward me and said “man, you have a lot of servant leaders...no wonder you’re playing above the rim.” His basketball analogy was a compliment to the Award Winning Culture that we’ve worked so hard to create. Additionally, his brief comment conveyed how powerful it could be, to intentionally focus on a culture of character, excellence, and community. As I sat down, in my front row seat; prepared to be dazzled by a master servant leader, I felt a warm sense of gratitude toward my principal and our Wildcat Nation culture.
In the end, Hunter was right...
I’ll do it for her...not for him...for her.
Are you leading with power or AUTHORITY?
About the Author
Hans Appel, has been a school counselor in the Richland School District for the past 17 years and at Enterprise Middle School since it opened. He's passionate about school culture, servant leadership, and kindness.
Enterprise Middle School received the 2018 ASCD Whole Child Award in Washington, for its award winning culture and the 2018 Global "Class Act Award" for Kindness. By creating a culture of kindness, service, and empathy we've taken student leadership to an epic level.