The Leadership Institute: The Investment that Keeps Giving

By Susan Harkin posted 01-09-2020 10:34


Nearly ten years ago, I made the best personal investment in my professional career that continues to benefit me to this day. Before this yearlong leadership journey, I did not feel I was connecting with my team. I entered the Leadership Institute, knowing that I could be a better leader and wanting to obtain the tools to do so.

Three essential tools were given to me that I frequently use. The first tool is LIFO, which allows me to understand how our life orientations impact our interactions with others. The second tool was taking inventory of my leadership practices through LPI. The last tool was learning how to use SBI, Situation-Behavior-Impact, to provide meaningful feedback to my staff. When I was able to put these skills into my daily leadership, my ability to lead became much more manageable.

“When I wasn’t hitting it off with a new superintendent I worked for, I pulled LIFO out of my leadership toolbox to figure out how to make our relationship better.

Life Orientation (LIFO)

LIFO’s golden rule is to do unto others as they would like to be done unto. It focuses on understanding what motivates our peers or how others like us to communicate with them. When we treat others how they want to be treated, we can maximize our overall effectiveness.

During the Leadership Institute, we learned that there are four different life orientations we humans tend to live in: Supporting/Giving, Adapting/Dealing, Conserving/Holding and Controlling/Taking. Supporting/Giving folks live a life focused on excellence. Adapting/Dealing colleagues prefer a life of harmony. Conserving/Holding exists in a life that focuses on a reason to do something. Controlling/Taking folks are action-oriented.

When I wasn’t hitting it off with a new superintendent I worked for, I pulled LIFO out of my leadership toolbox to figure out how to make our relationship better. My life orientation is to live in a world where everything has to have a reason or Conserving/Holding. He tended to work in a world of quick action or Controlling/Taking. When I would ask questions about his requests, he would get frustrated by questioning. I would get frustrated that he wasn’t taking the time to understand his request fully. LIFO provides insight on how to interact with people that have a different lens. I put that insight into play and our relationship improved significantly.

There is no one right behavioral style. When I learned to play to my strengths and appreciate others’ strengths, it was amazing to see the improvements in our overall productivity.

Leadership Practices Inventory (LPI)

As part of the Leadership Institute, you participate in a 360-degree leadership practices inventory assessment based on “The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership.” The assessment is completed by colleagues, co-workers, your boss and significant others. The results from the assessment were probably the most eye-opening and invaluable portions of the Leadership Institute. 

The assessment focuses on how you model leadership to others, inspire others to share your vision, challenge the status quo, enable others to do their duties and recognize the efforts of others. The evaluation intends to understand where you may have blind spots in your leadership and opportunities to create a higher-performing team. 

This portion of the training takes place during the weekend leadership retreat. The assessment is provided as the last activity of the first night of the retreat. I believe for everyone who attends the retreat, the initial feedback feels exceptionally personal. I think the power of this activity takes place when you step back and accept the data as an opportunity to enhance your leadership,

In my initial report, I received favorable feedback in the areas of modeling the way, developing a shared vision, challenging the process and enabling others to do their jobs. However, I learned I had an opportunity to improve how I recognized the efforts of my team. I found that I was so busy working and completing tasks, I often forgot to celebrate the great work of the team. 

This school year, we have incorporated a weekly recognition into our team meetings. At the end of the meeting, everyone on the team is required to acknowledge a positive incident or appreciate a co-worker for something that occurred during the previous week. The meeting ends by providing an award to the team member who made the most significant contribution. This standing agenda item allows us to encourage one another and show appreciation for the great work we are all doing daily. 

“I found that I was so busy working and completing tasks, I often forgot to celebrate the great work of the team. 

Situation-Behavior-Impact (SBI)

While LIFO and LPI are great tools to assist with your personal leadership development, there are times leaders need tools to address specific areas of improvement for our team members. In our fast-paced world, we don’t always take the time to provide feedback effectively. That’s where the SBI feedback tool has become an essential tool for me.

The key to giving useful feedback is grounded in Situation-Behavior-Impact. For situation, it is critical to provide where and when the situation occurred. For behavior, it is essential to label the precise behavior observed that the staff member needs to address. For impact, it is crucial to explain how the behavior affected others.

I recently encountered an issue with an employee in which I used SBI. While it isn’t easy to address employee issues, it is easier when I provide specific feedback to the employee and how the behavior impacted the situation. The employee couldn’t argue the opportunity for improvement when I provided specifics.

The Investment that Keeps Giving

Even though it has been nearly ten years since I participated in the Leadership Institute, the tools that were provided to me continue to benefit me in my personal and professional life. It is vital to understand how others see the world and appreciate those differences. It is imperative to take stock of your leadership practices and find ways to improve in areas that are considered to be highly effective leadership characteristics. Lastly, don’t forget to provide the situation, identify the behavior and explain the impact when an employee isn’t hitting their highest mark. When I put all of these tools together, I have found I can make an even more significant difference in our excellent profession.

By Susan Harkin
Chief Operating Officer
Comm. Unit Sch. Dist. 300

There are still spots available for the 2020 Leadership Institute Cohort! Visit the Illinois ASBO Leadership Center for more information.