MEMSPA Blog – 09/25/2017

Task and People-Oriented Leadership: The Balancing Act

We all know relationships matter; people matter. Being the Type A person that I am, I sometimes need to put myself in check. Taking care of people was something modeled to me on a continual bases. My parents were selfless people. Both of my parents were in supervisor roles.  My mother was a factory foreman, and my father co-owned and operated a sawmill. They both took such great care of their subordinates while maintaining and modeling exceptional work ethic. My mother did several acts of appreciation including baking and decorating cakes for her employees on their birthdays. My dad would take in lunch for his crew as well as made sure they were taken care of during the holidays.


I really care for and appreciate my staff, especially my current group of educators. They are the most dedicated group of teachers that I have seen, and more importantly, they work together to do what is best for students and create a cohesive and consistent learning environment for students. I consider myself so very fortunate to serve and work with them.


However, I don’t think I show my gratitude enough. This is a fault of mine due to my Type A personality. I am a little too obsessed with checking things off of my list. I take on a lot of projects, and I like to get things done well in advance of deadlines. When I have several projects to do, I can become totally engulfed in the work. I enjoy this type of challenge, but not at the cost of people feeling unappreciated.


Understanding that my leadership behavior is both task and people oriented, theory helps me realize this about myself and puts me in check when stress, a long to-do list, or an in-depth project consumes me.  Thinking back to Blake and Mouton’s (1960, 1964, 1978, 1985) Leadership Grid, helps put my leadership in perspective. It takes effort to work on maintaining both a strong emphasis on tasks and interpersonal relationships (referred to as 9,9 Team Management).  By doing so, people tend to have a high degree of participation, are committed to teamwork, and have higher amounts of satisfaction.


While I have many of the same strategies as most people on organizing my to do lists, I have additional strategies for making sure I care for others. Some are a work in progress, but I keep working at it. Greeting people, conversing about how they are doing, and caring for them comes naturally for me, but slowing down and giving myself opportunities to do that is the challenging part. At my school, we do not use bells. Without a reminder, I could easily stay in my office working on instructional tasks most days for a couple hours at a time. With an alarm app on my phone and synced to my Apple Watch, I am alerted one minute prior to passing time, so I can be in the halls which not only helps with supervision, but it also gives me opportunities to check in with staff and students. I schedule time on my calendar to be in classrooms on Tuesdays and Thursdays for walkthroughs and observations. I attend student lunches whenever I can. I do a weekly Storify with all the tweets using our #PowerUpMMS building hashtag which forces me to get out and tweet the wonderful teaching and learning happening in the building. These people-oriented activities are not complete without avenues to demonstrate appreciation.


In addition to some great ways Burgess and Houf (2017) use to make sure we don’t lose focus on our staff in their Lead Like a Pirate book, here are a few activities that we like to use at my building to keep an emphasis on staff appreciation:


Listen: Staff members need to know that they can come to us and that we will give them our attention when they do; if they don’t come to us, we need to go to them and check in on them.

Treats: Put chocolate or candy in mailboxes during busy times, have snacks at staff meetings, put baked items in the staff lounge just because, and do up goodie bags for the holidays.

Thank yous: Create handwritten notes, send emails, and leave voicemails thanking them for serving on a committee, helping with a project, etc.

Shout outs: Make sure to give kudos on social media, at meetings, in updates; we even have a staff shout out board in the work room where staff can do a complement to other members on post-it notes and stick them to the board.

Socials: Offer opportunities to socialize (an outing with food or games outside of the building, holiday parties, etc.).

Happy Birthday: In addition to students, we announce Happy Birthday to staff and include it in the weekly connection from administration.

Golden Apple: Staff can nominate other staff who display teamwork and go above and beyond. They receive a golden apple stress ball, certificate, and are highlighted in our weekly connection.


Wherever we fall on the leadership grid, it’s important to get the job done, but it’s even more important to take care of the people we lead and serve. Even small things make a difference. Maybe it becomes more natural for some than others, but as the grid suggests, we need to be high in both for the best outcome for our all those involved. Here’s a link to add your own ways to appreciate staff, so we can all learn from each other and create even better environments in our buildings.