The wave of anti-semitism crashing over the United States in the fourth quarter of 2023 seems to me to have been inevitable. I will leave it to far more qualified writers than I to explore the causes and effects of such a vast disturbance. However, I recommend that you take time to read source materials and understand the issues involved.
However, I want to remind the heads of private day and boarding schools that they can and should learn three critical lessons from what we all are experiencing. The chief officer of any institution must be a listener, a learner, and a leader.
Overwhelming expressions of opinion don't come out of nowhere. It's like you and I putting a pot of water on the stove and turning the dial to high. You know the pot could and will boil, but you can continue your business until then. Right? Wrong! Before you know it, the pot is boiling uncontrollably all over the place. Don't ignore issues you hear about on your campus. It doesn't matter whether it's the cleaning crew, your physics teacher, or a member of the board of trustees. Every voice is important, and you must listen carefully to each and every one.
Read articles such as Dr. Susan Whitbourne's 10 Qualities of Great Listeners. Understand her very clear advice:
- Listening is a basic social skill, but it takes practice to do well.
- Listening and perceived partner responsiveness form a positive feedback loop that promotes a variety of positive relationship outcomes.
- Good listening can make the other person more likely to engage in self-disclosure and create a higher sense of "interpersonal chemistry."
Yes, you have a doctorate and thirty years of teaching and running private schools. But you can still learn. Only this time, you will not be learning how to conjugate the pluperfect passive of a Latin verb. You will be listening attentively to members of your school community expressing their fears, concerns, and opinions. Emotion will get the better of them, too. Their language can be blunt, even coarse. Voices will be raised. But you will give every person a sympathetic ear. Those forcefully expressed opinions will guide you and your management team as you deal with the crisis at hand.
This video offers four questions you will be asked in every crisis interview
One of the most challenging things to learn is how to accept criticism. You only have to watch CNN, Fox, or MSNBC to see how folks handle and often mishandle criticism. I have always been fascinated with how folks sound confident while presenting their argument, only to fold under even the slightest criticism. Trust me when I say the criticism you will face during a crisis will be tough to bear. Read articles such as Learn To Accept Criticism on the Healthy Life site. Do role-playing with a trusted advisor if you feel uncomfortable in the spotlight during a crisis. Reading, role-playing, and other forms of crisis preparation give your subconscious time to process the information. That way, your answers will sound natural, confident, and convincing.
Real leaders deal with tough stuff. They don't try to assign it to somebody else. They don't equivocate. They don't waffle. They don't obfuscate. They speak truthfully and directly. In a private school, when a crisis arises, the head of school will gather the facts then meet with her team and the board of trustees to fashion a clear, reassuring message to the entire school community. Posthaste. No time wasted.
Read How to Lead Through a Crisis on the Center for Creative Leadership's site. It's helpful information like this that will prepare you for those extraordinary circumstances that can and will occur during your tenure as a head of school. Having a reputation as someone who listens and who is always accessible will give you a modicum of credibility when everyone turns to you in that time of need.
Don't forget the power and influence of social media during a crisis. Read the Forbes article Why Social Media Can Make or Break A Crisis Response Plan. Monitor Facebook, YouTube, and TikTok. You cannot deflect criticism with the old rhubarb "Oh, I'm not on social media." You better be. Your job depends on it. You must control the messaging, or else social media will.
This video offers five social media crisis management tips.
How you sound and appear to your audience are critical elements of your body language. Once again, ask that trusted advisor to role-play and head his suggestions. Better yet, hire a professional who can spot your body language deficiencies and correct them on the fly. To understand how body language can project confidence and calm, watch the presenters on TEDTalk. Look closely when the camera zooms in because cameras will zoom in on you while you're addressing your community and the media.
Your voice isn't the only thing that speaks when it comes to crisis communications. While the words you choose certainly do matter when it comes to crisis communication, the way you hold yourself, your facial expressions, appearance, even what color tie you choose, all make a drastic difference in how you are perceived.
When I was a young lad, I was a Scout. "Be prepared!" was our motto in Scouting. It really is the best advice I can give you, my colleagues. Be prepared!
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