In the military, they like to say that “shit rolls downhill.” In other words any crappy order or policy coming from the top of the chain of command will eventually land on the lowest of ranks. Supply side economists, despite most evidence to the contrary, still insist that low tax rates for businesses and the wealthy will eventually “trickle down” and benefit society at-large. Perhaps, in both cases, it is because, so often, the many are made miserable by the behaviors of the few that the majority of the many assume a rather antagonistic attitude toward their so-called superiors, and as a result, they are incapable or unwilling to give credit to their bosses, supervisors, managers, etc. Ergo the saying that it is “lonely at the top.”
Mostly, we expect those in positions of power and leadership to be the allocators of praise. It is their job to shower it down, like the proverbial manna from heaven, in the appropriate amounts to the deserving. Such praise can go a long way in the building of both individual and group morale. It can even inspire some to rise consistently above and beyond the parameters of their job description or the expectations for someone of their pay grade. In the hands of a skillful leader, the awarding or withholding of praise can be the most valuable of currencies.
But what about those at the top? Most hierarchical structures are pyramidal. As one climbs the managerial ladder, one has fewer peers to lean on or to commiserate with and an even smaller number of superiors from whom s/he might expect to receive praise and encouragement to fill their own reserves of motivation and purpose. Therefore, in recognition of myself as a human being, who like all human beings, is a perpetual work-in-progress (W.I.P.) and as part of my conscious attempt to “get better,” I’m intending on appreciating, complimenting, and thanking more often those under whose direction I labor.
For several reasons, this goal is not especially difficult for me. Having been a head football coach for a number of years, I know the loneliness of being the person with the biggest whistle and of performing my job in the presence of hundreds of people who were pretty sure they knew my job better than I did. A handful of those hundreds were also more-than-willing to let me know how little I knew my job. As a high school teacher, trust me, rare are the occasions that a teenager thinks to or is willing to praise my day’s lesson plan or lecture, and there is still no tip jar on my desk. My point is that I – like most people (especially mothers) – understand what it’s like to labor in “a no-praise zone.”
Another reason this goal to “praise up” is undaunting for me is that both of the people I’d consider my superiors at work were my friends before they were my bosses. I have never asked nor would I ever expect preferential treatment from them because of our shared pasts as friends, and I’ve never struggled to separate work from our friendships. It doesn’t hurt that I have the utmost respect for them both as educational leaders and men.
I also find that, as I get older, it gets much easier to “praise up.” I no longer worry or care about many of the things I did when I was younger and less experienced. As a young firebrand, I much preferred “sticking it to the man,” than complimenting him. I would have rather “buried Caesar,” than “praise” him. With years of experience behind me, however, I no longer worry about being thought a sycophant, which is a big word for a brownnoser or suck up, because at the current stage of my teaching career, there’s very little room for me to climb or fall with the aid or hindrance of my bosses. In other words, I have little left to gain or lose by speaking the hard or pleasant truth to my superiors, and like most aging folks, I care less-and-less every day of what others’ think of me.
I’ll finish by practicing what I’ve preached and “praise up” the principal of Port Clinton High School, Gary Steyer, and Port Clinton’s superintendent of schools, Pat Adkins. The Port Clinton Community is beyond fortunate to have their students under the leadership of such men. Mr. Steyer has shown profound grace in listening to teachers and students in the pursuit of being the type of principal they would like to learn or teach under. He has also modeled incredible consistency and resiliency in the implementation of our district’s Focus 3 initiative for improving our district-wide culture. His tenacity has made believers out of many reluctant students, faculty, and staff and greatly improved the school’s overall environment.
Pat Adkins has time-and-again proven himself to be the smartest man in the room by pretending to be the most ignorant in the room. By “ignorant,” I do not mean being unintelligent but being willing to listen to those who know (or at least think they know) better than he does. This approach has resulted in a school district that is truly owned and operated according to the wishes and dreams of its community members and a city that many believe is on the verge of a renaissance that will reach far beyond its school buildings. He has proven that schools are not just a reflection of the communities in which they lie, but they can also be the drivers of positive change and progress. Once, when we were discussing his criteria for calling for a snow day, he shared that he has only one: the wellbeing of kids. I absolutely believed him then, and I’ve come to realize that criteria is also what drives every decision he makes in his role as superintendent.
I have to believe there is someone in your life who is deserving of being “praised up.” As I’ve recently learned in volunteering my time to OhGo, a local food assistance organization, we truly receive more than we give when we serve and praise others.
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