Hypothetical question, but who would you rather be – Captain Kirk or Spock? You know, the Star Trek characters? And it doesn’t matter if you’re thinking of one of them from the old, old series from the 70s, or one from the latest franchise with the young versions of Kirk and Spock, with Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto – either will do.
So which one is it? And for what reason? What made you choose that particular character? Cool, calm, and collected, or ‘cunning, courageous and competent’.
They’re both good leaders, but what does one do or have that the other doesn’t?
There’s a clear distinction, or what appears to be a clear distinction between them. What would you call it? Warmth? Empathy? Emotion? Heart? Well, on the surface it appears that Captain Kirk or Ensign Kirk (depending on your age and predilections) is prone to certain things that Spock isn’t prone to, and these sometimes affect his leadership actions. Know what these things are?
Gut feeling, intuition, butterflies, sweaty palms, a hunch, instinct, déjà vu – whatever you call it, you know the kind of stuff. The kind of warm, fluffy, touchy-feely stuff that we don’t often admit to having, let alone talk about; you know that thing – it’s called feelings. They can appear as a kind of inner voice, a Jiminy Cricket type niggle you get when something just isn’t right and you can’t quite put your finger on it. Or the butterflies you get when you stand up to present in front of a group of your peers, or the lurching stomach you get at an interview.
Ever had any of those ‘feelings’? Ever felt them and tried very, very hard to ignore them? Or rationalize and logic them out? Ever admitted to them? Have you ever been open and talked about those feelings? Just fronted up and said, “I’m feeling really nervous.” Or paid attention to those feelings before you make a big decision or take action, or even when you’re just not sure what to do?
Well, checking in, or an internal audit, or whatever you want to call it, is something that good leaders do – they pay attention to those feelings; to all the information they are receiving both internally and externally. Not just what they are hearing and seeing in front of them, but what they are feeling inside them as well. And they actively ‘check in’ too; they intentionally ask themselves, ‘What am I feeling about this?’ in response to certain situations.
Why? Well, By ‘checking in’ and listening to those ‘feelings’ or signals, good leaders can ‘read’ the situation, pay attention to how others might be feeling, be aware of the climate in the room, and make much better judgments than those who don’t . In other words, a leader who pays attention to those sweaty palms, and wonders what is going on is more likely to keep you safe, than one who behaves like Spock and says, “My palms are damp, therefore I must have touched something wet.”
Thousands of years ago, our tribal leaders did just that. They could tell within seconds whether someone was a friend or foe, whether they should stand and fight or run away as fast as they could. They listened to their ‘gut feeling’. Ancient man needed those types of leaders who paid attention to the second brain in their gut, who noticed things and wondered what it meant. That ‘hunch’ could mean the difference between life and death, and although that’s not often the case in schools these days, it can be the difference between noticing how your staff are feeling and responding appropriately or ploughing ahead like a bull in a china shop with ideas and actions which leave your staff feeling at least uncomfortable and at worst defensive. It can be the difference between making your staff feel safe and making them feel vulnerable, it can be the difference between being a great school leader that everyone wants to work for and being the school leader that staff want to get away from – modern teachers need you to pay just as much attention to those feelings as well.
And we can tell leaders who use that sense, not only by their perceptiveness in situations (some might call it empathy or self-awareness); we can also hear it in the words they use. They’re not afraid to say, “I feel……” or “I’m feeling……” This tell us that they are using their ‘intuition’, and as long as it’s balanced with a bit of “I think….” And “Let’s look at the evidence” as well, then that makes us feel pretty safe. It’s not a case of either or; they compliment logic with attention to feelings.
So who needs to choose between Spock and Captain Kirk when you can have a bit of both?