I’ve ridden in two Cape Argus bike races here in Cape Town. In my first, I rode solo. My second was with a friend. Together we were able to take turns pacing. When you are tempted to slow down or take it easy, the other person pushes you on and helps to set the pace.
This is true in leadership.
Leaders must set the pace.
As I teach in many settings, I see the impact leaders have on their followers, both positively and negatively. I’ve been comparing the events where things go really, really well and those that just land on the acceptable level. I am convinced that the staff and leaders often have more to do with creating a positive learning environment than the guest speakers.
I was teaching in Charlotte, North Carolina earlier this month. The leaders of the group I was sharing with were enthusiastic and excited from the moment they picked me up at the airport. This carried over into the classroom. It turned out to be one of the best teaching weeks I have had in recent memory.
Here are five ways leaders set the pace in a classroom, a church, or any learning environment
1. Engagement– All of us have witnessed enthusiastic, flowery introductions only to have the person go into a comatose state once the teaching begins. Sometimes, we literally walk out the door and have zero participation. We can create an atmosphere of expectation by remaining engaged.
2. Attitude– Are we attending this class or meeting because we want to and we see its value, or because we are required to? We can only fake it so long, and often this is much shorter than we think. Our followers know whether we want to be there or not.
3. Small Verbal Comments, Nods, or Amens – Many of my teaching audiences are made up of cultures where participation is a normal part of life. Without being distracting, we can easily add affirmative noises (that “hmmm” sound we make when something is really good), nods, or even an “Amen”. Most speakers will feed off this and create an even better environment. Laugh, Cry, and shout “yes” or “that’s right” wherever it is appropriate.
4. Asking Questions– At one point in my teaching week in Charlotte, I was taking questions. Every single staff member had their hand raised, hungry to ask and even hungrier to learn. This is contagious! I had to make sure to give space for the students to ask, but I loved the enthusiasm. It also helps to communicate that we as leaders realize we have more to learn and grow in.
5. Body Language – Do we as leaders sit in the back row, with arms folded and eyebrows raised; or are we in the front, leaning forward, fully engaged in what is taking place? Put away the cell phones! Body language communicates volumes.
These principles work in ministries or educational settings, but are also true in areas as diverse as families and corporations.
If we want our children to have a positive attitude when doing homework, we must set the pace. If we dread homework times, so will they.
Our employees won’t value communication meetings or staff enrichment seminars if they see our own personal disconnect.
Without a leader to set the pace, our people will slowly drift. It does not mean good things cannot happen. I teach plenty of audiences with unengaged staff. Good things happen, but we are left with a sense that it could have been better.
As a leader shows the way, those better things become reality.