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Student achievement is difficult to improve without leaders building effective working relationships with employees. This is what we’ve found in our collective work with district and school leaders. For leaders this means applying “soft” skills is as important as focusing on “hard” data. In an article in SEEN Magazine, Pilcher and Largue state that “to improve performance, leaders must first establish relationships with employees and build an emotional bank account with them” and then offer “why”:

Anytime individuals receive feedback about their performance it triggers an anxious emotion. Our first job as leaders is to engage in genuine interactions with employees to reduce their anxiety and build trusting relationships. We evaluate our direct reports during the year. If providing feedback about performance is one of few encounters our employees experience with us, we may jeopardize the opportunities to support and coach individual growth and improvement. Eventually these lost opportunities create the same loss for our students.

Our main job as leaders, is to support and coach our direct reports to achieve their highest potential so that their performance elevates school and district performance. So, focusing on hardwiring “soft skill” strategies creates a “best place to work” culture.

So how do school districts and schools get to a “best place to work” culture? This week’s What’s Right posts will pull tips from Pilcher and Largue’s article for leaders to apply throughout the year to build this type of culture.

Tip 1: Connect with employees. We work with leaders to connect with employees by making rounds with them. Different from a classroom walkthrough, in rounding leaders engage in meaningful and genuine conversations with employees to gather useful information rather than having a casual conversation. Leaders ask 1) What’s working well? 2) Do you have the resources you need to do your job? 3) Has anyone been especially helpful to you lately? After gathering the information, leaders continue to build an emotional bank account by communicating actions taken to improve processes and recognizing individuals. Leaders note the person recognizing others and the action being recognized.


Building relationships with employees remains strategic and purposeful. Practicing Tip 1 creates a way for leaders to begin offering (and creating) a great place for employees to work, and a focus on “soft” skills that will help move to improved performance.





Adapted from the article “Building an Emotional Bank Account” online at: http://www.seenmagazine.us/articles/article-detail/articleid/3816/building-an-emotional-bank-account.aspx. Dr. Janet K. Pilcher is the Senior Executive Leader for Studer Education. Dr. Robin Largue is the Lead Coach for K12 schools for Studer Education. Both have teaching and leadership experiences in K12 schools and Institutes of Higher Education. They currently partner with leaders and teachers in K12 schools, colleges and universities to create “best” place to work cultures in schools.

Read Pilcher and Largue’s New Habits for New Principals manuscript here and a blog showing results from an aspiring leaders workshop as well as additional blogs focused on leadership and coaching. Join Pilcher, Largue, and school district superintendents, board members, executive teams, and educational leaders August 6 to engage in systems improvement conversations about evidence-based practices, including 10-minute mini lessons on tips/tactics “key words at key times,” “we/they – manage up,” and “reward recognition.” For more information on this complimentary conference or to RSVP for What’s Right in Education in Chicago, Illinois, August 6, contact us.

Our mission at Studer Education is to help education systems achieve measurable results that produce positive outcomes in student achievement, employee engagement, support services, and financial efficiencies and productivity. Visit us online at http://studereducation.com. Studer Education is a division of Studer Group, ranked for the sixth straight year on the Best Small and Medium Workplaces by Great Place to Work® and a recipient of the 2010 Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award.