Use Your Outside Voice


Looking out over the mountains…I am in the hills of Western North Carolina this week as a facilitator in a retreat with teacher leaders from a school district in South Carolina. How forward thinking…allowing teachers to go away on retreat to plan for creative work within a school district. And, knowing that an “Outside Voice” helps.

These teacher leaders are using the book, You Win in the Locker Room First, by Jon Gordon and Mike Smith as the basis of their leadership this year. They sent me the book to read in advance of the retreat. There are some great things in the book. I was particularly drawn the section: “The Power of an Outside Voice”.

As educators we know to help children to distinguish between their “inside voice” and their “outside voice”. We have been in plenty of schools where teachers say, “now, use your inside voice”; we know what they mean. But, when have you ever been in a school where kids are encouraged to use their “outside voice”?

So, I was intrigued by this section title. Reading further, I thought, “this is for me.” Much of this is for the work we do in Leading Up.

In the section, Jon Gordon tells us about a time when a CEO came up to him and said, “Jon, never underestimate the power of an outside voice.” Jon had just spoken to the company’s annual meeting. The CEO said, “We brought you here to reinforce our message. Our folks get tired of hearing us say it, but when it comes from an outside voice it’s new, fresh, and exciting.”

This is exactly what I do with many of the schools, faith communities and organizations with whom I work. The work is never about selling them anything. The work is sometimes new to the audience. However, in so many cases, it is that I am just reinforcing, in an “outside voice”, what the organization has been saying to the people all along.

In about an hour I will spend a second day with these teacher leaders. They are leaders in their own right but, at times, they do not feel like leaders. They simply help kids in their respective classrooms and schools each day. Many fail to realize that the actions they take each day are true leadership. Not sure? Well, you try to lead 120 middle school kids each day and let us know if that is not leadership!

The work I am doing with the group this morning is nothing new. It is not particularly innovative. There is probably not a whole lot in the presentation that they don’t already know (at least intuitively). It is that I am an “outside voice” helping them to learn things that they already know. Giving them ways to think differently about school leadership, about their own leadership and about the vision they have for their own leadership.

When I work with schools and other organizations, I find myself saying to the people who invited me, "tell me what you want them to hear." So many times, it is that they want folks to hear what they have already been saying and doing. It is my “outside voice” that helps.

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