‘Representing’ our Bosses

Representing our Employer

Promotions …

require us to step up to greater levels of responsibility – and ambiguity. The higher we rise, the greater the obligation to speak for the common good of the organization.  We get promoted for being great technical experts.  Then we get promoted INTO jobs that require very different skills – soft skills – like communications.


One of those soft skills is ‘representing’ the organization.  No, we are not ‘in charge’ of our organization.  But we are seen as a representative of our organization.  Whether you are the chief of education, finance, special services, or a middle manager, outsiders see you as the nearest figure-head.  Therefore, it is often our responsibility to speak up even when it is not our area of expertise or responsibility.


Unfortunately, these soft skills often go unspoken – one should just KNOW what is expected.  As superintendent, chairman, president, CEO you learn quickly that “you’re it.”  If you are a cabinet level or mid-level manager you might be thinking, This is above my pay grade.  Or, Someone should speak up.  Well, unless someone more senior than you is in the room, that someone is you.


No one person can be the eyes, ears and voice of the organization.  Only when we work together with common voice and values will our staff and constituents begin to notice common themes.  Many voices, speaking as one, are needed to align messages; build momentum; and show how we are working together for the good of students.

Here are ten things that I think of as part of ‘representing’ the organization:

  1. Show up.

    According to Woody Allen, “90% of life is about showing up.” Show up early and stay late at meetings: board meetings, cabinet meetings, community meetings. Engage. Build relationships. Do “friend-raising” as one colleague puts it. Get to know new people.  Let the public know that the district is present and being “represented.”

  2. Listen to understand.

    Quite often people simply want to be heard. 70% of communication is body language.  Listen with your eyes.  Give others your full attention.  Don’t interrupt.    Show that you have heard the message.  You can acknowledge concerns (without admitting guilt) by using phrases like, I can tell this has been a real challenge for you.

  3. Focus on purpose.

    One of the most important jobs of leadership is to make meaning. Start every meeting, every PD, with purpose. Share district goals and what your work means to the audience. Use newsletters and Instructional Memos to reinforce goals and vision.  Use every opportunity to talk about purpose, make meaning, appeal to our basic values.

  4. Answering tough questions.

    Listen first.  Paraphrase the question.  Acknowledge the concern.  Think about the underlying values.  For example, you might say, Safety is something we all care about.  Then answer with calm humility.  If you don’t know the answer, say so, AND offer to connect them to those who know.  Provide your phone number.  Ask them to get back to you if they don’t get a response.

  5. Demonstrate caring.

Make sure people are seen and heard when they call or come in.  Work with staff to provide eye contact, a smile, and a warm greeting.  Clarify your customer service expectations.  Talk about what it means to:  be responsive, be polite, be respectful, listen to understand, follow through on promises.  Identify your top ten FAQs and Answers.  Share those with everyone you supervise.

  1. Check-in.

    Check in early and often – not after the fact – with those affected by upcoming decisions.  Our key partners – board, PTA, unions, principals – should be the first to know.  None of us like surprises.    Do this one-on-one by visiting individually with principals, teachers, parents, union leaders.  Ask your leadership team for feedback.  Use focus groups.  Share decision options.    Say back what you heard and what you did as a result of what you heard.

  2. Clarify options.

    Briefing Papers are a great way to test every decision against our goals and our values. Clarify your decision variables.  Compare options along with a fair listing of pros and cons.  Call it a ‘draft’ and ask others to share their best thinking.  Update your draft showing the added feedback.  Good people with good information make good decisions.

  3. Fly to the Ball.

    Don’t ignore hot topics – most often they will only get worse.  Take action.  Reach out to those who are upset.  Offer to meet.  Include others like PTA or union leaders.  Seek first to understand … and later to be understood.  Stay calm.  Treat people with respect.  Do what you can to problem solve.  Keep your boss(es) informed.  They can do far more to support you if they know in advance what you have been doing to resolve the issue.

  4. Collaborate.

    Much of our work requires partnerships and alignment across the organization. To be effective, we need strong handoffs between silos.  When you need help, don’t wait. ‘Call the meeting.’  Invite those who need to work together.  Put the problem on the table and invite suggestions.    Be hard on the problem – NOT your colleagues.  Discuss the needed hand offs.  Check for Understanding.

  5. Good News.

    Public education has LOTS of good news to share. No one person can know and share all the good news.  If we never share the good news, the only news is likely to be the latest controversy.  Keep sending positive stories.  Send tweets.  Use your newsletters to share good news with staff and community.  Send good news to your boss and PR department.  Invite them, in advance, to events that reflect organization values.  Make them, and the organization, look good.

I once worked at the state level visiting our legislators often.  I watched as the lobbyists met and greeted each legislator with something personal – favorite sports teams; weekend hobbies; children’s activities.

The rule of thumb for service clubs is that you don’t show up just to sell your business.  You build relationships, show up for service, and when a colleague is in the market, they will give you a call. 

We – leaders at every level – need to provide that kind of ‘representation’ for our district.  Show up, build relationships, advocate for the district purpose and ‘represent’ the district well. 

Additional Resources:

Novations: Strategies for Career Management

by Gene W. Dalton and Paul H. Thompson

Primal Leadership: Unleashing the Power of Emotional Intelligence

by Daniel Goleman , Richard Boyatzis, et al.


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Larry Nyland speaking

Larry Nyland – Leadership Coach and Consultant.
Seattle Schools superintendent 2014-2018

To talk about growing extraordinary "high capacity" leadership for your team …
Contact: Larry@Larrynyland.com | 425-418-4398 | LarryNyland.com