Engage most … when you feel like it least

Engagement Builds Trust:

You get criticized most when you deserve it the least. – Larry Nyland

No Good Deed …

Never have so many – especially school superintendents – worked so hard, engaged so much, considered so many options … and been criticized more vehemently.  Truly we live in a time where no good deed goes unpunished.

The research is clear …

Engage the most when you feel like it the least.  Engage more, not less, in times of uncertainty.  Leaders are being called on to communicate constantly as facts change, as plans change, as fixes are made.

Consider these three points as an outline for every time you speak or write:

Think … People … Plans … Purpose


Provide Routine and Empathy … and say, ‘Thank You’

  • Open every meeting with a routine check-in; something solid to connect people and provide just a little bit of normalcy and predictability.
  • People are hurting and facing their own uncertainties. Express empathy. Let them know you are aware of the challenges and you care.
  • Say “Thank you.” Make Meaning. Share Hope.

Use Forums & Focus Groups to get Feedback

  • No plan is perfect … especially in uncertain times. Hold forums to share what you know.
  • Take Q&A. Answer what you can. Say “I don’t know” when you don’t; don’t try to fake it.
  • Be authentic and vulnerable. Acknowledge concerns.
  • Ask specific, actionable questions. LISTEN. Act on what you heard.
  • Let people know their views matter.


Recap Plans … and Processes

  • Plans: It takes at least four times to “hear” new information.  Recap plans often.
  • Process: Don’t assume.  Remind people of your engagement processes. Share who has been engaged; including marginalized and non-dominant groups. How we make decisions matters.  Not only do we need to engage stakeholders, we need to let them how we did so.
  • Share the rationale. Use words like, ‘This is what we are hearing,’ and ‘We are using the best information available.’
  • And when plans change … say WHY … four times.

Plans will likely change

  • Be forthright … let people know change is likely.
  • Signal when changes may be coming.
  • Give advance notice … even a day or two.
  • Thank your stakeholders for, ‘Letting us know how to get better.’


Say what won’t change

  • Your teachable point of view … the signature values that guide your daily decision.
  • District core values. Highline Superintendent Susan Enfield says their promise … every student known by name, strength and need … is so well known it is often quoted back to them.
  • Think of themes like: safety, health, listening, getting better.
  • Focus on learning … equity. Remind us often of our main mission.

Check in often with stakeholders

  • Staff at every level
  • Parents and Community
  • Non-dominant families

PRINCIPALS are our major allies at the front lines

  • Ask for their input and ideas often
  • Set Q&A times to build understanding of the what … and the why
  • Respond to doubts and concerns
  • Clarify KEY messages … talking points

Engage people MOST when times are most UNcertain.

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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