Susan Riley | June 2013

Want to Stand Out? Serve Instead.

This week, I’ll be focusing on writing a series on how to stand out and be recognized in your field.  After all, this is the time of year in education where many people are either looking for a job or looking to move up in their professional capacities.  But many times, educators feel like they get lost in the crowd of resumes and who-knows-who.  This week, we’ll be focusing on how to improve both of those pieces.  But today, we need to take a look at the core of what makes you stand out: the ability to serve others.

Leadership isn’t about knowing everything (ha!), taking charge, or “owning” a project.

It’s about servitude.  It’s about providing what your staff or clients or students need at any given time.  Everyone has the capacity to be a leader when you shift your perception of what true leadership looks like.  By serving others, you allow them to bring their very best selves to the table, and this allow the whole organization to move the needle.

Leadership is Steven Spielberg in a baseball cap quietly working through the character development of Abraham Lincoln with Daniel Day Lewis.  

Leadership is my very first principal, Amy DiSabatino Hollstein, who got out of the way and into the classroom to help co-teach lessons with her teachers.

And, leadership is the teacher who differentiates instruction for each learner in her classroom so that each one of them can succeed based on their own scale and not a district average.

To provide this kind of servant leadership you need two things: the right lens and an excellent platform.  The first piece is the hardest, because it’s so contrary to society’s expectation of leadership.  If you can refocus your leadership lens to reflect serving your people, you already stand out in the top 5% of the crowd.  You’ll know you’ve got the right lens when you’re asking questions like:

“What need can I fulfill?” and “How can I align my talents to best support this project?”

Suddenly, it’s not about you alone, but rather how you can fill a hole that currently exists with your unique skill set.  Don’t mistake this as being an easy shift to make: we are conditioned to think that we need to climb on the backs of others to get to the top and to make more money.  It’s very alluring for your mind to think in terms what your “worth”.  Don’t.  A true leader measures their worth by the success of their team, not themselves.

The second piece of servant leadership is much easier.  Everyone has a platform – it’s all in how you leverage it to help others.  For instance, I use this website as a platform to help others understand the advantages of Arts Integration.  I believe in the power of this strategy to effect true change in how we teach. In addition, how we engage students and want to help others in this work.  That’s why we provide free resources, a very reasonably-priced conference, several books and articles.  Every time we release a new product or idea, the first question is always “how will this help others to implement Arts Integration?” and if it can’t answer that question, it gets thrown out.

I encourage you to use the same concept in whatever platform you are currently using.

A platform could be a website, your classroom, a journal, or any type of service you are providing.  Think about how you use that platform to help others. What needs you’re fulfilling? And, how you are being strategic in its implementation?  A great book to read on this is Michael Hyatt’s Platform.  His reference of a wow-factor is something we all need more practice in implementing.

Whatever your journey or your goal in taking your next big steps, take the time to reflect on what leadership means to you and how you support and serve others in your current role as a college graduate, teacher or administrator.  Find where you fill a need and your next opportunity will present itself.

What’s next for you?  How will you use a refined lens and platform as a launch pad for standing out? 

About the Author

Susan Riley is the founder and CEO of The Institute for Arts Integration and STEAM. She focuses on teacher professional development in arts integration, STEAM, 21st century learning skills, and technology. She is also a published author and frequent presenter at national conferences on Arts Integration and STEAM education. Susan holds a Bachelor of Music degree in Music Education from the prestigious Westminster Choir College in Princeton, NJ and a Master of Science in Education Administration from McDaniel College in Westminster, MD. She lives in Westminster, MD with her husband and daughter. Email Susan