I’ve been the Director of Innovation and Technology for two full years in my district and I’m a few months into my third. When I began my position in this new-to-me district, I went in wide-eyed, naive and excited. I had finally made it into an administrative role where I could develop my own leadership style and support teachers which in turn would positively affect the learning for so many students. I was convinced that everyone would see the passion and excitement I felt, but it didn’t exactly work that way. I immediately ran into a roadblock; I wasn’t trusted by the staff because the position itself wasn’t trusted. I came in looking to move forward, but I was actually already behind the 8-ball.
I don’t honestly know why, and although I can speculate some of the reasonings, spending time doing that does little more than give me something to blame, which isn’t useful. I do know that the majority of the mistrust didn’t have much to do with me personally because nobody knew me. If anything, it had more to do with my outsiderness. When I’ve reflected on the experience, I know that there were a few necessary but unpopular decisions that the previous tech director made that I had to initiate, which fell back onto me and didn’t help the trust factor. That being said, when I began this job, there was an obvious distrust for me that was initially attached to the position I held.
There are definitely times when a new person comes into a district where they inherit the trust (or lack thereof) that was built by someone else. While this definitely isn’t fair, the unfairness doesn’t make it less true. If an administrator (and I’ll pick on them because these are often the positions we see this happen to the most) comes in and their predecessor has been weak in leadership qualities, didn’t spend much time in the classroom, or treated people poorly, the new administrator will have a more difficult time changing the perception of them in that position than an administrator who is replacing someone who had built up the trust already. If a new person replaces someone who was not trusted, there may be camps of people who are anywhere from cautiously optimistic to downright mistrustful, no matter the background or previous track record of the newbie. They will rarely come into the position with the trust they had earned elsewhere or even the trust they deserve.
Again, unfair? Maybe. But, I guarantee that if this happens to you, the best course of action is first to get over the unfairness of it all. Living in that feeling will only grate on your nerves and cause you stress and will do nothing to build up the trust you so desperately want. If anything, the attitude that accompanies that feeling will do quite the opposite.
I read this quote by Patrick Lencioni (author of books like The Five Dysfunctions of a Team) today:
The key ingredient to building trust is not time. It’s courage.
I slightly (and respectfully) disagree but only because I think you need both.
Have the courage to do the opposite of what you might feel and begin doing all the things you know that good leaders should do. Be kind to people even if they aren’t always kind to you. Let go of negative interactions, be reflective on how communication can be more positive the next time, and try again. And again. And again. Assume positive intent. Surprise people with your proactiveness, your ability to appear when they need you most, and show compassion where others might not. Have difficult conversations as they are a way of building trust (see this blog post). Apologize when you’re wrong, no matter how difficult and pride swallowing that might be. Be strong. Be supportive. Be the leader you would want to have in a difficult time. And just when you’re exhausted and you start to wonder what you’re doing wrong, you will begin to see little changes; more people saying hi to you in the halls or people asking you to join them for lunch just because they enjoy your company. Building trust takes time and being courageous enough to fight our initial negative emotions and do what’s right. We want it to be fast, especially when we don’t believe ourselves to be the initial cause, but the only control we have over when others change their perceptions is the relentless fight we put up in convincing them to change. It has to be us that keeps on a steady path doing the right things and being a foundational support to make that happen. It has taken me two years and three-and-a-half months, and I’m just beginning to getting there.