“People buy into the leader before they buy into the vision.” John Maxwell – Leadership
Is it possible to get buy in to a vision if there isn’t buy in to the leader?
There’s a familiar saying “You can’t teach kids until you reach kids.” The idea here is that you have to develop a rapport with the people you lead; otherwise, they won’t buy into your vision. It’s all about the personal relationship. Yet, it is also true that if a leader doesn’t communicate the ‘why’ behind their ideas, then they won’t inspire any followers, no matter how charismatic and persuasive they are. This is true in classrooms and governments alike. Great leaders know how to blend the emotional and rational appeal to maximize effectiveness.
Join Steve and Dan Fouts – founders of Teach Different and twin brothers with over 50 years of teaching experience – along with guest Dr. Debbie Badawi, Head of School at Manarah Islamic Academy in Lehigh Valley, PA, for a compelling conversation about leadership, enriched by the Teach Different Method. Whether you are a teacher, school leader, or simply someone interested in experiencing the joy and fulfillment of challenging kids with big ideas, join our worldwide Community of Practice FREE for 30 days. Membership includes access to our robust library of resources, conversation plans, and lively discussions among teachers and faculty.
Image source: Flickr | Ministerio de Cultura y Deportes Guatemala
Dan Fouts 00:01
Hello, Steve and Dan Fouts here from Teach Different. We’re veteran teachers from the United States bringing educators together from around the world to learn a simple conversation method, which we model on this podcast for you. If you’re a teacher, administrator, homeschooler, or parent who wants to use the power of conversations to build stronger relationships and fight polarization, stay tuned to hear the impact our method can have on your discussions, then join our community of educators at teachdifferent.com for additional resources and to participate in lively conversations among teachers and faculty, free for 30 days.
Dan Fouts 00:45
Well, welcome everybody to the Teach Different podcast. We’re excited to have a great quote from American author, speaker, and pastor, John Maxwell, on leadership. We also have a wonderful guest, Dr. Debbie Badawi. She’s going to introduce herself in a moment once she weighs in on the quote. For those listeners who are unfamiliar with the Teach Different protocol, we’re going to start with a quote, work through the claim of the quote by interpreting it in our own words, using our own experiences as evidence behind it. We want to tell our own personal stories about how that claim is true for us. Then, we’re going to push against it and move to a counterclaim. This allows us to think about the quote in a different way, and to dig deep to figure out how to defend it. This is where that critical thinking piece, that tension, is really important for us as adults, and of course, for our students when we use this in class. It is an important skill that students need. At the end of the conversation, we’ll share any questions that have come up during the conversation. I think there will be some interesting questions that arise organically from this conversation. With that intro, let me give you the quote from John Maxwell. I’ll say it twice, and then Dr. Debbie is going to start us off. “People buy into the leader before they buy into the vision.” “People buy into the leader before they buy into the vision.” Dr. Debbie, welcome to the Teach Different podcast. It’s great to have you here. Tell us a little bit about yourself before you weigh in.
Dr. Debbie Badawi 02:39 – Claim
Well, thank you. Thank you. I’m pleased to be here, Dan, and Steve. You guys are doing awesome work here at Teach Different. I have been in education for 25 plus years. I’m currently the head of school at Menara Islamic Academy, an independent private school in Whitehall, Pennsylvania. I also do a lot of my own work with my YouTube channel empowering people and influencing others to build and nurture the best life they can have, as well as be the best human beings they can be. So, in a nutshell, that’s me. This quote by Maxwell really touched a piece of me because I’ve been a school administrator, a principal, and a vice principal for many years. In administration, whatever role you may be in, there’s always an “us and them” kind of mentality or way of thinking. All the way up through the middle of my career, and I’m talking 10 years in as an administrator, I could never break that barrier. For some reason, I couldn’t figure out what exactly was the problem. I couldn’t figure it out. I couldn’t get past that barrier. I could do my job well. I’m pretty good with people. Maybe I rubbed a few people wrong here and there or misspoke while going through that learning curve that we all go through in leadership. But, I just couldn’t figure out how to get through that barrier and extinguish that mindset. Then, I worked under a head of school, Jay Roy, at an international school. I wanted to work with him because when he interviewed me I connected with him on several important items. He was a master with people, the intrapersonal. The first year I was under him, I told him, you have to mentor me. This was 10-15 years into my career as an administrator. I told him that he had something, I didn’t know what it was, but he had it. I wanted to figure this out. I went through this whole personal and professional development connecting with people. Let me backup a little bit. When I was a teacher, I used to have a saying, “you can’t teach kids until you can reach kids.” Now, I don’t know if I found that saying somewhere or made it up, because I can’t find it anywhere today. I have used that throughout my teaching career with kids. I had an epiphany one day after speaking with my mentor and boss at that time, and I said, “you know what, you can’t lead people until you can reach people.” That is what resonated with me regarding this quote. You can have all the fancy language, all of the tools that you need, all of the skill, everything that you need to do your job really well in leadership, communicating vision and understanding vision and all of that, but what do people really want? How do you get people to really follow you? How do you really impact people? That comes across to me in this quote. It’s about you and them, not something else. In this case, the vision is secondary. That’s what resonated with me.
Steve Fouts 07:07
It’s the connection of the leader and the follower. Follower may not be a perfect word to use, but buying into the leader. Here’s a question I have. What does that mean to buy into a leader? Does that mean to trust? Does that mean you believe that the leader really cares about others? I’m wondering what that means to both of you, because I think that it’s going to help with the claim. I feel like you could read the buy a little differently and have a different take on the claim. What does it mean to buy into a leader?
Dr. Debbie Badawi 08:04
I think that it is connected with the truth, the relationship that you have, and the trust and belief you have in that person. It’s an emotional connection, a personal connection. What I’ve learned throughout my career is when people believe in you and know that you really care about them, then you can connect with and understand them, which is all relationship, then it’s a completely different ballgame. The possibilities that come out of that are so much broader than when you’re just trying to get a job done.
Dan Fouts 08:53
That’s really well said. I would concur with that. You mentioned this, Dr. Debbie, in your write up in prepping for this conversation, that if you insert teacher for leader, from a student perspective, they have to believe that you as a teacher care about them, and that they can trust you. If you have that established, then you can teach them anything. About a week ago, I was reading some of my old notes from students, thank you notes over the years that I’ve kept. One of them was from 20 years ago. A student said something to the effect of, “I always wanted to do work in your class because I didn’t want to let you down because I knew that you cared.” That is an affirmation of what you’re saying. My student was working in class because there was trust.
Dr. Debbie Badawi 09:58
Absolutely. To add a little bit to what you said, as an example with kids. I’ve worked with some of the most dangerous and most challenging students in this country. I was in a maximum security treatment facility as a teacher at one point for a few years. Those kids are viewed, for the lack of a better way to describe it, as the castaways, because they were adjudicated. They were “criminals” and had done some pretty bad things. They had emotional, behavioral and all sorts of identified issues. These kids in particular had zero trust in anybody. I had a child tell me one time the same thing that you just said. “I know that you care about me, and you didn’t just leave me over there in the corner.” For that to come out of a kid’s mouth who is hardened and has major issues says something about the value of having an authentic true relationship with kids, or with anybody that you’re trying to collaborate, work with, lead, or whatever term you want to put in there.
Steve Fouts 11:41
It’s emotional which means it probably has many forms, and it will look differently in different contexts. There’s some bond there that creates that buy in. The quote is saying that people are looking for that emotional bond, that emotional reason, to get behind someone. They’re looking at that much more than they’re looking for some vision or statement on a wall that’s supposedly going to motivate them. That’s not how human beings are. We’re emotional creatures. That’s what I’m getting from the quote.
Dr. Debbie Badawi 12:28
Yeah, agreed. I agree with you completely. If it’s okay I want to diverge just a little bit here. In education, or in any profession, really, we’re taught calm leadership, be calm with students, don’t be emotional, don’t get emotional. We’re supposed to keep the emotions wrapped up in a ball and not show anybody because it’s considered unprofessional. Now, I’m not saying to be overly emotional, don’t misunderstand me; however, the emotional piece is really important. That is the feel good from where everything grows and develops. If I’m angry with a child, or a teacher or another administrator, there’s nothing wrong with saying with emotion, not disrespectfully, that I’m really upset and angry right now about this entire situation. You’re going to show emotion. That’s real. That’s authentic, and that earns you the position in the relationship to be able to nurture, grow and develop from there.
Dan Fouts 13:59
Yeah, that’s really good. The emotional attachment that you have to form with people isn’t purposeful, but should become a natural extension of who you are. If you care about your work and your students, from the perspective of a classroom setting to make it practical for our listeners, the kids will feel it, and they will respond to it. As I said earlier, if you have that initial connection with them on that level, then it’s so much easier to teach them things. I’ve had about eight or nine student teachers over the course of my career, and that is the one thing I say to them, but is the hardest to convey because as a student teacher they’re so overwhelmed. They’re not in tune with the emotional connection aspect of the job. They are just trying to stay above water and keep up with the content. But, I think it’s really important for younger teachers and leaders, maybe principals and assistant principals, to take a step back to get this one thing right, and then everything else will flow.
Dr. Debbie Badawi 15:23
Mm hmm. Absolutely.
Steve Fouts 15:26
Well, I don’t want to get into the counterclaim.
Dan Fouts 15:30
Read the quote, again, Steve, before you do.
Steve Fouts 15:32 – Counterclaim
“People buy into the leader before they buy into the vision.” This one is easy to do mechanically. Just switch up vision, and leader and see if you can make sense out of that. I don’t know what angle either of you took on this, but my first thought would be people buy into a reason for doing something before they buy into a person. If you have a reason to do something, then the people in your life, whether it’s your colleague or your principal, can be imperfect. If we put all our eggs in one basket and buy into the leader, whoever they are, and they mess up, we don’t want that to shake the foundation of why we’re there. We need to focus on a vision first instead of a person. I don’t even know if that was a counterclaim. I’m just trying to process something out of this. What do you two think?
Dr. Debbie Badawi 17:06
Well, I think I agree with you. The counterclaim is a little bit more challenging, but once you frame it and switch those words around, what I thought about was this. I was in Qatar for about four years. Now. If anybody knows anything about Qatar, it’s glitzy and glammy. There’s a lot of money there. Everything is over the top. Our school had an Olympic sized pool, for example. Everything is just all about the things, the glitz and the glam, what you have, and the shininess of it. When you look at our profession, whether you’re a teacher, or whatever your role is, and you job hunt at job fairs, career fairs, whatever the case may be, people are looking at words. They’re looking at the words you put on the paper, and you want your words to be the best, maybe a little bit glitzy and glamorous. Then, you look at marketers, and it’s all catchy phrases. Once again, what comes up is the glitz and glam. When you put things into a vision, you’re communicating in a very short way something that is going to catch somebody’s attention. It plays upon those kinds of things that human beings like – shiny, nice things. So, we’ve kind of bought into the idea that if everything looks shiny and glitzy, and if everything is glamorous and beautiful, then it must be so. I think in the business world, the first thing they’re going to say is what’s your vision, what does your company do? There’s an argument, or a counterclaim, that you have to have your vision, you have to have something to catch people, before they ask who you are.
Dan Fouts 20:32
Well said. I love the tact you took with the business and vision statement. That’s really good. I’d like to just bring it down to a classroom right now, and I’m going to use teacher instead of leader. Some students have to have an emotional connection with a teacher quickly, or they won’t connect. There are other students who could care less. They want to know what they need to do to get an A, what are we doing this semester, give me the schedule, give me the routines, give me the homework, get out of my way. I think this is a personality preference. Certain students just want division. As long as the leader follows the vision in a predictable way, they are very happy. They don’t need the emotional connection. You have to deal with those students. In your case, Dr. Debbie, those faculty members who probably are like that. This is why leadership is so difficult. You have to figure out exactly who needs what and when to be a good leader.
Dr. Debbie Badawi 21:56
…or to be a good teacher with 20-30 students with all the different intricacies, personalities, etc. Who needs what, when, and how do I reach that? How do I get to that? Yeah.
Dan Fouts 22:17
Not to mention the students who don’t have any means by which to connect with you, whether it be through the vision or through your personality. Those are the ones you have to dig deep and pull aside after class and ask, what do you care about, what’s the connection we can make? Do you know what the bottom line is? We don’t make connections with everyone. It’s not possible. That’s another important lesson of leadership and teaching.
Steve Fouts 22:49
I keep thinking about the head and the heart. The claim is talking about the heart. When you’re talking about a vision, it’s more intellectual. It’s about understanding something. Some people need that first in order to be led. They need to have that idea in their head. Other people, they just need a hug every day. It’s interesting. How did we do with that? Were there any other counterclaims or ways to expand on it? That was pretty clear.
Dr. Debbie Badawi 23:32
I don’t have anything else. I’m kind of stuck on the last comment about how we can’t connect with everybody. I just want to say one thing to that. If we’re talking about the mass of all humanity, of course, everybody we meet in one day, we can’t. We’re not going to connect with everybody. But, when we’re talking about the classroom, and you have 20+ students or faculty, if you’re not in tune, and you’re not cognitively seeking out to make connections, then you miss them. That’s what leads us to believe that we can’t make connections with everybody. In the scenario that I just painted, if you make a cognitive and well thought out purposeful effort to make a connection with every kid in that classroom in some way, for that day, for that moment, it is possible to do. Then, it feeds right back into your credibility, building trust and how much anybody will buy into your vision.
Dan Fouts 25:07
Yeah, agreed. You have to stay optimistic and positive. That made me think of something else. As a teacher, I often feel like I’m not making a connection, but I actually am. The students are just not expressing it in a way that I’m acknowledging. They’ll come back later, two years later, and visit me and say, I really liked your class. I look at some of these students and think I had no idea at the time. So, we make connections despite ourselves sometimes.
Steve Fouts 25:52
Absolutely. We’ve talked about this before, Dan. Certain students need a responsible adult, who comes to work, and that they can see on a consistent basis. You don’t need to do anything else. Do that and you have the connection.
Dan Fouts 26:17
That’s the connection – the stability, the predictability, the trust that there’s an adult there taking care of them.
Dr. Debbie Badawi 26:25
Steve Fouts 26:29
What about a question? Dr. Debbie, did you have anything in mind or Dan?
Dr. Debbie Badawi 26:40 – Essential Question
Since I’ve been working with this quote, a question that has been in my mind is, can we maintain the buy in to the vision if we don’t have the buy in to us? Is it possible?
Steve Fouts 27:11
I love it. I love that, and I love the yes, no answer. That’s great. Read it again, Dr. Debbie.
Dr. Debbie Badawi 27:26
It’s in my brain. It’s in my head. I didn’t write it down.
Steve Fouts 27:29
Well, hey, we recorded it. If we have to, I’ll edit this part out.
Dr. Debbie Badawi 27:34
Okay. So the question is, is it possible to reach a vision if there isn’t buy in to the leader? Is it even possible?
Steve Fouts 28:04
Right, I wrote it down.
Dan Fouts 28:07
I like it. That’s it. I don’t even want to pollute it with another one.
Steve Fouts 28:15
I have something.
Dan Fouts 28:16
I want to answer it though.
Steve Fouts 28:18
I do too. I think that happens a lot. I’m just going to keep it general here. Look at any religious movement, and look at when one of the leaders fell short. The question is, do you stay with your belief system and your religion or do you lose your faith in everything because someone else showed their fallibility?
Dr. Debbie Badawi 28:57
There are some people who would lose their faith. Is my religion, Islam, a prime example of what you just spoke of? There are so many misunderstandings and misconceptions based upon people’s behaviors and actions. Certain people who identify themselves with the religion have totally destroyed people’s understanding of Islam. If the vision is evil, hurtful and harmful, then people definitely wouldn’t buy into that person for sure.
Steve Fouts 30:16
Dr. Debbie Badawi 30:18
But, on the flip side of that, if you have one person who is emulating the good, upstanding example of that same religion, then there will be people who will shift. They bought into it because of the person and the example, together. They were both important. I don’t know if I said that well.
Steve Fouts 30:54
Yeah, it makes sense. It made sense. I don’t know why I went to religion. I think it’s because of vision and belief. In religion, you really get that dynamic of following ideals and people. It gets mixed, depending on who you are, and how you’re considering.
Dr. Debbie Badawi 31:22
That was a perfect example. That was actually a really good example.
Steve Fouts 31:28
Well, your essential question did it.
Dan Fouts 31:33
Yeah, that was really good. Well, this has been a very crisp, interesting, thoughtful, provocative conversation. Dr. Debbie, we really appreciate you coming on to the Teach Different Podcast and doing this with us. Your perspective is very interesting. I think we’ve provided a lot of really important ideas for people to think about with this conversation. We spoke about leadership, vision, forming emotional connections with people, but also forming intellectual connections. I think we can all agree that both are really important in order for an organization or a classroom to run smoothly. Well, gosh, society, even country. A really important discussion. I’m inspired by the John Maxwell quote, “People buy into the leader before they buy into the vision.” Thank you so much, Dr. Debbie. I wish you best of luck, and thanks for doing the great work that you do within education.
Dr. Debbie Badawi 32:48
Thank you. Thank you for having me. Thank you.
Dan Fouts 32:53
Thanks, everybody. We hope you’re walking away feeling energized by some great ideas, and have a sense of confidence that you too can master the art and science of conversations to make a lasting impact. We at Teach Different are dedicated to supporting you along that journey. Please visit teachdifferent.com to join the community of educators for additional resources and engaging discussion among fellow teachers and administrators, free for 30 days. We’ll see you there and next time from the Teach Different podcasts. Take care.