Leaders know high expectations lead to high performance. Leaders know that the more people believe in themselves, and their leaders believe in them, the more they will accomplish – at all levels.
We often think of leadership in terms of the Jack Welch’s; the leaders of the military; the leaders of our government and institutions; the leaders of our industries. But leadership doesn’t come in any particular wrapper – it shows up all over the place.
Let me share a story of real leadership:
A young girl, in second grade in a small town in Wisconsin was tested and classified as a below grade level student. That designation put her in an educational wasteland. Not much expected of her, not much effort spent on her development. Her parents discovered she had a vision problem – she had been accommodating it by memorizing everything. It caught up with her in second grade. Her parents fixed the vision problem. Her parents talked to the school, but they were firm in their decision to keep her in a below grade level class. The young girl had a hard time thinking of herself as being as good as other kids – after all, her school said she wasn’t up to standard. And now she was the only kid in class with glasses.
After this young girl had completed fourth grade, her family moved to California. It was a good time to let this young girl catch her breath academically, and so she repeated fourth grade. No onus on it – she was in a completely different place.
And then the stars aligned and this young girl met the leader who would take her to a new place in her life.
Her fourth grade teacher was Mrs. Kruger. A former military nurse who had been in the South Pacific during WW II. No nonsense, firm, tough. On parents night she warned all parents to let her students be accountable for their actions. If a student forgot their lunch, don’t bring it to school. They won’t starve. Let the kids know they are responsible for their own actions. There were no below grade level kids in Mrs Kruger’s world. The young girl did forget her lunch early in the year. She came home hungry, but she never forgot it again.
Mrs Kruger taught from high expectations. If an assignment was turned in that didn’t meet her expectations for that student, they got to do it over, and over, and over – until she was satisfied that they had done their best work. The young girl was forced to redo her work often, and she didn’t always like it. But the work she turned in after being forced to redo it was always better for the extra effort – and she saw that – and knew hard work resulted in accomplishment.
There was no horseplay in Mrs Kruger’s class – no disrespect. She simply would not let it happen. Her class was a demanding, but safe place for her students to learn. She was energetic, critical, optimistic, and a wonderful teacher for this little girl. Her students respected and feared her – although she never threatened or used force of any kind. She just demanded her students do their best – even if they weren’t convinced they could do better. And when they did, she recognized them with praise.
After a year with Mrs Kruger, this young lady had achieved a three grade level improvement in reading, writing and arithmetic. It wasn’t easy – she worked really hard. But she knew she had performed – and what a change that made in her feelings about herself.
From that start – from that year with Mrs Kruger, this young woman went on to Honors Level classes in high school, to graduating from Boston College, and to getting her Masters in Special Education from Simmons College in Boston.
We’re very proud of our daughter- and we’re very thankful that she had the opportunity to spend a year of her young life learning from Mrs Kruger – a true leader.
There are so many qualities that a leader may possess – but the qualities of optimism; of demanding and expecting the best; of rewarding accomplishment; rank at the very top of the leadership list.
Take a look at how much you expect from yourself – and from others. If there is room for improvement, think of this story of Mrs Kruger, who made such a difference in our daughter’s life – and then go out and make it happen.
Do it today. We all can be Mrs Kruger in our own way.