Archived Opinion

Inspired by Haywood’s assistant superintendent

Inspired by Haywood’s assistant superintendent

The cool thing about elementary students is they still get excited about the events and activities going on at their school. Once they roll into junior high the hormonal indifference sets in and even if they are thrilled about something, it’s hidden behind a veil of adolescent angst. 

I’ve got one child left in elementary school, and I’m trying to soak up all of the cuteness and eagerness that seems to evaporate once they leave the lower grades. My fifth-grade son recently applied to be on the safety patrol at his Haywood County elementary school. 

This group performs tasks such as putting up and taking down the flag, assisting the office staff in the mornings and afternoons, helping younger students as they get in and out of vehicles in the car line, and opening doors for staff and students. 

My son completed the application and then talked about it for weeks, anticipating when names would be announced. When the day finally came, I attended the program. As an aside, I want to highlight how wonderful it is to be back in schools watching sporting events, attending programs and volunteering. After the dark days of the pandemic, these special opportunities are not taken for granted. 

Haywood County Assistant Superintendent Jill Barker gave the introduction speech at the program. Her talk was titled ‘Five Characteristics of a Good Leader.’ I was pulled in by her words and impressed with the attentiveness of the gym-full of kids. 

In fact, I was so moved by her advice that I jotted notes down. At the end of the program, I asked if I could share them in my column in an attempt to spread the wisdom to a broader audience. Throughout my life, I’ve been empowered by various individuals in leadership roles and have served in leadership roles myself, whether those be professionally, socially or within a family unit. All leaders would do well to follow the tips below. 

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1. Build relationships: Building a relationship is different from networking. A true relationship involves trust and shared commitment. Relationships you build today may come into play a decade later. You just never know; that’s why it’s integral to be a good listener, a good person and nurture all relationships in your life. 

2. Take risks: Good leaders are constantly teaching, learning and searching for ways to grow and change. Sometimes this involves a little risk-taking. As long as your intention is true and authentic, being bold is a positive. Innovation and creativity drive success, and it’s hard to be creative and innovative without a little risk. 

3. Be kind: Even if you have different beliefs than someone or you are offering a reprimand or criticism, you can always be kind. Leaders who are kind also tend to be supportive, honest, fair, and the type of people who set clear expectations. A collective sense of support and positive morale goes a long way in any type of group activity or organization. 

4. Celebrate others: American culture is known to be power-driven and competitive, but this type of mentality does nothing for success and ingenuity. Researchers are finding that people who celebrate others tend to be happier, more grateful and experience lower levels of stress. Within the workplace, celebrating others can boost confidence and motivation. 

5. Find your passion: This piece of advice is critically important. It’s hard to be a good leader if you don’t feel passion toward the entity or industry in which you’re assigned to lead. The people you are leading will sense this and anything else you do will be ineffective. Before you can be a good leader, you must find your passion. 

While Mrs. Barker's speech was written for an elementary school program, her words resonated with the adults in the room as well. Looking around, there were many familiar faces, including teachers, coaches, other parents, grandparents, musicians, political officials, law enforcement agents and others. 

Life is a constant pendulum swing of leading and following. We need to lean into both with purpose. At the conclusion of her speech, Mrs. Barker said that if something doesn’t challenge us, it doesn’t change us. We’re here on earth to grow, evolve and contribute our talents to improve the world. If you’re passionate about what you do, grasp leadership opportunities when they come your way. If challenges arise, be confident you’ll be better because of them. 

By the way, my son is officially a member of the safety patrol. They not only announced the safety patrol but also student council, media assistants, choral assistants and art assistants. It was an incredible, thoughtful program, and when members of the Waynesville Police Department handed my son his safety patrol vest, the smile on his face was priceless. 

(Susanna Shetley is a writer, editor and digital media specialist with The Smoky Mountain News. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

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