When you are young and inexperienced, you may tend to devalue experience. Through the filter of your youthful, often-untried efficacy beliefs, you see some older people simply repeating the same experience over and over again without seeming to learn or grow from it. And you may legitimately argue that this kind of experience has little value. As you grow older, you realize that successful experience expands your knowledge and increases your skills. In other words, it builds your competence and strengthens your self-confidence.
Successful experience that positively affects personal efficacy, though, does involve developing “self-regulatory tools” that enable you to undertake effective actions in the face of changing circumstances (Bandura, 1995, p. 80). Among those tools is self-reflection, the ability to analyze and appraise your experience and to learn from it. Many other factors besides self-evaluation of your performance, of course, influence how your success or failure will affect your efficacy beliefs—among them your preconceptions about your abilities, the difficulty of the challenges that you have undertaken, and other external circumstances. Nevertheless, self-reflection about your experience can strengthen your competence and confidence.
In chapter 3, Linda Hanson told about how as a young administrator she did not feel firmly “grounded” in her own philosophy about teaching and learning. She recalled having a leadership role in a process to “totally change the direction of instruction” and remembered a “sick feeling in her stomach” as she asked herself, “Am I doing the best thing for kids?” In retrospect, she thought that the changes that she and her teachers had made were, in fact, valuable. This experience strengthened her efficacy. And she credited her self-reflection for helping her persevere despite her self-doubts: “Probably the single thing I have done the most as an instructional leader is to have used myself as a laboratory—when I say, ‘Well, how do I learn that? Under what circumstances ... would this work for me or wouldn't it work? Would it work for my kids?’ And so often that clarifies.” Using herself as a “laboratory” was a key self-regulatory tool through which Hanson filtered her experience and made judgments about future actions. Her success in this cycle of self-reflection and action enabled her to develop “faith in herself and the tenacity”—self-efficacy—to continue to undertake and persevere in difficult and complex tasks.
For mastery experiences to affect efficacy positively, they need to be challenging. If you only have easy successes, then you expect quick results and don't learn how to deal with adversity and failure. “A resilient sense of efficacy requires experience in overcoming obstacles through perseverant effort” (Bandura, 1995, p. 80).
As with all successful school leaders, Hanson took on challenging goals that presented obstacles, tested her, and strengthened her tenacity. She described one of these initiatives: “I had two high schools, and they were both very suspicious of each other.... So I decided to start the Leadership Academy. The Leadership Academy is where one administrator would go to the opposite school ... and switch places for a year. And I ... mandated that they had to do it. There were some real unhappy people in the beginning. And that took tenacity to see it through because ... they were grumbly.
“It turned out to be wonderful. It turned out to be a great, great thing. And actually it turned out to be great for the individuals who partook of it because three of them went out after that experience and became principals in other places because they had just enough of a step up. That was a place where I really needed tenacity.”
As an experienced superintendent in Sarasota, Florida, Chuck Fowler had developed a strong sense of personal mastery and concomitant strong sense of self-efficacy. These qualities fueled his commitment and tenacity to take on significant challenges that further confirmed the success of his values-based leadership.
“When I went there in 1985,” Fowler told us, “in that county and in most of Florida, corporal punishment was still permitted. It wasn't widely practiced in our school district, but it was there, and I knew psychologically and educationally this was a poor policy. But there were other people who were of the ‘If it's not broke, don't fix it’ mentality. And I think in 1986 the legislature made it optional.... So we became the first county in Florida that acted on that authority, and we just abolished it.
“Again people would say, ‘Don't go there—kids aren't really being hurt by this, and it's not a big enough issue for you to stake your professional life on this issue.’ But I felt so strongly that it was wrong, even if there were only one victim of it. And I knew that with proper education, the board would agree with me and set the policy. It became like a domino effect. We adopted it one month. Another county adopted it three months later, and within a matter of a couple of years, probably ... two-thirds of the counties ruled [corporal punishment] out.
“For me it was an adaptive issue,” Fowler remarked. “You could look at it technically and justify abolishing it just on technical grounds because it creates too great a liability, personal injury risk, that sort of thing. But it was just not right. That was enough to drive me to try to get that accomplished.”
Set Short-Term Goals and Benchmarks of Progress
Another key strategy that successful school leaders use to strengthen confidence and competence is to set and achieve specific, attainable and assessable goals. Actively envisioning some concrete short-term and desired outcome—as opposed to only articulating an abstract, indeterminate, remote goal—can motivate you, shape your actions, define your competence, and ultimately provide real evidence of efficacy. Indefinite goals do not help you decide which activities to choose or how much effort to invest. Indefinite goals also give you no useful information for evaluating your performance. You cannot unambiguously know that you have successfully gotten somewhere unless you know in advance where you are trying to go. You cannot be fully satisfied and feel competent about what you have done unless your accomplishment clearly fulfills personal goals that you have set (Maddux, 2002, p. 283).
An example of the motivational power of specific, short-term goals comes from marathon running. As an endurance runner you learn early not to define the goal as completing 26 miles in a certain time. You must break the whole into parts in order not to become overwhelmed, intimidated, and defeated by the pain that running 26 miles entails. A first goal may be to run the first five miles in a certain time and then see how you feel. At that point, you can experience early success in meeting your first target and set a second goal—the next five miles—and adjust the hoped-for time according to your performance so far.
The scholars and practitioners whom we interviewed for this volume certainly confirmed the value of setting focused, short-terms goals. Tom Sergiovanni, for example, stated, “I think there are two virtues that have to do with whatever success I've had, and neither of them has to do with what you know or how smart you are. One is ... to be able to have a razor-sharp focus on a handful of things that are really important to you. [The other is to] try not to dilute what you're doing at first across the whole spectrum of the rainbow, so to speak.” As Sergiovanni suggested, short-term, attainable, specific goals not only provide a “razor-sharp focus” for energies and actions but also help you avoid distractions that can dilute efforts, attenuate success, and lead to lower self-efficacy.
Carol Choye confirmed in practice short-term goals' value to success. She became involved in a strategic planning process that laid out a global vision of school district aspirations but failed to provide the impetus and motivation necessary to galvanize people's attention and energies. “You had hundreds of people involved with strategic planning,” she said. “But one of the things you didn't have was community and staff action planning. ... A very supportive board ... said it's not enough just to have a strategic plan; you need to come to us and tell us on a year-to-year basis what the priorities are. We ... developed a model so that every year we could fine-tune.” “Chunking out” the strategic plan into smaller annual goals helped Choye mobilize resources and achieve greater competence.
Interestingly, though, research suggests that accomplishment of a challenging goal does not automatically lead to strengthened competence, confidence, and the desire to achieve even more challenging goals. Unlike Choye and Fowler, some people feel enough self-doubt, even after a success that came with difficulty, that they do not want to invest themselves so totally again. Some judge that the cost of success was too high and choose not to set such challenging goals again. Some of the school leaders whom we interviewed evinced this attitude. They felt good about what they had accomplished—for example, in convincing a reluctant community to support a reorganization of grade-level structure that meant some families would attend different schools—and experienced no loss of self-efficacy. However, they felt, overall, that the cost to them personally was too great in terms of time invested, hostility faced, and pain felt.
Claim Small Wins
As a professional educator like Betsy Grundy, the principal whom we introduced in the previous chapter, you probably have high expectations for yourself. If, like her, you also have an overdeveloped sense of responsibility, when things go wrong, you may see yourself as deficient in knowledge and skills. Plagued with self-doubts, you may be unable to see and take credit for small successes, even when those around you try to point them out. This negative cycle spirals downward. Lower personal efficacy means less ability to see success and to achieve competence, which means less confidence and even lower self-efficacy.
If you can learn to claim your successes, however, you can avoid or reverse the cycle. Your efficacy will spiral upward if you, first, view your competencies not as immutable, God-given traits but as abilities that you acquire through experience and effort and apply incrementally in particular contexts (Maddux, 2002, p. 284). If Grundy can remember that she acquired her skills over time and through hard work in her previous job and that she achieved success with them slowly and incrementally, she may be better able to see and take credit for her small wins in her new school, as she continues to develop skills and builds success one person and one situation at a time.
You can reverse the negative personal efficacy spiral, second, by retraining your attribution reflexes. People who attribute success to their personal skills and failure to lack of effort will undertake more difficult tasks and persevere in them for longer than those who reflexively attribute success to situational factors and failure to their own lack of skill (Bandura, 1995, pp. 122–123). If you believe in the power of effort, then, when you hit obstacles, you will be motivated to work harder in applying your skills. As a result, you may achieve more success and higher levels of competence as well as feel more confident about your skills. If Grundy can begin to see her small successes (e.g., each time she helps one teacher strengthen a lesson or solve a student problem) as a result of her leadership skills rather than give credit only to the teacher or some other factor, she can get back on the attribution road that leads to greater efficacy.
The third way to enhance your ability to claim success and strengthen your efficacy is to allow yourself and those who support you to inflate your estimate of your own capabilities. As discussed earlier, some positive distortion in your self-efficacy can lead you to more efficacy-enhancing success (Maddux, 2002, p. 284). Obviously, if this positive distortion becomes an illusion of grandiosity, it will be destructive. In Grundy's case, however, her superintendent and other supporters would do well to be generous in their feedback about her abilities. If her self-confidence increases, she will accomplish more, be better able to claim her successes, and feel better about herself.
Recover Quickly from Setbacks
Another strategy for strengthening confidence and competence is to recover quickly from setbacks. Effective action requires both competence and the confidence to be successful. Talented people with the skills, like Grundy, can undermine themselves by self-doubt that weakens their efficacy. As we have reiterated, storms happen; adversity sets in. “Self-doubt can set in fast after failures and reversals” (Bandura, 1995, p. 72). The problem is not that adversity produces self-doubt. That's a normal, human reaction. As discussed in Chapter 1, the issue is how quickly you recover your sense of efficacy after these events. Research shows that speed of recovery “separates high achievers from those who settle for lesser accomplishments” (Bandura, 1995, p. 95).
Effective school leaders recognize that the complexity of their jobs means that oversights and other mistakes are inevitable. They have learned to rebound. What's more, they value the personal flexibility that allows them to recover quickly from setbacks. In Chapter 3, we related Ben Canada's story about the state of the district address he delivered. As he publicly declared his plans, he looked over at the board members' faces and realized that he had not informed them in advance of his remarks, so that they could be prepared and not surprised.
Most, if not all, school leaders have found themselves in Canada's situation with one constituency or another. They understand to their core that communication with all interest groups, especially the board, is critical. Nevertheless, in their messy and fragmented work world, they also know that oversights like this one happen. The issue is not that you fail to communicate occasionally. The issue, instead, is how quickly you recover. Here is how Canada recovered: “Well, I think you can be flexible in setting your strategies to recover from setbacks.... I immediately went back to the board and acknowledged that I'd made the mistake. And though I believed in what I was doing, my capacity to get it done was greatly diminished without their support of it, and I was now asking for support after the fact. In the future I would make every effort not to put them in that predicament again. And I did get their support.”
If Canada had simply ignored the looks that he saw on board members' faces or if his personal efficacy beliefs had been damaged by their nonverbal feedback and he became defensive as a result, then this situation might have quickly have become irrecoverable. Instead, he acted quickly, using his communication skills effectively, and won their support. The combination of his intact efficacy beliefs and his skills allowed a speedy recovery.
Psychological research suggests that, under adversity, many individuals and organizations respond in ways that inhibit their ability to be flexible and to recover quickly (Weick, 2003, p. 75). Rather than trying to get more and better information about the nature of the crisis, under stress they become defensive, narrow their information processing and thus ignore vital data that might help their understanding of the storm that they face and how to respond effectively. In contrast, resilient individuals and organizations, in the face of a storm and despite the stress, respond flexibly. They broaden their information processing, seeking more and better information about the nature of the storm. As noted in Chapter 5, Alicia Thomas told us about hearing negative feedback from both subordinates and her boss—that central office meetings with principals needed to be revamped. Although she initially and reflexively felt the natural tendency to be defensive that most of us would feel in this situation, she learned to respond constructively to criticism. She quickly met with her staff, shared the information, and developed changes that addressed the concerns. As she said, “We're really changing how we do business for next year, totally. But I'm kind of excited about it.”
Thomas's openness to negative information means that she will more quickly get better information about impending storms and be better able to forecast consequences and minimize their negative effects. The negative information that she had received about meeting structure allowed her to forecast a storm to her own staff and to make changes that would support quick recovery. As a result of her flexibility, she was able to change “how we do business” (i.e., become more competent) and to feel good about her responsiveness, a positive sense that enhances her confidence.
Your physical and emotional states clearly affect and are affected by your sense of confidence and competence. The impact of your physical state occurs, for example, when you associate physiological indicators—such as clammy hands, rapid heart beat, or flushed face—with actual or perceived poor performance. It also occurs, conversely, when you associate other indicators—dry hands, regular heartbeat, and beaming face—with success. A similar impact occurs when you associate certain emotional states—anxiety, alarm—with failure and other states—calmness, content—with success (Maddux, 2002, p. 280).
Because you feel a stronger sense of efficacy when you are calm than when you are upset, strategies for controlling negative feelings, especially anxiety, are crucially important (Maddux, 2002, p. 283). Anxiety not only reduces self-efficacy but also degrades your competence because it disrupts your focus, concentration, and ability to employ your skills as effectively as you can. Managing your emotions to reduce negative, destructive feelings and to strengthen positive efficacy-inducing feelings is a key element of emotional intelligence that we will discuss in more depth in the next chapter.
Some of the school leaders whom we interviewed have consciously developed and implemented self-control strategies to stay calm—and effective—during emotion-fraught meetings. Hanson told us, “You've got a parent who's in your face, and you break eye contact, and you start writing. It gives you another thing to concentrate on; it cools you down.” Canada, too, kept his cool at difficult times by writing notes to himself: “I developed a process in taking notes—critical points that somebody was making—and at other times I doodled, and at other times I'd say something comical, make a little comical note to myself about what it is that this person said.” In the turmoil of a heated moment, both Canada and Hanson were able to disengage themselves from becoming too emotionally involved by carrying on an internal dialogue through a notepad. As Canada said, “You're having a dialogue with yourself and giving the impression that you're also seriously concerned about what it is that they are saying.”
Taking care of physical health as well as emotional health is also essential to sustaining your self-confidence and high levels of competence. Self-efficacy affects biological processes that, in turn, affect your health. Lowered self-efficacy weakens feelings of personal agency and mastery and increases feelings of stress. Stress can have many deleterious effects, including a weaker immune system. When you perceive yourself as lacking control over what happens to you, you are more susceptible to infections and other diseases, and the progress of disease is more apt to accelerate (Bandura, 1997, p. 262).
An enhanced sense of self-efficacy, in contrast, is essential to changing unhealthy behavior and to following through on efforts to improve your health. Strong self-efficacy correlates with every aspect of healthy behavior, including diet, exercise, smoke cessation, safe sex, and avoidance of alcohol abuse (Maddux, 2002, p. 281). Our interviewees were keenly aware of the importance of taking care of physical health and actively committed to healthy behaviors that improve physical fitness. We talk more about specific examples of these behaviors in Chapter 9.
Strong Connections to Others
Personal efficacy, as Betsy Grundy's case demonstrates, is highly contextual. Grundy is not the same principal in her new school as she was in her old one. All of the circumstances of her leadership are different, as are the people around her. Recognizing that variability is a fact of life, you can still improve your chances of maintaining your efficacy at a high level and of performing at or near your peak by staying closely connected to people around you who can provide both professional and personal support to your efforts. The school leaders whom we interviewed described several strategies for maintaining and increasing strong connections to others.
Believe in the Power of the Team
In effective organizations, efficacy becomes more than a personal attribute. The phenomenon of “collective efficacy” often emerges. This capacity is more than the sum of the perceived self-efficacy of individuals. It is, in addition, the belief in the group's capability to face any threat that arises with a sense of confidence that the group will prevail. In Grundy's previous schools, her faculty and she had a deeply held belief in their ability to accomplish common goals by working effectively together. She built a faculty team of professionals who believed in her and in their joint work. She also hired a core team around her—an assistant principal, school psychologist, and teacher leaders—on whom she could rely. Because of her self-knowledge and confidence, she was able to deliberately hire people who had personality and work styles different from her own but who had strengths in areas where she perceived herself as having weakness. For example, Grundy describes herself as a “big picture” person, so she hired an assistant who is a “detail” person. Building an administrative team with a balance of strengths increased her personal efficacy and resilience capacity and enabled her to weather successfully the myriad of storms, both large and small, that she faced. Berscheid (2003, p. 55) confirms the importance and value of the kind of self-efficacy and social intelligence that Grundy exhibited in enlisting others in her work projects and in developing a work environment with others whose talents complement her own.
Stay Connected to Mentors
Mentors can perform a number of roles. They can provide career advice and even career opportunities. They can offer emotional support as confidantes or practical support as problem solvers. By both how they act and how they think and talk about their actions, mentors also teach you skills and influence your efficacy beliefs.
Modeling the behavior of mentors is an important source of information about your efficacy. Unlike hitters in baseball, for example, who can judge their adequacy from their batting averages, in most school activities, measures of adequacy are less clear. You often can evaluate your proficiency only by comparing yourself to others and convincing yourself that if they can do it, you can, too (Bandura, 1995, p. 86).
Actively seek models who have the competencies to which you aspire and who are similar enough to you that you think modeling is possible (Bandura, 1995, p. 88). Even when your models fail in an activity, if you perceive better alternatives that your model and now you could take, your sense of efficacy may be enhanced.
Just being exposed to effective mentors is not enough to strengthen efficacy, however. Research has identified four cognitive functions that enable modeling to lead to greater efficacy: (1) attending closely not only to what the mentor says and does but also to how your mentor thinks about issues, (2) remembering the complexities of what you want to model, (3) translating these learnings into appropriate actions, and (4) putting them into practice (Bandura, 1995, p. 90).
A high-quality mentoring relationship that enhances the mentee's efficacy and effectiveness, then, is a complex phenomenon that takes time to develop. The level of quality of the relationship strongly correlates with the degree of psychological growth that the mentee experiences (Dutton & Heaphy, 2003, p. 273). This was certainly the case for Betsy Grundy. As a new principal in her previous school, she was assigned a mentor with whom she developed a trusting relationship over a period of years and from whom she learned. The friendship and trust that developed between them enabled Grundy to attend closely to her mentor. As Grundy confronts current problems, even though her mentor has retired and moved away, she often considers how her mentor would think about and solve a problem. She has retained or internalized many of her mentor's perspectives—the “lens” through which her mentor viewed the world. For example, she embraces her mentor's perspectives about student placement. Each parent's job is to get the best possible teacher for his or her child. But the school's job is to create the best possible learning situation for every child. In her professional practice, Grundy has translated this learning from her mentor into a strategy for organizing the annual process for student placement—providing opportunities for parent input but reserving the final decisions for the professionals. Despite the fact that Grundy is now an experienced, midcareer principal, reconnecting with her mentor or finding herself a new one as she encounters new challenges in her new school would be an important step in trying to recover her personal efficacy.
Experienced school leaders whom we interviewed confirmed that mentoring is valuable for mid- or late-career professionals as well as for the new and inexperienced. As he reflected on his career as a superintendent, Canada talked of the value of continued mentoring to sustain and enhance self-efficacy.
“Early on in my professional career,” Canada told us, “I listened more to mentors, and I was successful because of that. I now realize that I should have kept the percentage of times I referred to a mentor, to seek advice, more about a 50-50 than I did at the end, when it was probably 70-30.... I think that's a mistake on the part of a lot of administrators. As you grow, you tend to believe ‘I don't need to seek help.’ And [people] are going to say, ‘Can't you make a decision?’ But as you grow and you take on greater responsibility, you need to have someone whom you interact with outside the system who ... can honestly tell you what they think is right and wrong. I think there's a great value in that, and I would encourage leaders, administrators, and public educators in particular to maintain that relationship more on a balance.”
Canada is describing here a competency trap. That is, as you perceive yourself as more capable, and as your self-confidence strengthens, you may cut yourself off from sources of efficacy-enhancing information. You may perceive the opportunity to learn from mentors and models as a sign of weakness, of low efficacy, rather than as an indicator of strength—that you are self-confident enough to continue to be open to new learning.
School reform experts also recognize the complexity of cognitive functioning involved if mentoring is to affect efficacy when they talk about the importance of long-term mentoring relationships. Dennis Sparks, for example, told us, “I am a real believer in one-to-one assistance that goes by various names, such as executive coaching, life coaching, where you have regular phone conversations or face-to-face meetings [with someone] who helps you get clear and figure out what you might be able to do to allow you to achieve what is important.”
Michael Fullan, too, talked of the importance of mentors in a supportive organizational culture over time: “If you are looking at a given 100 new leaders, you might find 20 percent who couldn't become resilient. They aren't cut out for the complexity. Then you find another chunk at the other end who could take it and run with it, then you have about 60 percent who could get a lot better with messiness if they had the right kind of development ... So they are going to have a reflecting mentoring relationship with someone in a system who is trying to be culturally more sensitive to complexity and swampiness. If they are in a system that is trying to do that, and if they have the individual qualities and are reflective, and the system is reinforcing it, then things could come together. As I think of time lines, it would take about 10 years to produce a leader who would be good at this.”
Among the school leaders whom we interviewed for this volume, some extolled the value of a mentor in the role of model and in other roles as well. Thomas, for example, as a young teacher, had the opportunity to mentor with her district superintendent. “I had a very lucky thing happen to me,” she said. “I got a job called administrative assistant to the superintendent, which at that point was a teacher out of the classroom, and you got this year or two years with the superintendent in a learning position. You worked with the board in a gofer kind of capacity, but you went everywhere the superintendent went, including his evaluation.... And, as fate would have it, two weeks after I got the job, the superintendent's wife had a heart attack, and I ended up sitting with him at the hospital. I'd bring his mail, stuff to sign, and he and I became very close. After she recovered, the two of them treated me really like their daughter. That ended up being the most wonderful mentoring relationship of all.”
Several other interviewees were lucky enough to have bosses who mentored them by helping them to think differently about issues. Maria Goodloe, superintendent of schools in Charleston, South Carolina, talked about her mentoring relationship with her superintendent when she was a high school principal: “He was outspoken, he was a visionary, he was smart, and he was a thinker.... Some high school baseball kids did a horrible thing—beating up on kids with baseball bats is something that made me so angry. I was determined they weren't going to walk in graduation. He was so good, he said, ‘Now, Maria, I'm not telling you what to do, but I want you to think about this. They've gone through 12 years of school, and this is one incident.’ ... Well, he finally got me to work through it, and he never told me what to do. But I worked through it, and he was right. There was a consequence for their behavior. But it wasn't not allowing them to walk at graduation because to me it fit the crime but it really didn't. It was an overreaction, because it was an emotional incident.”
Most of our interviewees talked clearly and consistently of mentors as providing emotional support as well as career opportunities and advice. When Vince Ferrandino, for example, was commissioner of education in Connecticut, the person who hired him and to whom he reported was the then governor, Lowell Weicker. Ferrandino and Weicker collaborated on a plan to equalize and desegregate Connecticut public schools. During the process, Ferrandino, the point man for the plan, ran into stiff opposition that included death threats to himself and his family. Throughout, Ferrandino felt the governor's personal as well as professional support. He describes the governor as much as a counselor and colleague who helped him through this tough time as a political leader to whom he reported: “My basic support was the governor. He was very much aligned with this, supportive, and he would call me on a regular basis to be sure I was OK.”
Maintain Strong Workplace Relationships
Your resilient personal efficacy in the face of a life storm generally does not occur in isolation. Translating your efficacy into resilient behavior most frequently occurs in a social context, within a web of your relationships with others. As important as it is to understand the internal strengths and resources that you bring to moments of adversity, it is equally important to understand how the characteristics of relationships affect resilient personal efficacy. What qualities in relationships enable you to persevere in attaining goals in spite of daily challenges, distractions, and setbacks? What qualities in relationships enable you to bounce back from adversity?
Psychologists have only begun to investigate systematically the specific “causal pathways” between strong relationships and psychological strengths like self-efficacy. But they do know that human strengths “reside partly in the interpersonal nets that nurture them” (Caprara & Cervone, 2003, p. 61). Embedded as these strengths are in your social networks, you may possess capacities or potential that only can become realized within particular social situations (p. 65). As Caprara and Cervone state, “A great many of the capacities that you call human strengths derive from the strengths of the communities in which people live” (p. 68).
According to Bandura (1997, p. 101), the primary way that you gain self-efficacy is through “persuasive experiences”—that is, when others who have faith in you persuade you of your capabilities. When others convince you that you can do it, you are likely to try harder, persevere longer, and perform better.
Relationships not only build personal efficacy in this way but also enable quicker and better recovery from setbacks. Reivich and Shatte (2002, p. 24) state that people who are most resilient in bouncing back from trauma exhibit three characteristics: a task-oriented coping style, a confidence that they can control the outcomes of their lives, and an ability to use relationships to cope. These researchers note that resilient people have “strong connections to others” (p. 33). “A lack of connection to others hinders recovery; resilience keeps you connected, and connection helps you heal” (p. 25). A reason, then, that our principal, Betsy Grundy, may have felt more resilient self-efficacy in her first school than she currently feels was that she could turn to trusted colleagues for support in dealing with the storms she faced.
In her previous school, Grundy also learned from and with her faculty. She fondly remembers brainstorming sessions with individuals and groups of teachers in which honest give-and-take occurred. These discussions generated ideas that people fully explored. She and her staff could disagree amicably about them. These sessions resulted in solutions to problems that she would never have discovered by herself. Dutton and Heaphy (2003, p. 266) found that three strengths characterize “high-quality connections” like those between Grundy and her former faculty:
- Degree of connectivity—their generativity and openness to new ideas and influences;
- Higher emotional carrying capacity—the ability to say anything and get anger and frustration out yet retain trust; and
- Tensility—the ability of the relationship to withstand strain, bend with conflict, but not break.
Dutton and Heaphy (p. 267) also found three subjective experiences in high-quality relationships that are consistent with what Grundy felt about her former faculty relationships: feelings of vitality and aliveness, a sense of positive regard, and a felt mutuality.
School reform experts confirm the value and importance of reaching out, developing, and maintaining trusting workplace relationships for enhancing personal efficacy and effectiveness. In our interview, Fullan espoused the kind of caring community that Grundy had established in her previous school. “A culture of care is very important to help a leader move ahead during tough times,” he said. “It applies both to the system and to the individual. It is related to moral purpose.”
Larry Lezotte suggested that if leaders are to be risk takers, they may need to bring trusted allies with them when they change jobs. “People are less willing to take risks alone than they are together.... I think so much of resilience is about relationships. Most people need to have colleagues also share in the struggle. If they don't, then it is very hard. That's why some people as superintendents find it necessary to take someone with them, because they need to have a touchstone in their new place.” Grundy's superintendent did not offer the opportunity to bring members of her core administrative team with her to her new school. Perhaps if he had, her efficacy and effectiveness in her new school might be more positive.
Finally, Sparks talked about how to build trusting relationships at work: “Being a committed listener, being one of these people whom others feel they can speak candidly to without punishment and who will really hear them.... People say things in public meetings that demand the very best of you to hear the anger and not respond in kind or internalize the anger and have it to destroy your body or your relationships.”
In their practice, effective school leaders have learned to be “committed listeners” and to develop and maintain strong, trusting relationships on which they can rely, especially during times of crisis. Thomas described such a moment early in her elementary principalship in the North East School District in San Antonio. At a meeting that she did not attend, a number of faculty expressed concern over the vision and direction of the school, she told us. “But I had a teacher—we'd known each other a long time. She came back after school, after all the meetings and everybody was gone, and came into my office and said, ‘I need to tell you something.’ And she told me. I've learned that principals aren't going to know a lot. There are a lot of things you won't know simply because you sit in that chair. And you depend on people you trust to tell you the truth. And you'd better be ready to listen.” Because Thomas had this trusting relationship and was “a committed listener,” she received essential, though painful, feedback. With her efficacy beliefs intact, Thomas was then able to plan and facilitate a constructive, safe faculty discussion where people could speak candidly without fear of retribution. The meeting became the first step in an ongoing process that strengthened collective efficacy and changed her school.
In talking of the power of relationships, the superintendents whom we interviewed often focused on the importance of a supportive board of education. In describing the breadth of change in Beaufort, South Carolina, during his superintendency, including opening 10 new schools in response to growing enrollment, Herman Gaither discussed how he and the district have coped successfully: “The board's been very supportive in helping us meet the needs of all of our communities. It will be doubly difficult if you have to spend as much energy trying to keep your board in line as you do in trying to solve your problems. It is much more beneficial to everyone when the board and the administration have the same goals and the same direction.”
When board members become members of the caring community, superintendents thrive. Carol Choye said of her board in Scotch Plains, New Jersey, “They go out of their way to be kind and supportive. Now this may sound crazy, but they even give me birthday presents! I mean, they are so kind and so thoughtful.”
Effective school leaders strengthen the support they receive from workplace relationships by changing “I” experiences into “we” experiences. Overcoming feelings of isolation and loneliness can be enormously efficacy enhancing. Canada talked about his efforts to reach out from the organizational isolation of his office as superintendent.
“To deal with the loneliness and the stress of being in this high-demand, low-support arena,” he said, “one of the things that I would do was, once a month I'd hand-sign birthday cards to everybody in the district. And the cards were created from student artwork we had selected and printed up that month, and I used it. It was just a small token on my part to personally say, ‘I've taken the time to say I know this is your birthday, and here's a card from me to say happy birthday to you.’ It made me feel good; it also helped the other people feel good.... By the same token, I shook the hand of every graduate. Ten high schools, and I did that for every district I was in for every graduation, including alternative schools. A lot of handshakes!” In a “high-demand, low-support” job, these strategies helped Canada feel connected to others and more efficacious.
Maintain Strong Personal Relationships
Relationships with people outside the workplace are also vital to maintaining and strengthening personal efficacy. In their book The Power of Full Engagement, Loehr and Schwartz (2003) describe how. “The pulse of strong relationships”—involving giving and taking, valuing and feeling valued—nourishes and renews. These relationships create a “reservoir of positive emotional energy” on which a person can then draw at work (pp. 81, 82). From this perspective, we can be realistically optimistic about Principal Grundy's chances of regaining her effectiveness and emerging with even stronger resilient self-efficacy. She has a long-term, supportive life partner. And she has close friends outside school in whom she can also confide.
Among the accomplished professionals we interviewed, several described how personal relationships sustained their personal efficacy during times of crisis. Roland Barth talked of his battle with prostate cancer: “I knew three or four friends who had prostate cancer and had been receiving treatment. I got on the e-mail and asked them questions about procedures. All of a sudden I went from ‘I’ to a ‘we.’ And in schools, if you can get a ‘we,’ there is something much more comprehensible about the condition. These guys were really role models for me. I have subsequently become the support system for two or three other friends who were diagnosed after me, just having the ‘we’ and sharing the same maladies.” Changing the “I” to “we” is efficacy enhancing in personal as well as professional life.
When Bandura (1997, p. 106) talks about “persuasive experiences” that shape your self-efficacy, he is not describing “pep talks” that you may have received along the way in life. Instead, he means early influences, such as parents, who verbally instill in children self-belief in their own potential and power. He argues that these individuals can have a lasting effect on personal efficacy beliefs. School leaders to whom we talked had rich stories about powerful parental influence on their self-confidence. Maria Goodloe recalled, for example, “When I was little ... I was quiet and shy.... But there was a distinctive experience I remember. We went to get ice cream.... My mother wasn't with me—she waited in the car.... And people went in and came out, went in and came out. What was happening was, adults were doing ‘adultism,’ and they weren't allowing me to get in line to make my order. I just took it; I just stood there. And so finally she came in and said, ‘What are you doing? Six people have come in after you and left.’ ... So she taught me from that day on: ‘You need to speak up. You don't have to be rude, but you don't let people do that to you. Say, Excuse me, but I was next. And say it loud enough to get people's attention, but you don't have to be rude.’” Goodloe's ice cream store experience with “adultism” was obviously a “persuasive experience” that has had a lasting impact on her personal efficacy beliefs.
Other school leaders also talked about parents and grandparents who shaped their self-efficacy and other human strengths. Paul Houston, in discussing his research about spirituality in leadership, for example, describes the source of optimism: “Where does optimism come from? What we concluded was that you had to have at least one parent who loved you unconditionally.” Alicia Thomas reflected on adaptability by remembering her grandmother: “I think back on the things she had to deal with in her life,” she said, “and she just adjusted to the situation and to the people she was with.... This [was] one of the secrets of her life.”
Intimate partners and family clearly help sustain the human strengths, including personal efficacy, of school leaders in demanding jobs. Several interviewees commented on the importance to their psychological health of maintaining a balance between work and family commitments. As we described in Chapter 4, Gene Carter told us about his family council in which each person, even his children, had a vote about whether he should make a career move.
Some school leaders remember people outside their families who believed in them. Carter, again, recalled the owner of a clothing store where he worked as a teenager who encouraged him to go to college at a time when it was not “routine ... for kids in that community to go on to college.” They developed a relationship that helped sustain Carter over several years. Several other school leaders recalled teachers and members of the clergy who had a formative influence on their self-efficacy beliefs. Goodloe recognized that organizational responsibilities can sometimes burden a personal relationship and jeopardize confidentiality. She, and others, advocate outside friendships. “I had great friends in Corpus Christi that I met and just clicked, and they've always supported me,” she said. “So I could always go and talk to them and cry and be mad and be angry and say certain things that you can't say at work or to people because you know it's inappropriate. And I always got through it.”
Summary: Nine Strategies to Translate Efficacy Beliefs into Action
Our research has identified two key building blocks of efficacy that can help you strengthen your beliefs about your capability to survive, thrive, and be resilient in the face of storms. We have also described nine strategies to translate your personal efficacy into effective action. We close this chapter by summarizing them.
Strengthen Competence and Confidence
- Build your sense of mastery, as Linda Hanson has done, to appraise your experience and to learn from it, to become more “grounded” in what is important, and to become more self-reflective.
- Set short-term goals and benchmarks of progress, following the example of Carol Choye, to chunk out long-term, complex plans into manageable increments that will help you sustain motivation, avoid distractions, and recognize success.
- Claim small wins, as did our principal, Betsy Grundy, to sustain efficacy over time.
- Recover quickly from setbacks, as Ben Canada and Alicia Thomas have, to keep a bump in the road from becoming a major pothole.
- Manage yourself, especially your emotional self-control, so that you can maximize the benefits of positive emotions and lessen the costs of negative feelings.
Maintain and Increase Strong Connections to Others
- Believe in the power of team, as Grundy did in her previous school, and let faith in the capability of your colleagues sustain you in moments of personal doubt and uncertainty.
- Stay connected to mentors, as so many of our interviewees have done. Avoid the “competency trap” that assumes that seeking advice and help is a sign of weakness.
- Maintain strong workplace relationships, again as many of our interviewees have done, turning to trusted friends and confidantes at work for counsel and support during storms.
- Maintain strong personal relationships to sustain personal efficacy over time.