Attitudes might be the most important factor in determining an Educator’s success. Educators who are open to learning, work as team players, and are adaptable are destined for success. Positive attitudes are infectious, they can motivate, engage and inspire others. However, negative attitudes can destroy the best of intentions.
Good recruitment can often separate the wheat from the chaff but what happens when qualifications trump attitude and you’re faced with the prospect of having an Educator with a less than optimal attitude on your team?
Leaders need to ensure that they are making behaviour and attitude expectations explicit. What does a good team player look like? Are we going to say no to brilliant jerks (technical experts who are poor team players)? An Educator’s attitude affects their work performance and can impact the whole service culture. Generally, Educators with good attitudes have stronger performance and Educators with poor attitudes demonstrate less than optional performance.
Creating an Environment That Supports Positive Attitudes
At the beach, being between the flags is the safest place to swim—the flags represent a safe, supported environment. Experienced surf lifesavers choose the safest location for the flags and are there to save you should you get into trouble. If you swim responsibly between the flags they form somewhat of a safety net should something go wrong.
Some beachgoers decide to swim beyond the flags. Their decision to swim beyond the flags is a product of their attitude toward risk, their perception of their own competency, and subjective norms. Swimming beyond the flags is not only dangerous for the individual but also for other beach goes as it diverts the attention of surf lifesavers in the area. Ultimately, swimmers who choose to be beyond the flags put everyone at risk.
Clearly Stating Expectations
As managers and leaders, it’s our responsibility to set the flags with our teams. By deciding what’s between the flags you can create a common and acceptable definition of accountability, foster strong commitment and increase personal responsibility. Accountability is like quality; you only notice it when it’s not there. We need to decide, and clearly articulate which attitudes and behaviours are between the flags and which attitudes and behaviours are beyond the flags.
The attitudes we place inside the flags will depend on our team’s current state, beliefs, strategic goals, and pedagogical philosophy. Some behaviours and attitudes are obvious, and others are less so. The behaviours and attitudes that are between the flags are those that support a high-performing team and personal responsibility.
Ownership, responsibility, and accountability fit firmly between the flags, so do seeking solutions, taking action and seeing possibilities. If all team members demonstrate behaviours that are between the flags, then the team succeeds. Putting certain behaviours and attitudes between the flags is clearly articulating what high performance looks like. When the whole service acknowledges and agrees with these behaviours it increases psychological safety and supports a culture of accountability. Without the desired behaviour being made explicit, Educators are left to flounder and manage shifting behavioural expectations.
The attitudes and behaviours that are beyond the flags are those that destroy team cohesiveness, undermine trust and create a poor sense of positive belonging. Attitudes such as blame, excuses and denial all belong beyond the flags. Negativity, fault finding and ignoring problems are also common behaviours teams choose to put beyond the flags.
Supporting Accountable Attitudes
When people exhibit behaviour between the flags, they take responsibility for mistakes and see them as learning opportunities. They are supported by their team and collectively they find better ways to ensure mistakes don’t happen again. When mistakes are made between the flags the manager takes overall accountability for the error. Courtney Lynch, the author of Spark: How to Lead Yourself and Others to Greater Success, says that “Leaders inspire accountability through their ability to accept responsibility before they place blame”. The role of the manager is to rescue any Educators who make mistakes but remain between the flags. Much like a surf lifesaver who saves a drowning swimmer, the role of the manager is to support their Educator who has remained between the flags, to accept that something hasn’t gone to plan, and to provide a solution to the situation—one which is free from punishment or blame.
Leaders can support high performance by holding Educators accountable for remaining between the flags. Educators who drift beyond the flags should be prompted to return between the flags. They should be held accountable for their poor performance and coached to return to the desired performance. Services that support between the flags behaviours will create Educators who have positive attitudes, take responsibility, see solutions, and make things happen.