He hadn’t looked up in over ten minutes.
Either his eyes were glued to his phone, or they were glued to the desk in front of him.
It’s like he didn’t want to make eye contact with the tutor.
Barcelona. August. 2017. Spanish class.
As relentless as he was with his fixed gaze, the tutor was as relentless with her focus on including him in the group.
She’d go around the room and ask each of the students to conjugate a verb. When she got to him, she asked the question, and gave him a few seconds to answer. When he didn’t, she moved on.
She communicated with him in the same way as with the other students. Even when he apparently lost interest. She didn’t give up.
The rest of the students observed her with fascination.
I’d have given up on him by now, one of them whispered to me.
And it made me question: Why hadn’t she?
As a trainer, I know that one of the most rewarding things is a group of trainees who answer questions and are fully present with what they’re learning.
And the opposite can be disheartening.
So what was keeping this Spanish tutor going?
Curiosity got the better of me, so as I was leaving class, I asked her.
This student is an adult. He made a choice to be here every day of the course. My responsibility is to teach him the best I can, and his responsibility is to learn … or not. I can’t make him do anything. And his inactivity in class doesn’t mean I’m bad at my job.
As in Spanish classes, as in leadership …
Leave your ego at the door.
It isn’t your responsibility as a leader to ensure each of your team members is fully engaged, happy and motivated all the time.
When you’ve done what you can to understand them, give them what they need to do their jobs, and motivate them how you know best … the rest is up to them.
They either choose to engage, or they don’t.
And when they don’t, it doesn’t mean you’re an ineffective leader.
It means they’ve made their choice.
What to do now?
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