The National AfterSchool Association is the leading voice of the afterschool profession dedicated to development, education, and care of children and youth during their out of school hours.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Avoid Getting Branded and Stranded

Like leaders in many professions, it easy to get caught up and consumed by the daily grind. We spend hours behind a computer working in isolation on multiple job-related tasks, and in doing so, we often fail to attend to the people who need us most. Then, when we must exercise our authority, we sometimes get labeled as being difficult. Unless we are able to change, find ways to re-engage, and focus on the needs of others, people will turn their backs on us. When that happens, we get left behind. The development of our leadership capacity and our programs becomes stagnant.

To become effective leaders, we must commit to a continuous self improvement plan. We must also dedicate ourselves to serve and develop other leaders. When we allow ourselves to selfishly focus only on what's on our plate, demand obedience, compliance, and respect because of a positional title, and fail to engage with others, we get branded as loners. If we don't assertively commit to learn and improve our work, we become isolated, mediocre, and left behind. No one wants to work with an afterschool leader who doesn't get it, or worse, doesn't care to.

People matter most in an afterschool program. Obviously, that means kids, parents, and staff. But the people within the profession in positions of leadership matter, too. They are important for advancing the profession – and reliant upon each other. It is essential that we commit to learn together, grow, build relationships, and allow ourselves to be pushed and continuously move forward. Complacency and adherence to the status quo are brands associated with leaders who only want to focus on administrative and technical tasks, not the needs of people. Acknowledging others needs and acquiring the influence necessary to lead is the essence of leadership.

We can't gain influence without pressing the flesh. We can't lead without influence, which can only be acknowledged by others. Effective afterschool leaders know that they must regularly be amidst their staff, students, parents, and active within their community. They know they to gain influence, they must earn the respect of the people who are their stakeholders. And among those stakeholders are countless other afterschool leaders that do the same kind of work they do.

As you reflect, if you can't confidently be assured that other afterschool professionals in your city or region know you, recognize the quality of your work, and respect you for how you support the work of others, you may be branded as a loner and stranded in your program. You'll go nowhere. Neither will your program.

But you can commit to change. You can resolve to learn, work more closely with others in your profession, and move ahead in your development as a leader.

There is no better place to begin your branding transformation than at the 24th Annual NAA Convention. Get involved with us. Form relationships. Let’s commit to learn together and from each other.

See you in Dallas on April.

Paul G. Young, Ph.D.
President & CEO

National AfterSchool Association

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Optimists and Pessimists

Stories are powerful. They are universal and cross the boundaries of language, culture, and age. They define who we are and portray the world in vivid, narrative terms. They build emotional connections. I think we learn best and make decisions that result in change from hearing stories. We would all do well to master the art of storytelling. After all, in our afterschool programs, we are surrounded by a rich and ready source of content.

Recently, my pastor began his sermon with a story about the power of being positive in any situation! I’ll share it here…

A family had twin boys whose only resemblance to each other was their looks. If one felt it was too hot, the other thought it was too cold. If one said the TV was too loud, the other claimed the volume needed to be turned up. Opposite in every way, one was an eternal optimist, the other a doom and gloom pessimist.

Just to see what would happen on the twins' birthday, their father loaded the pessimist's room with every imaginable toy and game. The optimist's room he loaded with horse manure.

That night the father passed by the pessimist's room and found him sitting amid his new gifts crying bitterly.

"Why are you crying?" the father asked.

"Because my friends will be jealous, I'll have to read all these instructions before I can do anything with this stuff, I'll constantly need batteries, and my toys will eventually get broken." answered the pessimist twin.

Passing the optimist twin's room, the father found him dancing for joy in the pile of manure. "What are you so happy about?" he asked.

To which his optimist twin replied, "There's got to be a pony in here somewhere!"

We have both optimists and pessimists in our profession. But I believe we are a majority of optimists.  My belief is based on conversations with and observations of numerous professionals performing their work in a positive manner.  Afterschool professionals maintain an attitude of positive expectations, for themselves and others.

Yet, there are some that would argue that optimists are simple Pollyannas looking at the world through rose colored glasses and living in a fantasy. No doubt, each of us, from time to time, succumbs to negative thoughts. We worry about all the things that could go wrong. Some suggest that thinking the worst is a sound strategy for coping in an erratic world.

There is probably a place for both optimism and pessimism. But for my afterschool professional friends, who likely identify with the optimist twin in the story, being optimistic supports the pursuit of goals in a positive way, leading toward bigger and better dreams.

We each get to choose what we wear each day. We are also free to select an attitude to take to work.  There may be times when pessimism serves us well, but to cope in our complex and unpredictable world, I choose to hunt for the pony!

Paul G. Young, Ph.D.
President & CEO
National AfterSchool Association