Matt Stem (Passionate)

Matt Stem

Part 4 of 4

Geoff:  Any thoughts on how leaders should develop their personal competencies?

Matt:  Like I said before about building principals needing coaches.  I think every leader needs to find a coach or mentor that they are learning from.  I’ve been blessed to have our working relationship over the years.  Part of growing as a leader is then turning around and mentoring others.  I think it’s both—it’s being mentored . . .

Geoff:  Barnabas and Timothy.

Matt:  Exactly.  I’ve attempted to do that.  I attempt to build those around me while learning from others.  That also helps solidify your learning when you’re passing it on to others.

Geoff:  I’ve often believed one of the weaknesses in leadership is leaders don’t identify leadership as their profession.  Because they don’t take it seriously, they lack the ability to grow in their leadership.

Matt:  Yeah.  You would think with all of our access to knowledge information like never before, you would think that society as a whole would understand and value the skill of leadership.  But I still continue to see in almost every organization I interact with, we just want to put the technically smartest people into leadership roles without ever looking to see if they have the leadership skills to lead.  It’s a different skillset.  We still don’t value and recognize that.  In fact, in most organizations, folks think that that’s not the real work.  So you’re trying to engage in conversations about capturing the heart and leading teams and engaging folks, and it’s perceived that that’s a soft skill, if you will.

Geoff:  Matt, how do you deal with the stress of your job, being a leader in a governmental agency that has such an impact on so many people?  How do you deal with the stress?

Matt:  There are some daily practices that I’ve put in place that are very essential.  Starting every morning with some intentional time on the drive to work, I listen to messages from some pastors that I’ve grown to appreciate over the years.  So getting that time to just listen to something that’s not engaging in work right out of the gate may be a better way to put it.  Taking the time driving in to clear the mind and focus on things in life that matter most.

Taking the first few minutes of the day as alone time so I block out the first half hour of the day where I have a quiet time before we get into the hustle of the day to get my thoughts together, to map out goals of the day, to do a few things in quiet.

Making time every day for lunch.  Eating well is something I’ve begun to do in the last few years.  And safeguarding that time—that’s locked into the calendar.  I think when you eat well and when you make some time each day alone to reflect and clear the mind, to make sure that your energy level and your attitude and your mood is in a good place, it positions you better to be effective for the rest of the day.

Geoff:  Why do you think so few leaders do that?

Matt:  I think there’s a belief today…there’s a culture of hustle.  You’ll see these #hustle signs everywhere—it’s probably worldwide.  I know it’s an American culture thing now—where everything is about the hustle.  If you’re not hustling, you’re not producing.  I think that’s a fallacy, but it’s one that has really caught on.  I think people get swept up into that so they jump in their car and they’re doing business on the phone.  Technology has enabled that, so we’re doing business on the phone on the drive in.  The minute we walk in the door we’re jumping right into team meetings and everything else.  We’re eating lunch while we’re meeting.  All of these things are in that #hustle cultural philosophy that’s out there now.  I think that in a few years it’s going to become clear that that’s destructive.  Not only nonproductive, I think in the long haul it’s going to be destructive.  I think we already see leaders in certain industries that are burning out from trying to do that hustle.  That only lasts so long.

Geoff:  One of the things that I’m interested in are these stages of development that Anderson and Adams have written about in their book Mastering Leadership.  The reactive stage of development is the stage where everybody defines themselves by what they think other people think they should be and do.  70% of all leaders, according to the research, are stuck there.  If that’s the case, do you think that contributes to this busyness epidemic?

Matt:  Absolutely.  I think that there are a lot of conversations that are not being had or are not being had well.  One of those is setting clear expectations.  Every leader, unless you’re a CEO–and if you’re a CEO you have a board—everybody has someone that they officially or unofficially report to.  Sometimes leaders are hustling because they think that their boss, if you will, expects them to be doing nonstop hustling.  I think we need more effective conversations to sit down and talk about what expectations should be rather than reacting to a perceived expectation.  If the boss really is saying, “I expect you to be hustling the minute you sit in your car till  9:00 at night,” then I think there has to be the willingness to set some conditions and boundaries and be fearless enough to make the hard decisions that go with that.

Geoff:  I like what Thoreau said.  He said, “Even the ants are busy.  The question is what are we being busy about.”

Matt:  There you go.

Geoff:  Matt, thanks a lot for your time today.  And thanks for all the great work you do for the students, the teachers, the administrators, and the districts in the state of Pennsylvania.


You can hear Matt at our upcoming “Meeting (extra)Ordinary Leaders” conference, October 29 at the Ware Center in Lancaster, PA, where he’ll be presenting a fascinating perspective on leadership:

“Jazz Leadership in a Dynamic World” As early as the 1970’s, researchers noted and began to study the increasingly complex and rapidly changing environment under which organizations attempt to produce results. That trend has accelerated exponentially over the past decade. More than ever, leaders must be willing to embrace the ambiguity and complexity in the sectors in which they serve and identify the possibilities to thrive. This requires a shift from rigid structures to fluid systems with a focus on the members of the team and their dynamic roles in meeting goals. What better way to illustrate this paradigm shift than the improvisational nature of jazz!

And rumor has it that there will be a performance involved.  You don’t want to miss it.  Read more about it and register here: https://extraordinaryleaders.org/meeting-extraordinary-leaders/

© Geoff Davis 10/18/19

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