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The Traits of a Strong Leader, Part 3: Decisiveness and Tact

The world is changing rapidly as businesses, schools, government buildings and even entire countries begin to lift their travel bans, restrictions, and even mask requirements for COVID-19. So the question becomes, what have we learned from the pandemic?

Thanks to the pandemic, you could no longer use the phrase "that's the way we have always done it" because, frankly, nobody had been down this road before. The pandemic was new territory for everyone. In an industry like the school business, there is barely time to handle the everyday duties, let alone make sweeping changes to a process, protocol or system. Districts dealt with change in educating, transporting, feeding students and accommodating the shift in staff needs. Decisions had to be made quickly to get the district in a position where it could handle remote learning, in-person learning with social distancing or some hybrid of the two. All of these changes required a great deal of decisiveness.

“In an industry like the school business, there is barely time to handle the everyday duties, let alone make sweeping changes to a process, protocol or system.”

In part 3 on our journey to explore the 14 Leadership Traits that are taught by the United States Marine Corps, the next two traits to be explored are decisiveness and tact. The discussion of these traits could not have come at a more opportune time.

5. Decisiveness

The pandemic has taught us that not every decision can be pondered or mulled over for extended periods of time. Unfortunately, in the beginning, districts had little time to decide what education would look like in their community. There were technology and staffing concerns, social distancing and maintenance concerns and conflict between believers and deniers.

At this point, I don't think anyone can deny that the pandemic had a profound impact on schools and business offices. Many CSBOs had to be decisive and make unprepared decisions about education. Many districts lacked the floor plans necessary to decide if they could provide adequate social distancing. Other districts did not know if they even had the bandwidth, both metaphorical and literal, to support full-time e-learning. Yet they were asked to make those decisions. This is why it is imperative to be prepared for the unknowns the best you can, so you can be decisive when the need arises. If you wait too long to make a decision, you can appear weak and indecisive. If you are waiting on more information before choosing an action, communicate why you have not made your decision and be specific about what you are waiting for. If you do not, your strength as a leader can be questioned. As a leader, it is important to communicate at all times.

Conversely, if you make a snap decision without the proper information, you could be potentially "endangering" your staff or students. I think the most important part about being decisive is making sure that you are basing it off of the best information available to you. If you believe you are making decisions on the best information, you can feel confident in your decision. If you are decisive without confidence or if you are perceived to be indecisive, you will lose credibility as a leader and risk the ability to have your directions followed in the future.

6. Tact

When it comes to navigating uncharted waters and making sweeping broad-reaching changes that affect students, staff and every person in the community, tact is vitally important. Having tact when faced with community members being argumentative during school board meetings or when dealing with such an emotionally charged and divisive topic as COVID-19, tact is paramount. Keeping your cool and composure when addressing questions can be challenging at times. Tact is one of the 14 leadership traits in the Marine Corps because, like your current work environment, many situations that Marines are faced with are very divisive. The decisions they are forced to make can have grave consequences, and it is not hyperbole to say they may be faced with life and death decisions. When the pressure is on, there is no more calming trait in a leader than one who can keep their composure, make tough decisions and express them tactfully.

“When the pressure is on, there is no more calming trait in a leader than one who can keep their composure, make tough decisions and express them tactfully.”

Often times when aggression is met with aggression, a battle ensues. Although that can be unavoidable at times in the Marine Corps, there is no place for that in the business office. This is unproductive and an incredible waste of time. When issues are addressed tactfully and individuals feel that they have been heard and understood, then there is a higher likelihood of gaining mutual respect and understanding. Additionally, if you lose your bearing and react without tact, you set yourself up for failure. Carefully choosing your words, pausing, and using tact is more important now than ever. Comments by an individual who represents a larger group (School Board, Administration) will affect more than just yourself. Remember that you represent more than just yourself, maintain your composure and react with tact.

I believe the Marine Corps placed decisiveness and tact next to each other because they go hand in hand.

Unlike some of the other leadership traits discussed previously (JJDIDTIEBUCKLE), you can utilize tact and decisiveness without the other. But, exercising both traits in conjunction will increase your effectiveness as an impactful leader.

Be decisive, respond with tact and make a decision that you and the rest of your team can stand behind.

Stephen Chassee

Associate Principal

Green Associates, Inc.


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