Trinity professor and Keystone dad helping administrators improve

Aug 26 2022

Trinity professor and Keystone dad helping administrators improve

“Humility is the solid foundation of all virtues.”

In last week’s blog, we discussed the new Cobra Code posted around school:

  • Integrity
  • Curiosity
  • Empathy
  • Creativity
  • Service

I’d like to take a moment this week to discuss how we can put these values into action. One way is for us as adults to model the practice of continuous learning and improvement.

To that end, the Keystone administrative team came together before teachers and students returned to campus and held its first in person back to school retreat in two years. Even though we all work very closely with one another and see each other all the time, spending a day in each other’s company looking at big picture issues as well as continuing to prepare for the start of the 2022-2023 school year provided an overdue treat.

This year, we sought to improve as administrators by engaging in a collective reading and book discussion. Over the summer, we all read “Humbitious: The Power of Low-Ego, High-Drive Leadership” by Trinity University Professor and Keystone parent Amer Kaissi. Dr. Kaissi teaches and writes on Healthcare Administration, Leadership, Coaching, and Strategy and has won awards for previous books. He spent the entire morning providing an overview of his research on humility and ambition in leadership and guiding us in discussions around a variety of scenarios that occur in schools. One administrator made a point of saying that Dr. Kaissi was the best speaker we have had at Keystone in her long tenure with the school.

At the risk of oversimplifying his argument, Dr. Kaissi shows through analytical research, compelling anecdotes, and relevant examples from history, that the most successful leaders combine humility and ambition. He disproves the myth that only high ego leaders can be successful. He shows that egotistical individuals may achieve in the short term; however, they tend to fail in the long term and as a result, their institutions suffer. At the same time, leaders who emphasize humility but lack drive may never move their organizations forward. It’s when leaders bring together a sense of humility with ambition that they and their institutions excel.

Over our time together, Dr. Kaissi offered not only his research but also some wise counsel on how to live. One valuable insight was a rule he called API, for “assume positive intent.” In practice, this means starting a discussion from the standpoint that the people we talk with are coming from a sincere desire to help. In a time where all of us feel stressed and disagreements quickly turn heated, this advice may be easier said than done, but it is valuable.

Some of us nodded animatedly when Dr. Kaissi said, “We judge others by their actions; we judge ourselves by our intentions.” Whether it’s on the highway or in the workplace, if we can extend the same grace to others that we extend to ourselves, perhaps we can de-escalate issues before they turn into conflicts.

One way to do this comes through active listening. Many years ago, a friend told me that his father used to say to him, “are you actually listening or are you just waiting for your turn to talk?” Similarly, Dr. Kaissi exhorted us to “listen to improve” rather than “listen to prove.” As he explained, all too often, we spend so much time focused on what we wish to say that we don’t truly hear what the person across from us is expressing.

In addition, when we listen deeply, we can also appreciate feedback we receive. We can view constructive input as a gift to which we should respond with a sincere “Thank you.” In an educational setting, the importance of listening with open ears, open minds, and open hearts can be crucial to our own development and that of our students.

We left our time with Dr. Kaissi both humbled and energized by his wise counsel. We are deeply appreciative of his time with us, the invaluable lessons he provided, and are grateful he is a member of the Keystone community.

I am happy to announce that he will speak to all the heads of school at the Independent School Association of the Southwest (ISAS) Annual Heads Conference in San Antonio in November. They will learn what we did-that “humility is a strength; when combined with ambition, it’s a superpower.”

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