In August 2011, I set out on a very different and difficult leadership journey than I had ever previously experienced. I set out to develop and deliver a leadership class at Florence Crittenton High School, a high school in Denver, CO for teen moms.
Many of my experiences in the class are relevant to our work as leaders and coaches. One experience that really sticks out is knowing your audience and adapting to meet their needs.
The girls in this school were high poverty, high dropout rate. 60% either did not attend school or only attended sporadically in the previous year. They have a high mobility rate, meaning they have moved, on average, 8.6 times in the past 3 years. They have low academic achievement, and more than half were born to teen mothers.
Twenty-one teen moms signed up for this class, but only about half were there for day one. As the students moved to their seats, one girl told the teacher that her baby had been throwing up. “We do have stomach flu going around,” said the teacher. “A lot of babies have been vomiting.” During class, another girl left the room to go to the daycare center and breastfeed her baby.
Clearly, this is not what I’d typically expect from a leadership course. I realized that I would have to adjust my course delivery for this audience in order to have a meaningful impact on these students, and that’s exactly what I did.
Every situation requires a degree of adaptation and knowing your audience, whether that situation relates to sales, negotiation, or coaching your team. The secret to flexibility is planning. Have a clear plan and be well-practiced to adapt to the needs of the group or even to the needs of individuals within the group.
The leadership lesson ended up being my own. Teaching leadership is one thing. Responding as a leader to challenges in different situations is a skill that we need to continually reinforce and improve upon. Crestcom’s Bullet Proof® Manager training program offers a fantastic process to hone these leadership skills.
What do you do to assess your situation and audience’s needs to adjust your communication?