Academic journal article ETC.: A Review of General Semantics

Using General Semantics to Enhance Organizational Leadership

Academic journal article ETC.: A Review of General Semantics

Using General Semantics to Enhance Organizational Leadership

Article excerpt

WHAT MAKES a good leader? Organizational leadership requires a complex mixture of skills and techniques, which can be enhanced through the use of general semantics. In my leadership tenure with the New York City Department of Education (NYCDOE), from which I retired as a director of drug prevention services in 2004, I found the following most useful:

* Leadership means influencing people beyond routine compliance with directives and orders.

* Leadership provides the key dynamic force that motivates and coordinates an organization to accomplish its objectives.

* Leadership is the ability to inspire confidence and support among people who are needed to attain organizational goals.

Can we use general semantics to enhance organizational leadership? In my experience, more than fifteen years as an educational administrator in the New York City school system, it certainly can. This article will present some ways that GS helped me to lead more effectively.

Furthering Emotional Intelligence

Psychologist Daniel Goleman's extensive research indicates that most effective leaders share one essential quality. They have a high degree of Emotional Intelligence (EI)--the ability to manage one's emotions and one's relationships effectively.

I found GS formulations helped me to become more emotionally intelligent in my leadership roles with the NYCDOE. For example, when subordinates at staff meetings made self-serving comments rather than saying something useful for the task at hand, my first reaction was to become annoyed and to want to call them on their behavior. But my doing that would have led them to justify their statements before the group. Then I would have had to argue with them over the merits of the case, which would have leeched valuable time from the meeting and perhaps damaged otherwise good relationships. Instead, when self-serving comments were made, I used the GS delayed reaction technique (take time to figure out what is going on before responding) and didn't immediately react to the remarks. I simply acknowledged the assertions and went on with the meeting. But after the meeting, I made sure to confer privately with the individuals who had made self-serving pronouncements to discuss the importance of focusing on organizational tasks rather than on personal matters. As a result of doing this, I perceived less "puffing" at meetings and more concentration on organizational matters.

Using a GS extensional orientation (searching for "the facts" of the situation) also helped me to manage my emotions and relationships effectively. For example, I needed accurate feedback on my staff's performance so I could help them to grow and develop in their jobs. The key was accurate feedback. Over-the-top flattery or unjustified disparagement would not help me to assist my staff in becoming more capable.

To minimize inaccurate feedback on staff member work, which seemed to me a fair probability if I used just a single source, I employed an extensional orientation: I solicited reports on staff functioning from multiple sources. These included reports from clinical supervisors, school principals, parent association presidents, and reports from the staff themselves. With diverse evaluations, I increased the odds of obtaining a more correct picture of staff performance.

Utilizing what GS calls the natural order of evaluation--observation, investigation, or direct experience first; then words (descriptions, evaluations, inferences, generalizations, etc.)--also helped me to assess staff performance more accurately. For example, at the beginning of the school year, before formal staff evaluation reports were issued, I visited staff to see for myself what was happening. I observed how they interacted with students and I spoke with the principals of their schools to obtain feedback on their work. If I knew teachers at the schools, I also informally queried them about counselor performance. …

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