Facebook is my guilty pleasure. I admit it. I probably spend too much time on Facebook. I probably spend too much time using social media period, but Facebook is my favorite. I love talking to people, cracking jokes, wryly observing the world, learning, laughing, and crying with friends.

An old friend commented on my excessive Facebook use and so I did an experiment. I stepped off Facebook for a few days and said nothing. That didn’t mean I didn’t read anything. It just meant that for a few days I made no comments, no observations, no jokes. I did not “like” anything, commiserate, or offer advice. And man that was hard. I like talking to people, but for that little window, I just listened. It was interesting. I learned that I talk too much. I learned that if I think about what people are saying, I understand them better. I learned that sometimes it’s best to mind my own business. And I learned that I love my Facebook friends very much.

This week I attended a twitter chat on Tuesday night hosted by the amazing founder of #leadfromwithin @LollyDaskal. Her guest was one of my favorite leaders from twitter, @MarkOOakes. The topic was the relationship between passion and mastery. I eagerly set up my Tweetdeck to catch all the #leadfromwithin hashtags and was set to learn, listen and discuss. @LollyDaskal asked ten questions in an hour. The feed began running and soon it was running at about 100 comments a minute. There was no way I could keep up, no way I could read them all. By the time I had thought through the question, read a few comments, and formulated my own response, it was time for a new question. This was not really what I had expected. There was so much talking. But was I actually listening?

My field, education, offers the opportunity to begin anew every year. Unlike many businesses, we have a clear beginning, middle, and end. We are able to effectively formulate goals and evaluate progress in a way that happens, not because it is January 1, but because we are actually starting something new and finishing it. Our headmaster sets goals for us, our division head sets goals for us, and as a department chair, I set goals for my department and for myself. As I think about the goals I set for this year I realize that they are good goals, clear and achievable, tasks that my team and I will complete and check off. But maybe I can do more.

It is important that I complete my tasks and check off my goals, but as the department chair, it is also my responsibility to help my team achieve their goals. As their leader, I have been so focused on completing the school goals and my own personal goals, that I forgot that it’s also my job to help my department. My department members have their own goals, not only for the school, but for themselves. It’s time I found out what they are. It’s time I started leading by following their lead. It’s time I stopped talking and started listening.

I have it easy. This process happens naturally in education every year. As leaders in your communities, do you regularly listen to your team and help them with their goals? It may not be time for that annual review, but maybe it’s time to check in and see how things are going. Are you willing to lead today by following?

Deborah Costello
Deborah Costello is a teacher and the Mathematics Department Chair at Trinity Preparatory School in Winter Park, Florida. She also serves as a consultant for the College Board. Her passions include leadership, mathematics, education, service, and triathlons. She's also a co-author of The Character Based Leader: Instigating a Leadership Revolution... One Person at a Time.
Deborah Costello

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