The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

John Dabell

Staff wellbeing and TNTs

Tiny noticeable things, lollipop moments and filling buckets: John Dabell discusses how these things can make you a better leader.

Although there isn’t a single definitive leadership skills list, there are four core leaderships skills that are fundamental: 

  • communication 
  • self-awareness
  • influence
  • learning agility.

At the top of the ‘core 4’ is communication which involves active listening, building trust, speaking with clarity, writing clearly, conveying vision and strategic intent and team building.

To build a team requires an investment in people and what Adrian Webster calls ‘tiny noticeable things’ or TNTs. These are all the little things that we don’t need to do, but when we do them, they can have a seismic impact on those around us.   

It’s the little things that matter

Leadership isn’t all about the big things, big events, and big moments; it’s more about the little things and consistently recognising them. 

Trust and relationships are built by paying attention to the little things and depositing them into relationships: small acts, moments and gestures that support others and make them feel safe, valued and cared for. These are accumulated over time through consistent action and being a leader that does tiny noticeable things. 

A TNT leader creates little explosions of joy throughout the week by focusing on what will motivate their team and helping them improve. They do this repeatedly, week in and week out because they know the value of consistency is worth its weight in gold.   

Create a lollipop moment

Drew Dudley describes these little acts as a series of lollipop moments

He defines a lollipop moment as a special moment where one individual positively shapes another person’s life but may not realise his or her impact. 

As a school change maker, you can create lollipop moments by doing tiny noticeable things and make someone’s life fundamentally better. Little by little, these brushstrokes of intent help to create a picture of wellbeing. 

Your role is to take care of the people who take care of students. So, what can you do?

1. Make it personal 

TNT leaders show a consistent interest in the lives of their team. They remember and recognise the little things about their colleagues, including birthdays, work anniversaries, accomplishments, hobbies, etc. Crucially, they keep their eyes open for ways to help with personal issues by creating a culture that supports staff to be open about their mental health.

2. Sharing successes

When successes happen, they need to be acknowledged and celebrated. Some are quick triumphs and others are achieved over several milestones. Think about sending a quick email to your team after a tough week or a note of encouragement during the day as these can go a long way.

3. Expressing genuine appreciation

Genuinely expressing appreciation for the hard work staff put in is key to their motivation and outstanding leaders go out of their way to boost the self-esteem of individuals. They know that they have an incredible opportunity to change someone’s life every single day and they can do that by complimenting staff. 

4. Incorporating daily fun

We spend a lot of time at work and it can be hard graft. Sometimes it just isn’t ‘fun’, and we need to recognise that everyone needs a lift so incorporating as much fun into daily activities is important as it fosters a high performing, cohesive and happy team. Make jokes, take a joke, and try not to take everything seriously.

5. Seek their input and opinion 

Not everyone on your team gets an opportunity to voice their view or gets asked for their involvement. Inexperienced members of staff can feel excluded because they feel like the least important people, yet TNT leaders will invest time in them by asking for their feedback and invite their contributions. Every team member is valuable and can contribute. 

6. Give your time

Some leaders can be so busy they forget the value of spending time with their team and giving them their full attention. This doesn’t even have to be that long. Most interactions in a busy school environment are fleeting but it’s essential to see, actively listen and speak to people. TNT leaders are fully present when they are with someone and focused, not looking around or glazing over.   

7. Have their back

When a staff member is going through a rough patch or your team are struggling then being supportive and helping them through the fog is important. Do not ‘expose’ your staff when things go wrong, take accountability first, protect them where you can, and collectively learn from it. 

8. Be vulnerable

One little thing you can do for staff is to share a concern, an issue or a weakness. This shows you don’t have all the answers and you value their support. By showing your vulnerability and being humble you are letting everyone know that perfection isn’t prized and no individual can do everything. Meaningful, emotional and vulnerable conversations are powerful lollipop moments.

9. Keep your promises

A tiny noticeable thing is to always keep your promises. When you say you are going to do something, however small, then you’ve got to deliver because staff remember the little things. 

10. Roll up your sleeves

Leaders can be remote so it’s important to grab a shovel and get in the trench. This is especially important when things aren’t going well. When someone needs the help, be in there with them. Inspirational leaders don’t distance themselves from challenges but dig in and work alongside everyone else to define the problems and identify and implement the solutions. 

11. Say sorry

A key part of organisational and personal wellbeing is being able to admit when you are wrong so be prepared to apologise to those who need to hear it. Nobody is infallible so accept it, embrace it, learn from it. 

12. Keep filling their buckets 

Every moment matters and this is brilliantly illustrated in the children’s book How Full Is Your Bucket where the character Felix begins to see how every interaction in a day either fills or empties his bucket. Felix then realises that everything he says or does to other people fills or empties their buckets as well.

So, you can choose to fill your team members’ mental health ‘buckets’ with positive energy, or you can choose to take energy from their buckets so that they’re running on empty. That’s a no-brainer!

And finally….

The little things you do in leadership matter and can have a cumulative impact on individual and team wellbeing. They matter because they allow the big things to happen and when you keep doing the little things they sustain them.

TNT leaders sweat the small stuff and they set a positive, nurturing and productive culture by focusing on things that might be tiny but make a big impact.

Effective leaders search for opportunities to reach out with a smile, a gesture, some support, some understanding or any other TNT to create lollipop moments. Big leadership means lifting others up by doing the little things because they elevate and upgrade self-esteem, confidence and general wellbeing. 

TNTs and lollipop moments can have a big return and a huge impact, and it is what great bucket fillers do to get the best out of people.

As Emily Dickinson once said, ‘If you take care of the small things, the big things take care of themselves.’

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