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In this episode, Heather Younger speaks with Timbra Yoakum, Director of Special Programs, Mabank Independent School District about her drive to lead, her time when she was not the best version of her, her leadership style and focus, and where her passes lies.
- Be a servant leader and get in the trenches with those you lead.
- Don’t place yourself above those you lead, but be in a supportive role at their side.
- Spend one-on-one time and get to know your people personally.
- Leadership is more of a union with those who look for you for guidance.
Timbra Yoakum has been in education for 15 years, and is currently the Director of Special Programs for a public school district in Texas. She has spent the last eight years as an Educational Diagnostician.
A Servant’s Heart
My style is having a servant’s heart. I try to lead by doing the dirty, hard jobs all the way up to the difficult tasks. I lead with my heart as a servant. That goes back to my core value, which is to serve each other.
I have a passion for kids. I started out as a classroom teacher, and I saw the need to address students with special needs better.
As a teacher, I want to do better for the kids. I could touch more lives by creating people, systems and processes that could impact their lives. Helping kids and people that need it most is where my heart is.
I started my work for the school district and left to take a promotion in a different school. Then, I was offered an interview for a job back to the district and I didn’t feel quite ready for it. It was hard to come back and work as a leader of people who were my peers before.
I didn’t know how to handle that at first. I wanted to change. Then my superintendent, my boss kept saying that I was spinning too fast. And, when you spin so quickly, you’re flinging everybody else around you. They can’t keep up with your ideas and how fast you’re spinning. But, I want to make changes.
The first couple of months were difficult. Me wanting to make changes too quickly came across as finding fault with people who were already working really hard. I think I made people feel defensive about the work they were doing.
As a new leader, the best advice I got was to build relationships. I need to build trust. I don’t have to change everything all at once. I need to build relationships so people would trust that my ideas came from a place of improvement and not from a place of finding faults with the work that has already been done.
So, I slowed my way down and focused on the human component. I paid attention to how I could support my team emotionally to build trust. After that, everything just fell in place. It just slid in effortlessly and nobody felt like their hard work were being attacked. I do love my team and I care for them.
More Listening and Observing
I don’t ever want to be seen as the person in the office that’s not down to the ground with the troops. So, I try to start the day knowing the daily lives of my people. I spend the first part of my day talking to them about things beyond their job roles. I try to open up the lines of communication to all of my teachers and administrators by email, phone calls, visitations, or just spending time.
I want my people to feel comfortable to come to me with their problems. I want them to know that when I come into a classroom, I’m not there to watch the teacher but to see their needs. So, I ask, watch, and listen to them—a lot less talking and a lot more listening and observing.
I also try to help them to be solutions oriented. I help each person to find the leader within them, whether he or she may be a teacher or a direct assessments staff. If they come to be with a problem, I want to hear their solutions first before I give them an answer.
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