Some of these superintendents were usually or always respectful and kind towards their staff, while others were condescending and even almost hostile towards their subordinates. Unfortunately, those who were not kind to others would often demonstrate this in the middle of their meetings (and in front of other staff who would cringe internally and hope to not be the next target).
John Rubio Superintendent believes that Superintendents and all leaders need to be grounded individuals (i.e. emotionally mature). If an issue arises where a leader is frustrated, upset, or doesn't believe their question is being clearly answered, then it is the responsibility of the leader to ask for clarification in a manner that does not land as anger or upset. It is the responsibility of the leader to thus not be "reactive."
When leaders and superintendents act otherwise, in a manner that is angry or upset toward their staff in the earshot and eyes of their staff (i.e. disrespectfully and re-actively), these leader are sending a clear message - "Don't mess up or get me upset, or I will berate (or raise my voice at) you in front of others."
Unfortunately, while this might satisfy the leader on some emotional or psychological level (or lead them to believe that they are being direct or clear), these leader are simultaneously creating a work environment where it becomes very difficult for their team members to feel safe. And, as most would agree, when people don't feel safe, they cannot be at their best performance - fear becomes the norm in the company or meetings, and this facilitates a regular, often daily, increase in negative hormones for team members that leads to an increase in stress, and thus to less and less trust in meetings and throughout the organization.
The impact of not having trust in meetings is described well by author Patrick Lencioni in "The Five Dsyfunctions of a Team." As Lencioni notes, "Trust lies at the heart of a functioning, cohesive team. Without it, teamwork is all but impossible." (195). Lencioni goes on to explain that one way trust becomes established over time is by team members feeling safe to be vulnerable with one another. This type of trust requires...
"...team members to make themselves vulnerable to one another, and be confident that their respective vulnerabilities will not be used against them. The vulnerabilities I'm referring to include weaknesses, skill deficiencies, interpersonal shortcomings, mistakes, and requests for help (196)."
In other words, Superintendents and school leaders have to create an environment that is safe for team members to be vulnerable (and thus authentic) with themselves and one another.
Lencioni notes that "[t]he most important action that a leader must take to encourage the building of trust on a team is to demonstrate vulnerability first. This requires that a leader risk losing face in front of a team, so that subordinates will take the same risk themselves. What is more, team leaders must create an environment that does not punish vulnerability."
How many leaders do you know who are brave enough and grounded enough to be vulnerable in front of their team members? How many times have you heard a leader say "Ok, this is not an area that I am strong in so I am going to need some help here" or "This was my mistake, my error - I think I blew this one"? Or, more importantly, how many leaders do you know who don't lose their cool with their staff in front of other staff? Similarly, how many leaders do you know who have the courage and vulnerability to speak to you (or the staff) to say "I'm sorry"?
It can be scary for the leader of an organization to reveal that they have weak links in their armor, but Superintendents and leaders need to remember that we all have weak links in our armor - it's part of being human, and admitting it regularly and being vulnerable and human, while a little risky, can go a long way to help the team realize it's okay (and safe) to also be authentic, vulnerable and honest.
Dr John Rubio Superintendent always recommends speaking in private (after a meeting) to a subordinate in private (and still respectfully) to address frustrations, or whatever a leader needs to address if delicate or difficult, and to never do this in front of other staff. Productive conflict in meetings is important - but berating others or getting upset with subordinates and team members in front of one another is not productive - it's harmful. Expectations for the behavior or duties of subordinates is important, but having strong expectations never justifies treating subordinates disrespectfully.