I want to explore why some leaders fail to respond in a timely manner to messages or phone calls. This happens in all sectors; however, it seems to be most prevalent in education and state government. As a strong extrovert and committed to customer service, I am completely confused about why so many educational leaders do not respond to phone calls and e-mails. While timely responses are important there are many Superintendents, central administrators and Principals who just do not respond at all.

While I tried to understand this behavior I did allow for the possibility that they may have been overwhelmed with their work and all the demands and that it was not a personal matter. So I began to study this issue more thoroughly to ascertain why this phenomenon is so prevalent in education leadership circles.

Maybe these “non –responders” are so busy doing what they believe are important strategic actions for their districts they feel they do not have the time and energy to be distracted by people who they believe will not help them get their work completed. They may believe that you can’t respond to everyone and still stay focused on the improvement of student achievement. I wondered whether these non- responders were actually very successful and if this concern of mine was rather frivolous.
I just returned from a wonderful vacation in New Zealand and had the unique opportunity to meet many New Zealanders and one key leader in the Educational Ministry in Wellington. The New Zealand culture is so customer oriented and helpful to all visitors; it is amazing to observe. They truly relish helping people enjoy their country. The educational leader I met was referred to me by an internationally known educational consultant who did previous work in the country with principals.
I have never actually met this educational leader but he was kind enough to refer me to the person in the educational ministry. It was very interesting that this very busy leader responded to e-mails within a few hours. How can he possibly find the time?

When the NZ leader agreed to meet with me with no notice it was once again an example of someone who was very responsive. Maybe it was cultural and part of the NZ culture to respond quickly. When I spoke to her about the person who referred me she noted that he was so responsive to her and all the educators in NZ. Maybe, since he is from Canada it is cultural again. It could be that we teach (maybe subtlety) American leaders that if you don’t respond you will be viewed as very important and an excellent leader who is focused on the key work ahead.

Next, I started to think about several educational leaders that were high achievers who all respond to calls and e-mails within 24 hours. I started reviewing a list of people including; a former Commissioner, two leaders of state wide associations, a collaborative leader, several Superintendents and Principals who are “fast responders”.
Well, maybe the people I have mentioned are just not very busy. Then I began to think about this recently retired High School Principal of a very large urban school who was recognized nationally for the extraordinary success in improving student achievement. She must be busy like the other leaders who do not respond. However, she always responded to teachers, students, parents, and the community within 24 hours. I called her recently and she called me back in 3 hours apologizing for her tardiness. When I spoke to her I found out she was in Florida on vacation on the beach. It must be in her DNA to respond so quickly.

I guess I could conclude that our “non-responders” are just very busy and have good excuses for their behavior. I am sorry to be so direct with people who seem to get overwhelmed with their jobs and the countless requests that cross their desk every day. I do understand that they are not trying to be rude and are just hoping to keep their head above water.

However, I do want to ask each of you who believe you are too busy to respond, to begin to change your attitude about each call and e-mail you receive. There is no excuse for no response or ignoring people for prolonged periods of time. Since several key leaders who get great results and have very busy schedules can and do respond, you too can join the ranks of the “fast responders”. You may have to learn how to be creative and use your assistant to help, or just send a quick e-mail back to the person that this is a difficult time for you and you will get back to them in a few days, a week or even more. Remember, you do not have to solve each issue immediately. People will respect you for your response and consideration. Most people recognize that each of their requests cannot always be a priority. I know I do.
The benefits that await our slow or non- responders are the additional resources that come directly to our fast responders. People will give their time more readily to our fast responders. One example is a corporate leader who volunteered to provide the resources of his company to help a school system with marketing. When he received no response in two weeks he withdrew his offer. Another example involved a corporate relations department offering $200,000 in technology and financial resources to a district. The Superintendent never responded to the call and the resources were given to a fast responder’s district.
Please take this blog as a direct but friendly caution that your lack of response can be detrimental to your relationships and success as a leader. While you may feel justified, the receiver often feels ignored and can even feel disrespected.