Teach & Serve II, No. 23 – Is It Time to Go?

Teach & Serve II, No. 23 – Is It Time to Go?

January 11, 2017

As educational leaders, we can easily and readily overlook the signs that it is time for us to go. We can avoid the signals. We can hold on for dear life. And we do not always know we are doing this.

The Denver Broncos lost their head coach last week. Gary Kubiak was an NFL head coach for 10 years, the last 2 with the Broncos. He was very successful and he won last year’s Super Bowl, Super Bowl 50 (no one can take that away from Denver Bronco fans!). By all accounts, Kubiak was not fired. He chose to step down. He had been dealing with health issues and those concerns seemed paramount in his mind when he said “I just can’t do it the way I want to do it anymore.”

I found this both sad and noble, sad because Kubiak is a coach for whom one can root – a good guy by all accounts in a sport that needs them – noble because here is a man walking away from millions of dollars, a man who was all but at the top of his profession, a man who could have continued the work.

But he knew it was time to go. He recognized the signs. He acted.

I found myself thinking of… myself. I have changed positions in education: teacher-to-department chair-to-dean of students-to-assistant principal-to principal-to-assistant principal-to-educational consultant (for lack of a better term) and I noted that, in all but one of those scenarios, I was promoted or removed. In only instance did I say “yes, it’s time now.” In only one did I realize my time in the position I had had run its course. That’s a mistake in my leadership journey and does not illustrate the kind of reflection I would like to have in my professional life.

However, I am very much not alone.

As educational leaders, we can easily and readily overlook the signs that it is time for us to go. We can avoid the signals. We can hold on for dear life. And we do not always know we are doing this.

At some point in our leadership journeys, we have seen other leaders become this, become those who cannot see that they are well past the point of effectiveness, that the needle has tipped in the wrong direction. We see them, we point them out and we think “I’ll never be that.”

Yet most of us are in danger of becoming what we beheld.

Leaders who settle into routine and let it drive their work, year-after-year, are in danger. Leaders who lose control of what they lead are in danger. Leaders who hear themselves say “well, they are never happy” or “you can’t please everyone” are in danger. Leaders who find the work more tiring than energizing are in danger.

Who wants to be the coach who hangs on too long? Who sets out to be the player that cannot play anymore and everyone around her knows it but her? Who wants to be the actor still trying to play the lead when it is no longer becoming? Who wants to be the author who writes poor work after poor work, not realizing it was time to retire the pen years before?

Who wants to be the principal or administrator who stays at the school too long, whose effectiveness is gone, who does not innovate, who hangs on for dear life.

No one sets out to be this person, this “leader.”

We must (a term I typically avoid using but it is accurate here) have mentors we trust who can tell us the truth. We must have friends we rely on who can reflect how we are doing. We must have faith to listen to those around us. At the end of the day, all of us as leaders should periodically ask ourselves “do I still have it? Am I still up for the job? Am I what I want to be as a leader? Am I growing?”

If the answer to any of these questions is “no,” we’ve got a lot of thinking to do…

… and it should start with thinking about another position in our institution or elsewhere.