Teach & Serve III, No. 27 – Love the Work. LOVE IT!

Teach & Serve III, No. 27 – Love the Work. LOVE IT!

February 14, 2018

So we better love it. We better love the work. We better love the kids. We better love the hours, and the stress and the cafeteria duty and the dances and the grading, and…

This week, I am in my second week in a row of working with a group of educators from Jesuit schools across the US and Canada as they focus on what makes them great leaders and what they can do to make themselves even better. This is such a terrific blessing of my work and it challenges me to focus in on significant questions facing educational leaders today.

Today is also Valentine’s Day and, rather than focus on the commercialization of love (which might lead to a blog talking about the pitfalls of the commercialization of education – that would be a good one for a future date!), I want to write about love and education and how they ought to be integrally linked.

I have noted before what any teacher or administrator who has committed to our shared work already knows: what we do is very hard. Work in education is highly demanding. The hours are long. The pay is not always terrific. The rewards are not entirely tangible.

This is a tough job!

So we better love it. We better love the work. We better love the kids. We better love the hours, and the stress and the cafeteria duty and the dances and the grading, and… well, I could go on.

Over my 25 years in education, I have learned a few things – stolen them, really – from the many, fine people with whom I have journeyed. One thing I have learned is the best among us are happy to be here. The best among us LOVE the work.

I love the work. Do you?

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Teach & Serve III, No. 26 – When Leadership Lets Us Down

Teach & Serve III, No. 26 – When Leadership Lets Us Down

February 7, 2018

What happens when we find that we have – in good faith – done all we can to eliminate issues, to find middle ground, to offer constructive approaches, to build and become bridges? What do we do when our leadership is actually not very good or working in ways that counter the well-being of the school?

This week, I have the great pleasure of working with a group of educators from Jesuit schools across the US and Canada as they focus on what makes them great leaders and what they can do to make themselves even better. This is such a terrific blessing of my work and it challenges me to focus in on significant questions facing educational leaders today.

Many (most?) of the blogs I have composed for Teach & Serve reflect on or reference conditions wherein good leadership is present in a school. They are written from a perspective assuming solid norms and procedures, relatively healthy environments and excellent standards for behavior.  

Let us be honest: those conditions do not always pertain.

Where does that leave individuals who wish optimal (or, at least, functional) leadership is in play? Where does that leave those who aspire to greater things for themselves and for their schools? Where does that leave people who seek perpetual improvement?

These are challenging questions, to be sure.

But there are answers.

Like the best answers, they start from within us. They start with us making honest and clear assessments of who we are in our leadership and of how we relate to the leaders and systems around us. The best answers ask us to ask ourselves hard questions.

And to answer them.

Good leaders know that one of the fundamental qualities of leadership is authenticity. I have written previously that I believe it to be the central and most important quality of a good leader. Good leaders, then, take the questions they are posing outward and turn them within.

If leadership is bad in our schools, we must ask ourselves if we are part of the issue. What role have we played to sour the milk? Have we contributed to an environment that is less than ideal? We must be willing to examine ourselves as a necessary first step.

And what happens, then, if we find that we have – in good faith – done all we can to eliminate issues, to find middle ground, to offer constructive approaches, to build and become bridges? What do we do when our leadership is actually not very good or working in ways that counter the well-being of the school?

We must, then, assess what change we can make from where we are. We must consider who we can help and for what reason. If our challenge of authority and status quo and broken systems is for the good of our students (and the good of the adult community – a secondary good; students come first) then we are called to confront.

We must respectfully disagree and offer alternatives. We must exercise the authority we have as teachers and as educational leaders within the same structures our chairs and administrators occupy. We must speak truth – truth to colleagues, truth to power. We must do so offering suggestions and solutions, through-lines and conclusions and ways forward. We must be willing to suffer slings, arrows, criticisms and critiques.

When we are authentic, when we act from our true selves, all of this, though incredibly heavy to shoulder, is worth the weight.

If our systems hurt our students, if our leaders are negligent in their most important tasks, they must be examined and changed. They might even need to be set aside or torn down.

However, our seats in the school, our positions and our power along with the management and leadership styles of our superiors may make true and lasting collaboration and change so difficult as to be impossible.

This can be a bleak state of affairs and cause crises of the heart.

When leadership does not work and is unwilling to reflect and consider change, authentic leaders are in painful positions. If one has done all one can on behalf of students to confront challenges and bad actors, to affect change and to advance the institution and there is no way forward, another question comes into play: is my presence here so important for those I serve that I must stay?

If the answer is yes, it is good to remember that systems alter over time and leaders do not stay in place forever.

If the answer is no, it may well be time for an individual to change one’s circumstance. While that is easier written than done, it may be an inevitable conclusion and a legitimate alternative to continuing frustration and pain.

The best answers start from within. Knowing ourselves is a significant key.

Superheroic Leadership Vol. 1 No. 9 – Jedi Hubris

Superheroic Leadership Vol. I * No. 9

Jedi Hubris

Superheroic Leadership is a light-hearted examination of what superheroic figures have to teach about leadership and what I have learned from their adventures.


I know more than I want to know about The Last Jedi. When you run in the circles in which I run, information about upcoming movies is hard to avoid. I have been in a media blackout for over a month on this film and I still know too much!

But there is one thing I know about the Jedi that I have known for a very long time. I have known this since I was a kid.

The Jedi are pompous jerks.

Seriously.

Think about it. They know all – or say they do. They claim to have access to special powers which you cannot access. They cut themselves off from personal attachments. They see the future but do not share their insights. They twist the truth to suit their needs (“what I told you was true from a certain point of view” anyone?).

And they kind of lord all this stuff over everyone with whom they interact.

Do you know any leaders like this?

Look, I like Luke and Mace and Obi Wan as much as the next geek but, come on!

The Jedi simply are not great leaders.

We learn more about leadership from them by not acting as they do.

In our leadership, a red light should flash when we feel as though we know all. We should hear warning sirens when we think we have access to things others do not and that is what makes us leaders. Likewise when we cut ourselves off from colleagues – from those we lead – we are headed down a bad road. And if we do not share all we know about what is coming in our institutions, we are more in love with the idea of leadership that we are with actually leading. Finally, when we twist the truth to influence those around us, we are on very thin ice from a prospective of effective leadership.

The Jedi are good. The Jedi are powerful. The Jedi helped save the galaxy a couple times.

But the Jedi are jerks. Hopefully we, as leaders, are not.

Superheroic Leadership Vol. 1 No. 6 – Leading from Your Gut

Superheroic Leadership Vol. I * No. 6

Leading from Your Gut

Superheroic Leadership is a light-hearted examination of what superheroic figures have to teach about leadership and what I have learned from their adventures.


The recent reboot of Star Trek (not Star Trek Discovery, but the JJ Abrams produced films) has dived fans. Some embraced it, some disdained it. There were few fans in between.

Put me very much in the embraced it camp. I think it is a terrific update, built for modern sensibilities, that pays significant and appropriate attention to the source material. I think it is full of energy and fun.

And I love the cast, especially Chris Pine as Captain Kirk.

Here is a Kirk who is learning, who is not fully formed, who is finding his way. How cool is that?

In the second (and most divisive) film in the trilogy, Star Trek Into Darkness, Kirk is faced with the realization that he is not as well suited for his leadership role – his captaincy of the Enterprise – as he had believed. He is overcome by fear and doubt and he is confused about what to do next. And he does what most of us do in situations like this: he defaults to his strength.

His instincts.

Throughout his career, Kirk has trusted his instincts. He has relied on his gut feelings. He has banked on the fact that his sixth sense will not let him down.

At times in our leadership journeys, no matter our preference for facing challenges and making decisions, we will be forced stripped down, we will be in the moment, we will be forced to rely on instinct.

And that is okay. If we are good leaders, part of the reason why we are is that our guts and instincts have led us to be. Sometimes, we have to trust them. Sometimes, logic is not enough.

Sometimes, it’s a gut feeling.

And that is okay.

Superheroic Leadership Vol. 1 No. 5 – Know Your Team

Superheroic Leadership Vol. I * No. 5

Know Your Team

Superheroic Leadership is a light-hearted examination of what superheroic figures have to teach about leadership and what I have learned from their adventures.


Mark Waid is a terrific comic book writer. Wickedly intelligent, possessed of an encyclopedic knowledge of the genre, abundantly talented, Waid has written almost every main character for both DC and Marvel of which casual fans would know. He has written some amazing storylines and he has contributed to the myth of many characters.

One of those characters is Batman.

Waid wrote Justice League in the late 1990s and early 2000s and he penned some terrific stories. One of those stories, Tower of Babel, added to Batman’s reputation in an immeasurably– defining the character to this day. It made such a lasting impression, it was adapted into the DC Animated Movie Justice League: Doom.

In the story, a group of villains break into the Batcave computers and discover Batman has been creating plans to take down each-and-every member of the Justice League should that ever become necessary. The villains use these highly effective plans against the League and, though the team eventually succeeds in defeating them, the heroes look at Batman differently from that moment forward.

Art for the story was provided by the terrific Howard Porter.

Batman respects his teammates. He knows their strengths and weaknesses. He knows that they might, someday, need to be confronted and challenged. Is it incredibly cold hearted that he has devised plans – in advance – of how to deal with them if they go rouge? Of course it is, but he is Batman, after all.

The leadership lesson here is not to keep files of those you lead and know how to defeat them. You are not Batman, after all.

No, the lesson is to know those with whom you work. Know their strengths. Know their weaknesses. Know that, even if they are close colleagues – and *gasp* perhaps even friends – there may come a time when you have to confront them, challenge them, disagree with them.  There may come a time when knowing your colleagues weaknesses is an important part of your leadership and as important as knowing their strengths.

When you are a leader, developing the leadership of those around you is a critical part of the work. Knowing how to help those around you grow and overcome their weaknesses is a significant leadership tool. Additionally, knowing how not to put people into situations that will defeat them – situations that are beyond their abilities – is just as important.

Know your team. Know their capabilities. Know how to put them in the best positions to succeed.

And know you are not Batman!

Superheroic Leadership Vol. 1 No. 2 – What’s So Funny about Truth and Justice?

Superheroic Leadership Vol. I * No. 2

What’s So Funny about Truth and Justice?

Superheroic Leadership is a light-hearted examination of what superheroic figures have to teach about leadership and what I have learned from their adventures.


They say that Superman is a hard character to write. This is a common mantra among those who follow the Man of Steel. He’s too clean cut. He’s too powerful. He’s too good.

He’s boring, especially in the context of the “real world.”

In the 1990s and early 2000s, anti-heroes were all the rage, heroes who did not force themselves to adhere to moral codes, heroes who would cross any line to serve their vision of justice. The X-Men, exemplified by their banner character Wolverine, were an example of this. The Authority was a team of almost omnipotent characters who were brutal and violent and just. Even the Avengers were recharacterized in this fashion in an alternate universe book called The Ultimates.

How does Superman fit into this world?

Not well.

But Joe Kelly, Doug Mahnke and Lee Bermejo presented a story in Action Comics #775 that underscored why Superman IS Superman.

In this landmark issue, Superman is confronted by a group of “heroes” calling themselves “The Elite.” These characters kill their adversaries, relish in their power and complain that Superman is hopelessly behind the times. They blame him for all the damage caused by villains the Man of Steel has left alive, villains who inevitably escape prisons and wreak havoc on the world. They say Superman is afraid to do what is necessary to protect the world.

Staging a televised showdown with the Elite, Superman appears to unleash violence as only he can, appearing to kill each member of the team (though he secretly saves each right before their “death” using his super speed) and terrifying both the Elite and the world, illustrating the evils of violence unchecked and power uncontrolled. As only Superman can, the hero reclaims the high ground, reaffirms his commitment to his moral code and has the world cheering for him in the process.

What’s so funny about truth, justice and the American way? Nothing.

Superman stands as an example of light not giving way to darkness. He refuses to cross lines and compromise his morality. He is upstanding. He is good.

We need more of this kind of good in our world.

Superheroic Leadership Vol. 1 No. 1 – Superheroic Leadership

Superheroic Leadership Vol. I * No. I

Superheroic Leadership

Superheroic Leadership is a light-hearted examination of what superheroic figures have to teach about leadership and what I have learned from their adventures.


For as far back as my memory will take me, superheroes have been a part of the life of my imagination. I learned to read from the adventures of Batman and Spider-Man, learned to take flights of fancy with Wonder Woman and the Avengers and so many more.  And it was not just the four-color heroes I read about in the pages of comic books that were alive in my mind. The heroes of science fiction, especially characters from Star Trek and Star Wars, shared almost equal time.

Growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, I found that affection for comic books and science fiction was less cool than playing sports or collecting baseball cards and I, like many others who shared these hobbies, did not exactly broadcast my affinity for them. I know I am not alone in that feeling.

How could those of us who spoke the secret language of comics, who knew the difference between the Empire and the Klingon Empire and who debated whether Superman could lift Thor’s hammer have possibly known that these characters we embraced as kids would become culturally dominant icons? How could we have anticipated The Avengers, The Dark Knight Trilogy, The Guardians of the Galaxy and Wonder Woman?

How could we have known the power these stories would have to captivate, to entertain and, dare I write, to inspire?

For there must be something inspirational about these characters and their stories. There must be something worth watching. There must be something with depth about which to think.

I believe there is and, while there are many reasons for the enduring popularity of superheroes and science fiction characters, I believe their lasting resonance has something to do with leadership.

Superheroic Leadership is, at least in title, an homage to Chris Lowney’s terrific Heroic Leadership, wherein Lowney juxtaposes lessons about leadership in business with the lives of early Jesuits. It is a clever and instructive book, Lowney’s Heroic Leadership, and one I highly recommend.

This every-other-week series of posts will not be as clever or instructive. What it will be is a light-hearted examination of what superheroic figures have to teach about leadership and what I, perhaps only on reflection, have learned from their adventures.

There must be a reason I have spent so much time and money on and with these characters, right?

Welcome to Superheroic Leadership!