Teach & Serve III, No. 24 – Support

Teach & Serve III, No. 24 – Support

January 24, 2018

And, from that point on, all he did was support his understudy. He did not sulk. He did not pout. He did not complain.

I am not a college football fan. Growing up, I was (and remain) a devoted follower of the Denver Broncos and, though the University of Colorado was a top ten program from much of my childhood and even won a share of the National Championship in 1988, the year I graduated high school, my affinity was for the NFL in general and the Broncos in particular.

I paid little attention to the college football playoffs this year and would have likely not watched a snap of the title game had my son not been home from college watching it himself. Never wanting to miss an opportunity to be with any of my wife and my college-aged kids, I sat and watched almost the full second half with my son.

And I got to see something that can be great about sports that entirely resonates with our profession as educational leaders.

I saw unconditional and unwavering support.

Allow me to tell you the story, a story that you have probably already heard. The University of Alabama football team, having suffered through a brutal first half on offense, pulled Jalen Hurts, their starting quarterback who had, going into this game, posted an amazing 25 – 2 record. Unhappy with offense production, they sat him, replacing him with backup (and true freshman!) Tua Tagovailoa who went on to win the game and the title for Alabama.

There is much to be written about the boldness of being a leader, about head coach Nick Saban making such a startling and brave choice to change quarterbacks, but this blog is about Hurts.

Jalen Hurts, a sophomore who had done very little but win for Alabama, must have been stunned by his demotion to the sidelines. He must have been in turmoil. Surely, he thought he would lead his team to victory. Certainly, he believed some glory was due him if the team won.

Jalen Hurts and Tua Tagovailoa

But the night did not play out the way he must have imagined. He went from starter to cheerleader in the space of a halftime speech.

And, from that point on, all he did was support his understudy. He did not sulk. He did not pout. He did not complain.

Rather, Hurts was the first person to congratulate Tagovailoa. He was at Tagovailoa’s side during timeouts, coaching him up, helping him out, working with him. He cheered him on, encouraged him after a bad interception, patted him on the back, yelled his support.

If the actions of this kid are not prime examples of servant leadership, then I have never seen it.

Sports can and does teach lessons – lessons that improve lives.

And kids can teach us, too.

What an incredible lesson in how to support a teammate. It is a lesson leaders should learn.

Teach & Serve III, No. 23 – I Hear You

Teach & Serve III, No. 23 – I Hear You

January 17, 2018

Anyone with a well-developed auditory sense can listen. Leaders who want to serve the people with whom they work must hear.

In recent weeks, I have had the opportunity to discuss myself and my leadership in detailed and reflective ways, asked questions by groups of dedicated educators who were most interested in my answers. I was both lucky and blessed to have been part of three separate search processes – processes looking to identify qualities in applicants for instructional leaders of schools. The conversations were long, intense, exciting and exhilarating one-and-all.

As I moved from conversation-to-conversation, process-to-process, I found myself listening to myself and reflecting on what I was saying in medias res which was a very interesting experience. After all, there are questions that good interview committees will be sure to ask and questions for which I very much needed to be prepared, prepared to give my most honest and authentic responses.

Inevitably, the question of how I would, as the instructional leader, listen to the staffs and the teachers and the students of each respective institution – was raised.

I replied that listening is a critical component of educational leadership, but not the most critical one. And, in fact, I found myself saying, on more than one occasion and working quickly to explain myself, how important it is that people feel as though they are heard.

Hang on, now… “feeling” as though one is heard does not actually indicate that someone has been heard.

Good leaders listen, sure. Good educational leaders are good at listening.

Exceptional educational leaders are exceptionally good at hearing.

Anyone with a well-developed auditory sense can listen. Leaders who want to serve the people with whom they work must hear. The must work at it and hone the skill. They must realize that hearing is so much more important than simply listening.

Hearing implies a desire to connect. Hearing implies wanting to comprehend. Hearing implies action.

Listening is passive. Someone who is listening is just there, in the room or the office, nodding, smiling, listening.

Hearing is active. Someone who is hearing is engaged, asking questions, offering support, giving suggestions.

Leaders who valuing hearing put away all distractions, close their laptops and shut down their tablets. They silence and set aside their phones and they hear.

When a true leader says “I hear you” the person to whom they say it does not just feel heard, she or he knows without a doubt she or he has been heard.

A leader does not just listen, a leader hears.

(oh, and a follow up on those conversations about formal educational leadership is coming…)

Teach & Serve III, No. 22 – Get Real

Teach & Serve III, No. 22 – Get Real

January 10, 2018

Our students want us to be real. They want us to connect with them in real ways. They want to understand what application any and everything we are teaching them has on their real lives. Our staffs want us to be real. They want us to know them in real ways. They want to understand what implication our leadership has on their real lives.

 

You know what our students and staffs want from us as educational leaders?

They want us to get real.

I am an awards season addict. Okay, in fairness, “addict” may be too strong a word. Let us stipulate to the fact that I pay attention to Hollywood awards beginning with the Golden Globes running right on through the Oscars. Yes, they are self-congratulatory. Yes, there is much to criticize about entertainment and Hollywood culture. Yes, there is typically something vacuous about all this.

Yes, yes, yes.

But, at last Sunday’s Golden Globes, there was something else. There was a reality to the proceedings, a self-awareness. There was a seriousness about sexual harassment, about women’s roles in the industry, about what inspires good work and why people do it.

There was something real about what was said.

And that was before Oprah Winfrey spoke.

What she said, though inspiring, powerful and worth a listen I think, is not what got me thinking about Teach & Serve this week. The fact that Oprah took advantage of her opportunity to be real, to address real issues, to talk about reality is what most moved me. Her conclusions can be debated as can her reasons for sharing these particular comments at this particular time. But the fact that she was real cannot be.

Our students want us to be real. They want us to connect with them in real ways. They want to understand what application any and everything we are teaching them has on their real lives.

They want us to get real.

Our staffs want us to be real. They want us to know them in real ways. They want to understand what implication our leadership has on their real lives.

They want us to get real.

That is a standard to which excellent educational leadership hold themselves: they are real. They know what they say and what they do affects people and they are clear and careful and conscious of that. They understand that their leadership has real-world consequences and they do not take the responsibility lightly.

Be a better educational leader in 2018.

Get real.

Teach & Serve III, No. 20 – TRANSPARENCY #oneword2018

Teach & Serve III, No. 21 – TRANSPARENCY #oneword2018

January 3, 2018

Leaders who operate from a perspective of transparency take the guesswork out of followership and take the guess work out of who they are… It is easy to know who a transparent leader is. She is not hiding anything.

I love the concept of choosing one word on which to focus for the next twelve months. I am not entirely sure who began the initiative or how the concept got moving. But I am glad that those educators I follow on Twitter have been celebrating it. Their enthusiasm has inspired my own over the last few years and I thought carefully about what I would choose as my guiding word and principle this year.

My One Word for 2018 is TRANSPARENCY.

Talented leaders are brimming with qualities that make them inspirational and effective. They share those qualities freely and without expectation. They serve those with whom they work as part of the vocation of educational leadership they have chosen. And they have many qualities in common.

Of these, the quality I most wish to adopt, expand and emulate in my own life is transparency.

Leaders who are transparent (people who are transparent) in who they are, in what they do and in how they lead do not leave people guessing. They do not make decisions that seem out of the blue, left field or nowhere. They do not catch those around them flatfooted. Leaders who are transparent communicate with those around them consistently and as a matter of course. They are not hiding agendas because they have no agendas to hide. They are up front, genuine and authentic.

Leadership is challenging but so is followership. Followership can be made easier by leaders who are transparent. When followers know what to expect and what is expected of them, when they know what drives leaders’ decision making, when they know what leaders are thinking and why they are thinking it, being a follower is both easier and more fulfilling. Leaders who operate from a perspective of transparency take the guesswork out of followership and take the guess work out of who they are.

It is easy to know who a transparent leader is. She is not hiding anything.

We could use more transparency in our world. We can certainly use transparency in our work.

As I grow in 2018, as I continue to improve myself as a person and as a leader, I will work to be transparent. I will work to be authentic. I will work to be genuine.

I will work on my #oneword2018.

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.