Teach & Serve III, No. 18 – There Are No Leaders Without Followers

Teach & Serve III, No. 18 – There Are No Leaders Without Followers

December 6, 2017

Our work reaches beyond us. It reaches through time. It reaches into the future.

If you are reading this blog, you are likely a school leader, a teacher or administrator. A further supposition is if you are reading this blog (and you are not my mother – Hi, Mom!), you are reading this blog because you think about your leadership, you reflect upon what you do and why you do it and it is also likely that you hope to improve.

Thinking about and reflecting upon our roles as leaders is a necessary part of our improvement process but we have to be careful not to simply think about what we do and how we do it. To be the best leaders we can be, we should spend a great deal of time considering those we lead.

A good leader understands that establishing rapport with those who are being led is a critical and necessary step in creating an environment wherein a leader can effectively serve. In order to foster legitimate rapport, a leader must establish community, interplay and trust with those being led.

A mistake that average leaders make is to assume that their position ensures that those being led will follow, that the title they hold is enough to inspire fealty, that the role they play is sufficient to get those being led to fall in line.

If that is you, good luck. You may well be able to drag people along with you because you are The Leader, but the experience of those you lead will be painful and they will not have loyalty to you but only loyalty to what you represent – to your position.

Excellent leaders understand this. Moreover, they would be concerned if they are followed simply because of their title or their position on the work chart. Leaders I wish to follow know that who they lead is at least as important as how they lead.

Understanding this is part of how they became excellent leaders in the first place.

Teach & Serve III, No. 17 – Accountable to be Accountable

Teach & Serve III, No. 17

Accountable to be Accountable

November 29, 2017

When things go wrong, when they do not go as planned, when failure happens and when hands are thrown up all around, a leader steps forward and steps up. A leader holds herself accountable. A leader accepts responsibility.

Schools are complex places and, when things do go wrong, typically the reasons are myriad. Often many hands have played a part in an initiative that did not land well or a program that failed. Committees run off course and team-planned curricular designing gets derailed. Perhaps resources were lacking, or energy. Perhaps the plan was simply too ambitious. Perhaps someone did not pull his weight. There is little that can be counted upon in the day-to-day management and leadership of a school. One thing that can be counted upon is that the best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men (an’ women!) gang aft agley.

When things go wrong, when they do not go as planned, when failure happens and when hands are thrown up all around, a leader steps forward and steps up. A leader holds herself accountable. A leader accepts responsibility.

This is a significant key to excellent leadership. The first move of the leader – be she a classroom teacher or an administrator – is to acknowledge the failure and to accept responsibility for it. Given the likely number of shoes that dropped in the context of any missed opportunity or fiasco, it would be possible for the leader to engage in (or join in) finger pointing. “It was not me. It was the committee. It was the too aggressive timeline. It was a lack of follow through.”

The reality is that all of that may be true. The committee may have dropped the ball. The timeline may have been overly optimistic. The follow through may have been lacking. But a leader does not, in the first instance, respond to failure by denying responsibility. A leader desires accountability.

There is time following failure to assess. There is time to identify problems and to fix them and to try again. There is time to analyze what went wrong to put things right. There is time.

Immediately following a failure is not that time. Immediately following a failure is time for the leader to say: “this is on me.”

A leader is accountable to be accountable.

Anything less is weak, can damage morale and can hinder teamwork.

EduQuote of the Week: November 27 – December 3, 2017

Game and Puzzle Week

Once I get on a puzzle, I can’t get off it.

– Richard P. Fennyman

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Superheroic Leadership Vol. 1 No. 8 – Let Go of Your Conscious Self

Superheroic Leadership Vol. I * No. 8

Let Go of Your Conscious Self

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


No matter how leadership is considered, I believe there is a truth which is difficult to avoid: good leaders are different. They are born with… something. They have… IT.

While individuals can grow in their leadership and skills of management and leadership can be learned, the good ones – the best ones – simply shine as leaders. When they enter a room, people look to them and say “show me the wall and I’ll run through it.”

This is Superheroic Leadership, so let us try something. Of these pairs, who would you follow:

Captain America or Iron Man

Batman or Superman

Captain Kirk or Mr. Spock

Black Widow or Wonder Woman

Frodo Baggins or Samwise Gamgee

Ron Weasley or Hermione Granger

While you may have had to think through a couple of these, my guess is your list went something like this: Cap, Superman, Kirk, Wonder Woman, Frodo and Hermione.

Why is that? The other characters are great, too (and I bet there are a few differences in your choices and mine) but they just do not project leader the way the others do.

Great leaders are born with something. They are born with a leadership instinct that they learn to trust and that they are careful to develop. Great leaders are able to react to challenging situations quickly, to lead others to the right paths, to get out of danger because they do not overthink things. They trust their instincts.

Leadership skills can be taught but great instincts for leadership seem much more inherent to me.

Let us leave it to Obi Wan Kenobi (and we can with many leadership concepts … except that of telling the truth, but that is another subject for another blog!).

 

Teach & Serve III, No. 16 – Give Thanks for THAT?

Teach & Serve III, No. 16

Give Thanks for THAT?

November 22, 2017

An annual Thanksgiving post…

As we gather this week for Thanksgiving in the United States, our thoughts, hopefully, turn to those things for which we are grateful: family, friends, good health, good jobs… It is my sincere wish that you have many, many things in your life for which you are thankful and that they come to mind readily and easily.

thanksBriefly, I would like to challenge us to be thankful for some other things, things that do not readily come to mind, things that we might, more likely, rather disdain than praise.

I would like to challenge us to be thankful for:

The difficult parent conversation because many of these conversations lead us to reassessing how we work with parents. In my experience, not all but most of these conversations happen because the parents love their kids and want to help. Even the most difficult talks can (and often do) teach us something. Think back. Have you changed your approach, your policies, your demeanor because of a conversation like this? Give thanks.

The challenging student because I would rather have a student challenge me than simply sit there. I would rather have a student fired up about something than a room full of disaffected ones. I would rather have a student make me consider how I deal with challenging students in the first place. We work with kids, they are going to challenge us. More often than not, their challenges can be channeled (if we are skilled) into positive results. Give thanks.

The unreasonable colleague because most of the people with whom I work only seem unreasonable until I understand their reasons. When I work with a colleague whose opinions are outside my own, I have an opportunity to learn something about that colleague and, perhaps, something about myself. When I simply avoid people because I find them “unreasonable” I wonder how many people I end up having to avoid… Give thanks.

The inconvenient and inappropriate question because sometimes the out-of-left-field, how-could-you-possibly-have-asked-that-question is exactly the question that needs to be asked. As teachers and leaders, we are sometimes so goal oriented, we forget to slow down and ask outside-the-box questions. We avoid delaying to ask big questions. Someone should ask those and we should give space for them to be asked. Give thanks.

The times when time runs out because, as leaders, we often impose deadlines. When the deadlines imposed upon us run out and we are late, we sometimes think those deadlines we missed were unreasonable. How about the deadlines we, ourselves, impose? How reasonable are they? Give thanks.

The dismissal because every dismissal, of a student, staff member or teacher, grants us the opportunity to ask: “did I do everything I could to keep this person around? Did the school do all it could?” Those are terrific questions to ask. Give thanks.

The late-night cry because getting emotional about our work, getting upset, breaking down, reminds us that we care. Give thanks.

Give thanks for the work. Give thanks for the kids. Give thanks for your colleagues. Give thanks for the challenges.

Give thanks.

Teach & Serve III, No. 15 – Management and Leadership

Teach & Serve III, No. 15

Management and Leadership

November 15, 2017

Managers direct by telling. Leaders invite by inspiring.

At a leadership seminar a few weeks back, I heard a great story about dealing with one of a school’s most favorite days of the year: Halloween. I was asking the group with which I was working if they had to jump right back into work when they returned from our week-long seminar and one of the members of the cohort said, with noticeable relief, not only did she not have any school-related, weekend responsibilities (our seminar ended on a Friday morning), she did not have to teach Monday or Tuesday of the following week because her school would be closed.

Why? I asked.

Because we don’t want to deal with Halloween, so the principal shuts us down. She said.

What a nifty thing to do. Talk about a great way to deal with what can be a perennial issue at a co-ed high school. Nicely done, I thought.

Nicely managed.

Another conversation I had during that same leadership seminar struck me as well. One of my colleagues on the seminar was talking about a task she had been given. She was to serve on an interview committee for a school presidency. She was emailed a list of questions to ask, told the time frame she had to ask them and ordered to report to an office to interview candidates at a prescribed date. Whoever invited her on the committee missed the mark. Poorly done, I thought.

Poorly led.

There is a difference between leadership and management and school leaders would be well served to understand that and to know when to apply which skill. Good leaders have skills related to leadership and skills related to management. The Venn Diagram between the two overlaps, to be sure. Management and leadership are not polar opposites.  But they are different.

Management deals with the mechanics of getting things done, of making lists and checking off items, of tackling immediate issues. Leadership deals with thinking big picture, challenging boundaries, defining mission.

Managers direct by telling. Leaders invite by inspiring.

The Halloween situation I mentioned above was well handled, well managed. Perhaps dealing with this scenario did not require leadership, but management. Leadership applied here may have asked broader questions, considered why Halloween was an issue at the school, sought to engage outside-the-box thinking for a solution. Likely that would have been an unnecessary approach.

Similarly, the situation with the teacher asked to be on the committee needed more leadership than management. The teacher was managed, to be sure. But the process cried out for leadership, for vision and inclusion, for broader thinking. Applying management was a miss. Though the interview process likely went well, there was a chance for it to be better.

I believe excellent leaders, when confronted by leadership tasks, ask themselves “is this a leadership opportunity or a management situation?” This is a natural question to them. It is automatic. Then they readily apply the best process. Good school leaders know how to balance management and leadership. They know when to employ which. They know that some situations call for leadership. Others call for management. Excellent leaders switch easily through both.

And, when in doubt, err on the side of leadership. Management, while important, should not be a leader’s default position. Leadership should be.

Pretty simple, right?

It’s just like handling Halloween in a high school or setting up an interview committee… But do not believe there is a right way or a wrong way. There is not.

There is a better way or a worse way, though. Good leaders know the difference.

EduQuote of the Week: November 13 – 19, 2017

Geography Awareness Week

There is an eternal landscape, a geography of the soul; we search for its outlines all our lives.

– Josephine Hart

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Superheroic Leadership Vol. 1 No. 7 – The Old Order Changeth

Superheroic Leadership Vol. I * No. 7

The Old Order Changeth

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


In Avengers #16, written by Stan Lee and illustrated by Jack Kirby, things are about to change. The roster of the superhero team is about to be re-written. The old order is about to change.

In this issue, Lee coined the phrase “The Old Order Changeth” (in a bastardization of Shakespeare that only Lee could get away with) and this phrase still appears in issues of the comic to this day. In fact, it has appeared in over 115 issues of the title. “The Old Order Changeth” is the catch phrase indicating some heroes are about to move out of Avengers Mansion and others are ready to move in. Reasons for changing up the roster were typically about low sales or the desire to feature a new hero or character.

That’s all well and good.

What I like about this is that changing the roster keeps the Avengers exciting, fresh and, presumably, new.

When the old order changed, it rarely turned over entirely. Rather, stalwarts from one incarnation stayed with the team to shepherd it through the new incarnation. They remained to explain what the Avengers were and what they should be.

I love it.

And that is what leaders do with their teams. They do not surrender to complacency and comfort. They do not settle into routines that are the enemies of creative and courage. Rather, they look to change the order, to bring new people aboard, to offer new opportunities.

And, sometimes, the leader must realize that, for the old order to really “changeth” and for the change to mean anything, the leader herself must go.

It takes Captain America-like bravery to admit that and step aside. Bravery like that in changing the old order must be celebrated.

Teach & Serve III, No. 14 – Highest Duty

Teach & Serve III, No. 14

Highest Duty

November 8, 2017

Leaders support those with whom they work. It is their first and last priority and that mindset informs every priority in between.

I firmly believe that the best leaders serve those they lead just as the best teachers understand they work in service of their students.

I also believe that leaders can only be effective when they are given consent to lead and that classroom teachers are far more effective when the students feel as though they are partners in the learning process.

Yes, some leaders who rely only on authoritarian leadership can push their agendas and compel, by the power of their position, compliance from those who work for them, but I argue that this kind of scenario does not denote leadership.

Leaders support those with whom they work. It is their first and last priority and that mindset informs every priority in between.

Therefore, leaders must be very careful of the structures present in their classrooms and in their schools. They must be aware of the implications policies create in terms of service.

All too often, leaders endorse or create structures and policies that limit their ability to lend needed support. Too frequently, organizations adopt general strictures and broadly apply them at the expense of specific individuals and situations. We tie ourselves in politics, in red tape, and, all too often, in nonsense.

We must cut to the chase: to lead is to serve. To serve is to support. Anything else distracts from our central call as leaders.

What we do in school leadership – as teachers and administrators – is complex work. We need not make our roles to serve more complex by needlessly tying our hands.

A great leader goes to great lengths to provide support. This the highest duty of leadership.

EduQuote of the Week: November 5 – 12, 2017

Sherlock Holmes Weekend

You have a grand gift for silence, Watson. It makes you quite invaluable as a companion.

– Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

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