The Present Leader: Showing Up When It Matters Most — #SH302

The Present Leader: Showing Up When It Matters Most — #SH302

  • Photo Above: Cave Art, Bisons, Altamira, Spain. >40,000 yrs BCE

Approximately 95,000 years ago, humans developed the distinct ability to think abstractly about our world. Our systems for communication evolved into the language, reasoning, mathematics, science, and other forms of meaning-making that we capitalize on today. Our social connections became stronger and our tribes grew. In general, we have learned to think more about our purpose and reflect internally about our thoughts and actions, including how we fit into the larger context of our community. 

But this type of abstract and philosophical thinking doesn’t come without its challenges. When we find ourselves searching or lost in an internal dialogue, we also tend to manifest stress and worry about the present and future dangers that we (might) face. The problem is that if we’re left to our natural instincts, we can do more harm than good. Our concerns create anxiety, our anxiety develops into apprehension, and our apprehension begets paralysis. Then, when our inaction is at its worst, we lose the ability to be present with others. Instead of projecting a faithful present and a positive future, we’re stuck on a carousel of unwanted, inaccurate, and misleading assumptions about our self and others. 

The good news is that this state-of-mind doesn’t have to be our reality. Great leaders learn to be present in both mind and matter. They harness the mental strength to stay focused in the moment. This is not an innate ability to connect with people and live in the moment. The belief that any soft skill, like being present as a leader, is native for some and foreign to others is simply not true. Great leaders actually plan to be present. They hone the skill of presence with strategy and practice. This essential skill is only done with strength and ease when we become deliberate about it. 

As our world leaders look to increase social distancing to preserve our safety, there has never been a more important time to be present as a leader. The further apart we need to be physically, the more intense the need for connection becomes. The following pillars are the necessary aspects for being a present leader. 

Are You Tuned In?

The simple definition of being tuned in is “noticing.” This is what some leadership experts have deemed as mindfulness, not to be confused with meditation practices, although meditation goes a long way in helping with our tuning abilities. “This process of noticing comes naturally when we’re exposed to something we think is new, and it’s energy-begetting, not energy-consuming” (Langer, 2016). 

Effective leaders treat every situation uniquely, even the ones that are similar to what we’ve encountered in the past. People who tune in are less judgmental and more authentic by not making assumptions or jumping to conclusions based on past interactions or previous circumstances. Mindfully tuned in leaders are present by extending trust and enjoying authentic relationships with friends and coworkers. 

Who is Presently Leading

Presently leading has a dual connotation. First, it means that you’re present, in the moment, rather than stuck in the past or the future. Present leaders don’t allow themselves to be trapped by dwelling on their past failures or projecting their future fallouts. Second, it means that whomever is “presently leading” is a leader. Titles don’t make leaders. Leaders are the people who show up to do the work, to make a difference, and to bring about the best in others. 

“The industrial era, struggling for the last decade or two, is now officially being replaced by one based on connection and leadership and the opportunity to show up and make a difference” (Seth’s Blog). Presently leading just means that someone has taken the reigns, ready and willing to do what it takes to move forward. 

What are You Forecasting for the Future

Effective leaders who identify what the future will look like are typically making that prediction based on the future that they intend to create. “In an unstable world, the best option is creating the future now” (Rockwell, 2018). Great leaders can’t see into the future better than the rest of us, but they are tuned in and leading in the present to create opportunities that bring about what they want for tomorrow. 

Forecasting the future requires us to be steadfast with our beliefs and behaviors regarding the here-and-now. With an unwavering focus on our vision, we become clearer on what needs to be done in the present. The actions of today are the fruits of tomorrow. 

Leaders know that when we’re tuned into the world around us, when we stay present for our current scenario, and when we work to make the best future for ourselves and others, we reap the benefits of a positive and productive relationship with our community. When we shed the futile consumptions of our abstract thoughts–the negative feelings of doubt and disaster–we push forward into the world that we want and that, ultimately, we’ve designed. That’s what it means to be a present leader–the one who shows up when it matters most. 

Stay tuned for challenges, nuggets of wisdom, reflection questions, technical tips, and the best resources for leading better and growing faster. Follow us at to join thousands of leaders who get our alerts, blogs, podcasts, and more.

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TheSchoolHouse302 is about getting to simple by maximizing effective research-based strategies that empower individuals to lead better and grow faster.

Joe & T.J.

The Three Minute Challenge: Be the Closer —  #TheThreeMinuteChallenge

The Three Minute Challenge: Be the Closer — #TheThreeMinuteChallenge

The Closer

We form committees, collaborate, and meet with good intentions. The belief is that by sharing information, discussing problems, and vetting ideas, meetings will lead to progress and productivity. Yet, we find ourselves all too often leaving meetings tired, frustrated, and confused. 

To that end, be familiar with the Frustrating Four. These types of meetings are the most unproductive. Please, keep in mind that we have never met any leader or co-worker who has told us that their goal is to deliberately lead a bad meeting. But, poorly run meetings and unproductive conversations happen every day. Be on the lookout for these four quintessential problems: 

  1. The Tailspin. Without getting too technical or exploring aviation, this is simply a severe downturn in a meeting. These meetings typically start bad and end worse, usually due to a lack of trust. The minute you think things can’t get anymore unproductive, the meeting declines yet again. 
  2. The Wandering. This is an aimless journey with no clear sense of direction. Be careful, these meetings can still have an agenda, but they have no real direction and every comment is only a detour. To be sure you’re in a wandering meeting, just note if anyone has an idea about what each agenda item is supposed to accomplish other than long commentary. 
  3. The Treadmill. The meetings leave you exhausted, literally spent, and in reality you haven’t gone anywhere. They are masked as productive time at work since people are engaged, but the meetings really lack depth and any sense of genuine accomplishment. You’re tired and that feels goal-oriented, but when you reflect, you realize that you have no clear path forward. 
  4. The Formal. These are meetings for the sake of meeting; they are on the calendar, and they’ve always held a standing time slot. People attend, comply, and leave annoyed. Worst of all is when the agenda items are old or irrelevant, but you continue to meet anyway. 

As we focus on being a better teammate and embracing solutions, we offer our final concept of the month–become The Closer. Similar to The Moderator, the closer adds structure to each meeting. But, rather than guiding a meeting to moderate progress, The Closer adds accountability for each agenda item. 

As meetings unfold and ideas are discussed, many of the comments made are good but require additional work post-meeting. Too often, meetings don’t have a person assigned to the role of identifying and highlighting the next steps after the meeting and the individual or group responsible for completing them before the next meeting. The Closer’s primary function is to capture the value in every idea and then pause the meeting to direct the conversation regarding the intricacies of the suggestions and who is responsible for the work. Once the details are on the table, a due date is then decided. This way, the intellectual capital that is being created by the team is not lost. Because this process sets the stage for future meetings, the level of accountability proves for a productive future meeting. This level of focus simply cuts down on the Frustrating Four. Next time you’re in a meeting that isn’t going well, try this three-minute challenge. 

Regardless of your role in the organization or meeting, being a great teammate means stepping up and willingly accepting responsibility. We often don’t want to admit it, but we are all liable for how meetings run, even if we’re not leading the session. 

Next time you’re in a meeting, introduce this concept and be willing to be the first one to accept the role:

  1. Closers capture suggestions. So many great ideas are shared in meetings, and as quickly as they’re mentioned, they’re forgotten. Ideas that gain momentum need someone to begin evaluating them through the lens of responsibility. Next time a suggestion is made, upack the organizational moving parts associated with it.
  2. Closers pause the meeting. Last week we introduced The Examiner. This is where the examiner and the closer partner to guarantee that ideas are vetted so that those that require further investigation or discussion are specifically assigned to someone on the team. 
  3. Closers assign due dates. Great ideas are only effective if they are put into action. Don’t lose valuable ideas that can revolutionize your situation by never getting them done. The Closer either sets a due date or schedules a follow-up meeting as the checkpoint.   

Technical Tip: Google Docs creates a platform that increases transparency, overall progress, and communication without meeting at all. Use Google Docs to assign tasks, provide space for comments, and include a column with a due date. Everyone can share the document and have access before the meeting. Each meeting, the document is used to determine how everyone is progressing as a team. 

Reach out and share your story with us.

Stay tuned for more challenges, reflection questions, leadership models, podcasts, and more by following It’s our job to curate, synthesize, and communicate so that you can lead better and grow faster. In a world plagued by nothing but noise, we help you by getting to simple.

TheSchoolHouse302 is about getting to simple by maximizing effective research-based strategies that empower individuals to lead better and grow faster.

Joe & T.J.

Candor, Creativity, and Critical Thinking: Getting Unstuck w/ Kirsten Richert & Jeff Ikler

Candor, Creativity, and Critical Thinking: Getting Unstuck w/ Kirsten Richert & Jeff Ikler

Getting_Unstuck As we discussed the topic of creativity and we connect it to the field of education, we know that providing space to think deeply is critical. For innovation to be a norm, we need environments that support risk-taking. Feedback is also important, but it should be a conversation rather than over-prescribed recommendations. Too often, leaders associate candor with “too much telling” when it’s really about the compassion to help others improve. We hope that you’ll enjoy this podcast for a discussion of “getting unstuck,” removing yourself from a “culture of nice,” and learning to be candid and compassionate in your approach. You can listen here with Apple Podcasts, or here at the Getting Unstuck website. And if you haven’t read our book, Candid and Compassionate Feedback: Transforming Everyday Practice is Schools, you can get a copy here. You can find more on leading better and growing faster at Don’t forget to like, follow, and share. We look forward to hearing from you. Joe & T.J.
#reviewandreflect: Supporting Creativity as a Leader

#reviewandreflect: Supporting Creativity as a Leader

Creativity Chart This is TheSchoolHouse302’s monthly #review&reflect, wrapping up our focus on Creativity. Our review and reflect series embraces the powerful sentiment from Soren Kierkegaard: “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” Take time with this post as we take a deep dive into our leadership content so that you can develop the skills you need to lead better and grow faster.

Skills I need to develop for improved creativity…

This month we focused on creativity, and we introduced the topic through our low-level leadership series. We truly espouse the notion that finding “bright spots” and “soaring with your strengths” are keys to accessing and duplicating superior leadership qualities. However, there is tremendous value in identifying key behaviors that thwart a desired result as well. We often need to know what not to do first, before we can explore what to do.

We liken our low-level leadership series to that of the great vehicle app, Waze, which informs travelers of all kinds of potential obstacles and issues that lie ahead during a drive. By identifying the three surefire “waze” to crush creativity, we provide leaders a navigational tool to help them avoid common hazards.

Passing judgment, over-prescribing recommendations, and limiting risk-taking are all creativity crushers. An effective leader simply responds differently than using any of these three low-level methods. Rather than passing judgment, she supports her subordinates to gain a greater understanding. Instead of restricting thoughts and controlling situations, she collaborates and creates a space to think. Lastly, she rewards the people who are taking calculated and thoughtful risks to support the core of the vision. 

Be Creative


If you find yourself thinking, “well, it really depends on the person,” then we encourage you to dive into the following great reads. Organizational cultures should not be situational, and organizational norms should not fluctuate based on individuals.

Great leaders are avid readers…

Review: In our #readthisseries we featured books that highlight real people who we can emulate and real wisdom for the courage we need to succeed as leaders.

Our first recommendation is, Steal like an artist: 10 things nobody told you about being creative.. This is a quick read that we feel sparks creativity.

Our second recommendation is from Eric Sheninger and Trish Rubin, BrandED: Tell your story, build relationships, and empower learning. This is a terrific book for school leaders looking to brand their school or district and truly bring their story to life. It offers practical yet creative advice.

Our final recommendation comes from Sir Ken Robinson, Creative schools: Revolutionizing education from the ground up. The bottom line is that Ken’s message challenges us as educators. Only read this book if you are serious about change, creativity, and alternative to the current system of schooling.


You can’t miss our #readthisseries on 3 books you need to read now.

Who should I follow…

What does an expert have to say about creativity? If you want to dig even deeper into the mind of a creative thinker, you’ll want to listen to our #onethingseries this month, which featured creativity expert and author of Steal Like an Artist, Austin Kleon. One simple but magical act you can do each day, according to Austin, is to take a walk. We champion this sentiment because it encourages the need to find our center, to find “me” time, to enjoy nature, and to open the mind to creative thought.

Austin Kleon

Action: This month we asked you challenge yourself through TPA: A Framework for Growth Through Reflection

Think - Plan - Act

To learn more about supporting the people you lead, complete this #ThreeMinuteChallenge.

To become more collaborative, complete this #ThreeMinuteChallenge.

To become better at rewarding risk-taking, complete this #ThreeMinuteChallenge.

Please subscribe! Listen to the entire podcast on iTunes, One Thing Series, and please rate and like (it helps). That’s our #review&reflect for Creativity. Take a look back to take a step forward. TheSchoolHouse302 is about getting to simple and maximizing effective research-based strategies that empower individuals to lead better and grow faster. Please let us know how our leadership posts are working for you, what you are reading to improve yourself, and your thoughts on leadership and growth here on our blog and Twitter. Follow our #onethingseries podcast on iTunes and our #readthisseries on YouTube. Joe & T.J.
#readthisseries: 3 Books You Need to Read to Support Creativity

#readthisseries: 3 Books You Need to Read to Support Creativity


Don’t miss this vblog on books you need to read to lead better and grow faster. We recommend three titles that are must-reads on the topic of creativity (for yourself and your organization). You can find our catalog of great leadership books at — click on #readthisseries.


Kleon, A. (2012). Steal like an artist: 10 things nobody told you about being creative. New York: Workman Publishing Company, Inc.

Robinson, K. (2016). Creative schools: Revolutionizing education from the ground up. New York: Penguin.

Sheninger, E. & Rubin, T. BrandED: Tell your story, build relationships, and empower learning. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

As always, please like, follow, and comment. If you have books that we should read and recommend, please let us know that as well.

Joe & T.J.

Doing a book study with your team? Check out Passionate Leadership. We would love to hear what you think…connect with us on Twitter. Buy 10 copies, and we’ll join you for a book-talk via Zoom.


#reviewandreflect: Supporting Creativity as a Leader

#TheThreeMinuteChallenge: Over-Prescribed Recommendations

Creativity Chart

The moment you feel the need to tightly manage someone, you’ve made a hiring mistake. ~ Jim Collins

Getting stuck in the rut of tightly wound management techniques is easy for leaders to do. When a leader desires a specific outcome or things begin to go awry, emotions quickly take over. Fear of failure, limited confidence in oneself or the team, and overly high expectations can manifest in over-prescribing recommendations versus unleashing the talent in your department. You might aim to hire very creative people, but if you squelch their input, you also significantly diminish their output.

The fact is that all of us can fall into the routines of a micromanager. The minute something seems to go wrong, take too long, or seems far too gone, it’s easy to want to step-in and take over. We allow our emotions to govern our actions. Rather than being guided by sound leadership practices, we manage too tightly and our actions work in the short-term by simply accomplishing a task rather than keeping sight of the bigger vision. The problem is that these low level leadership responses will always crush creativity. Anytime you find yourself micromanaging people, or even taking on the work of a teammate (or subordinate), you’re replacing any of their ideas with your own. Doing so will only erode trust, a social construct between two people that can take years to build but minutes to break.

The only antidote to over-prescribing your directions, orders, and opinions is to create teams where collaboration is expected and the vision is clear. In fact, when teams are empowered through an acceptance of diverse thinking and psychological safety, they do more and faster.

Challenge Yourself–TPA: A Framework for Growth Through Reflection

Think - Plan - Act

Think: Are our projects assigned to teams or individuals? Are our teams diverse and inclusive so that we capitalize on new and creative perspectives? Are people free to express their opinions in a safe environment? As the leader, do I manage the people or the teams too closely?

Be a visionary, not a contributor.

Plan: List the current teams (or individuals) who are assigned to your various initiatives. Plan to add new people or new structures to the project management phase of the work so that you gain maximum creativity from the group. Then step away and appoint only one person to report back the findings and solutions to you.

Too much of your feedback to too many people creates confusion.

Act: Ask for feedback. The more you ask for feedback, the better people will get at giving it to you. Start with a trusted colleague and be direct. Don’t just ask for their reaction to your leadership. Use sentence stems, like “Where do you see me micromanaging?” Or “Where do we have limited creative output?”

Give space and time for a response. Act now.

Stay tuned for more challenges, reflection questions, leadership models, podcasts, and more by following It’s our job to curate, synthesize, and communicate so that you can lead better and grow faster. In a world plagued by nothing but noise, we help you by getting to simple. TheSchoolHouse302 is about getting to simple by maximizing effective research-based strategies that empower individuals to lead better and grow faster. Joe & T.J.