#SH302: Seeing Results in Action–3 Practices for Any Organization

#SH302: Seeing Results in Action–3 Practices for Any Organization

Most of us go to our graves with our music still inside us, unplayed. ~ Oliver Wendell Holmes

Results Not Excuses

Businesses and educational institutions alike are built on the idea that what matters is performance and results. Granted, they may differ in the sense that one may focus on profits while the other turns to academic gains as the benchmark, but the process of driving toward a measure of achievement is the same. A clear well-defined goal, a thoughtful strategy, high engagement, and proper execution are shared elements in any organization that evaluates its success. Whether it is within the boardroom or the classroom, the critical factor in supporting the work is through people, not policies, initiatives, or programs. For goals to be accomplished, the individuals doing the work must do it well, which takes effort, energy, supportive cultures, and general well-being.  The riddle lies in creating an environment that supports the people without exhausting them. Too often, especially in high passion professions, people burnout, results suffer, and working toward a product becomes the enemy of any enjoyment we get in the process (Moss, 2019).

To understand this further, we like to use the incredible feat that was accomplished on May, 6th 1954 on the Iffley Road Track when Roger Bannister broke the 4-minute mile. It was an amazing achievement that Bannister accomplished, being the first in history to cross the mark. In fact, no one believed it could happen. Doctors even held a long-standing theory that it could kill a person to go that fast. Bannister changed that. But, then, just a few weeks later, John Landy, another middle-distance competitor, broke the barrier as well. If you want to talk about seeing results in action, there’s no better place to watch things unfold than on a track. Cars, people, go-karts, it matters not–the results are real, and they happen right before your eyes.

Because this record was so great, the story is often told about “achieving the impossible.” And Bannister’s training regiment was minimal, making the story that much more unreal. He was only afforded one hour a day to train, which was due to his medical studies. But, two parts to the story are typically left untold, and we find them to be the most important when we talk about leadership lessons in putting results into actions. First, Bannister wasn’t just your ordinary middle-distance athlete. He trained at Paddington Recreation Ground near St. Mary’s Hospital where he was also training to be a medical doctor. His studies just happened to focus on autonomic failure, the nervous system, cardiovascular physiology, and multiple system atrophy. In other words, he knew a little bit about the human body when he busted the contemporary theory about the 4-minute impossible measure. Second, because his training was limited, he devised a process that would only today be considered a very modern training program. With influences from the greatest runners and coaches he could find, he used an interval training process that included a number of anaerobic performance enhancers. In summary, to put results into actions, Bannister focused on a specific process, the conditions he needed to be his best, and engagement in both his studies and track time. Here’s what we can learn from Roger Bannister:

Results Into Action

Focus on the Process, Not the Product — #performance

“Results are outcomes brought about by actions…great leaders focus their efforts and energy: on the process, not the outcome” (Edinger, 2018). This shift, from a results-driven mindset to an actions-driven mindset, may seem counter-intuitive at first. We live by the phrase, “what gets measured, gets done.” But we can’t always measure the work while we’re doing it. In fact, too many of our measures are long-term goals and not centered on the work at hand. Great athletes, like Roger Bannister, know that the outcome, winning or beating the record, isn’t accomplished as a mere act, but rather the actual work that was put into the process of striving for such an audacious goal. In other words, as we focus on the process of our work, not just the product, we begin to see that our daily, even minute-by-minute, performance is what matters most. Results come from our daily practice, specific feedback, and consistent effort toward the goal. Great leaders focus on the way the team is performing, not just it’s overall achievements. This brings us to the conditions in which great teams perform well.

Challenge Question #1: How can you create a culture where each individual monitors his or her own performance to determine progress toward the predetermined goal?

Concentrate on the Conditions, Not the Bottom-line — #resources

The conditions we set for the people to achieve our desired results must reflect our regular actions as leaders. What we do with our behaviors must match the vision we communicate, the core values we tout, and the goals we want to achieve. Too often there is a gap between what we want as the bottom-line and the way we support the people in getting there. It’s the leader’s role to consistently be working toward “shaping a culture that provides the conditions for individuals to perform” at their best (Center for Creative Leadership, n/d). Conditions include resources, like time and access to tools, but also working benefits, like professional learning experiences and upward mobility. When workers have what they need to perform at their best, the results happen right before our eyes. The key is that our demand for excellence and our need for bottom-line results must not be in contrast with the positive working conditions that allow both to happen. As leaders focus too intently on the bottom-line, we can quickly lose focus on the people or, worse yet, limit the resources they need to do their jobs well. Bannister had both the medical knowledge to debunk the myth and the conditions he needed for deliberate practice. Your team needs the same.

Challenge Question #2: How effectively are you  communicating the overall goal while maintaining a culture of care and compassion?

Create a Culture of Engagement, Not a Culture of Exhaustion — #fun

Too often, the leaders who are results-driven are not the same who we consider when we think about great teams and fun places to work. But that’s not true about ideal leadership. In fact, one study found that “not only is it possible to do both things well…the best leaders are the very ones who manage to do both” (Zenger & Folkman, 2017). When we think of productive cultures, we too often gravitate toward task-masters, but that type of thinking is antiquated at best. Great leaders of the future will have an absolute focus on a people-centered environment, and they will reap the benefits of discretionary effort, an engaged workforce, and a happy place to spend their days. The key strategy is to know your workforce and their particular needs as people. Not all cultures will benefit from a foosball table and longer lunch breaks, but your people will certainly engage more with their work when you consider ways to prevent exhaustion, stress, and burnout. Bannister only had one hour a day to train, but, with full engagement in the program, he made the best of it, which ended up being more productive than his competitors who were putting in more time only to exhaust themselves.

Challenge Question #3: What’s one new perk that you can provide your people for a stronger sense of work-life fit and personal well-being so that they can be even more productive and engaged at work?

Now back to John Landy, the guy who broke the barrier only weeks after Roger Bannister. The significance of Landy breaking Bannister’s record provides leaders with incredible insight into the power of self-belief. Landy doubted his ability to break the 4-minute barrier until Bannister showed that it was possible. Landy’s accomplishment reveals that Bannister was not a lone nut. As the first follower, Landy demonstrates to the world, again, that the impossible is actually possible and that it can be achieved by more than only one person. Positive contributions to any given society are the result of a process, the right conditions, and a group of people whose belief in something bigger than themselves is so strong that it creates a following. Landy symbolizes the future of putting new action into reality on the race track. And, following in his lead, 100s and 1000s of runners break a 4-minute barrier each year, without any consideration for it being impossible. Bannister, then Landy, then the rest of humanity, at least the elite running community that is–those who care to develop a training program, who create the conditions for success on the track, and who engage on a regular basis with the work. That’s leadership.

But one more thing about Landy. In 1956, at the Australian National Championship, he stopped during a race to check on another runner who had fallen after being clipped at the heel. Not only did the runner get back to his feet to finish the competition, Landy made up for the deficit to miraculously win the race. Kindness is always an action that produces results.

You can see your results in action, too, when you develop a process, provide yourself and others with the right conditions, and create teams of people who are committed and engaged in the work. More than ever, a focus on happiness at work is emerging as the key structure for productivity (Moss, 2016; McKee, 2018). Reach out to us with the ways that you’re putting results into action, including an increase in happy workers in your organization. We can’t wait to hear from you.

Let us know what you think of this #SH302 post with a like, a follow, or a comment. Find us on Twitter, YouTube, iTunes, Facebook, & SoundCould. And if you want one simple model for leading better and growing faster per month, follow this blog by entering your email at the top right of the screen.

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

Joe & T.J.


Center for creative leadership (n/d). Bridging the strategy/performance gap. Retrieved from https://www.ccl.org/articles/white-papers/bridging-strategy-performance-gap/

Edinger, S. (2018, October 10) The Myth of Leaders Driving for Results. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/scottedinger/2018/10/10/myth-of-leaders-driving-for-results/#75428ebad94f

McKee, A. (2019). How to be happy at work: The power of purpose, hope, and friendship. Boston: Harvard Business Press.

Moss, J. (2016). Unlocking happiness at work: How a data-driven happiness strategy fuels purpose, passion and performance. London: Kogan Page Limited.

Moss, J. (2019). When passion leads to burnout. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2019/07/when-passion-leads-to-burnout

Zenger, J. & Folkman, J. (2017, June 19). How managers drive employee results and engagement at the same time. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2017/06/how-managers-drive-results-and-employee-engagement-at-the-same-time

#SH302: 4 Key Strategies to becoming a Courageous Leader

#SH302: 4 Key Strategies to becoming a Courageous Leader


All you need is the plan, the road map, and the courage to press on to your destination. ~ Earl Nightingale

Everyone has faced a moment where they’ve had to demonstrate courage–doing something unpopular, pushing forward through adversity, or confronting a negative situation. Courage is doing those things in the face of fear and fighting the desire to withdraw, hold back, or disengage. The courage we demonstrate often comes in the form of a gut-check that tests our fortitude to make a difference when we’re called upon.

Throughout May, we focused on the power of resilience and and we follow up in June as we take a deep look at what is often considered the most important leadership characteristic of all–courage. Pearse (2017) says that “without courage you can’t make a difference. Without courage you can’t have the right conversations that lead to change. Without courage you won’t even get off the starting block as a leader.” This quote resonates with us because it’s simple yet true. Whatever you set your mind to accomplish, courage is the primary characteristic that will help you navigate the difficult times to push forward. Just as resilience helps us to bounce back after a tough patch, courage inspires us to stay strong when our brains tell us to give up.

Courage is the catalyst for the athlete to chase her dreams, for the CEO to build an incredible company, or for the school teacher to stand up as an advocate for marginalized groups of students. In 2012, Girls Who Code was born from the courageous idea in closing the gender gap that exists within the field of computer science. Reshman Saujani, founder and CEO, had the courage to “change the image of what a programmer looks like and does.” Through their intense summer immersion program and other avenues “Girls Who Code has reached 185,000 girls…and 100 million people through its campaigns, advocacy work, and 13-book New York Times best-selling series (GirlsWhoCode, 2018).

Courage comes in many forms and in different shapes and sizes. We often think of courage as we face massive undertakings, like changing the face of computer science around the world, but, in reality, courage is a virtue that anyone can exercise on a daily basis. And, developing your own courage muscles simply takes deliberate practice. We provide the key strategies highlighted within our Courageous Leader Model as follows:

Courageous Leader Model

#1: Gain Clarity–Identify the problem, challenge, or situation that you need to face head-on. The first step in being courageous is in limiting distractions, including the ways we procrastinate when we know a challenge is looming. Jast, author of Laser-Sharp Focus, posits that too much of our energy is spent concentrating on the wrong problems (2016). It’s only when we can gain clarity by targeting the critical issues at hand that we will truly be productive, courageously tackling real issues rather than all of the superfluous aspects of life and work.

#2: Take Small Steps–Courage is not a single large act, but more so the culmination of small courageous decisions that present themselves as a singular courageous move. “When we think about progress, we often imagine how good it feels to achieve a long-term goal or experience a major breakthrough. These big wins are great–but they are relatively rare” (Amabile & Kramer, 2011). The point is that huge courageous endeavors are mostly mythical. Courage starts with taking the first step toward a scary goal. Each small win makes for a giant leap into something you never thought possible. For this reason, great leaders learn to break down big goals into each of the mile markers that signify progress along the way.

#3: Assume Responsibility–Courageous leaders take ownership of issues that need to be solved. Don’t wait for others to solve problems, but, rather, garner support and collaborate with the people who can help find solutions. For the ultimate guide on dedication and bravery, we turn to Extreme Ownership by Willink and Babin (2017). Courageous leaders never avoid responsibility. In fact, they inspire trust by assuming the burden of their duty whenever possible. When leaders care about and protect their people, the team will consistently put themselves in harm’s way. Conversely, leaders who protect themselves and restrain themselves against the dangers of the work will find their teammates doing the same.

#4: Take Calculated Risks–Nothing great was achieved without taking risks. Positive change brings with it uncertainty and possibilities for failure. Wise leaders weigh the evidence to push forward in a measured, courageous fashion. Coates (2012) reminds readers that taking risks actually tells your body, in a biological sense, that you’re entering into a scenario where you’re likely to be threatened in some way. But, great leaders learn to identify the threats that risks pose, including the emotions of euphoria or despair that come from potential profits and perils. By understanding their own responses to risky scenarios, as well as the possible gains or losses that may be the outcomes, leaders learn to calculate risks to courageously move forward through balance and bravery. The more risk that leaders are able to take over time, the more they learn to calculate accurately, cycling them back to the clarity needed to identify the true problems that need to be solved in the first place.

Courageous Leader Model

To develop your own courageous leadership attributes, we pose our two Courageous Leader Challenges:

Challenge One: David Goggins, a retired Navy Seal and endurance athlete, in his raw and unforgiving book, Can’t Hurt Me (2018), discusses the importance in really taking a hard look at our goals and where we are falling short. He describes standing in front of the “accountability mirror” to admit to yourself, without reservation, the critical areas where you need to improve in life and work. The challenge–stand in front of a mirror in your home, talk to yourself about the key areas of your life where you need to be more courageous. Identify one area and take action. Tell us what you learned through reflection and what you did to take action using #CourageousLeaderChallenge on Twitter.

Challenge Two: Bill George, Senior fellow at Harvard Business School, uses the phrase “the courage cohort” (2017) in identifying courageous leaders who took risks and effectively built global companies. The challenge–identify one or two leaders who you want to study and emulate in your own role. Ask yourself what makes them a courageous leader. When a few attributes emerge, try to imitate that behavior in your own life. Tell us what you learned through your studies and what you did to take action using #CourageousLeaderChallenge on Twitter.

Learning to be courageous takes practice, and it’s often the result of the mental clarity in challenging yourself to see where you can fill your leadership gaps and where you can “act” in the ways that the courageous leaders of the past and present inspire us to be more and do better. Being courageous may feel complicated and daunting, but following our Courageous Leadership Model helps to make it simple so that you can be the leader you need to be even when tough times present themselves. All it takes is clarity, small steps, responsibility, and a little risk.

Let us know what you think of this #SH302 post with a like, a follow, or a comment. Find us on Twitter, YouTube, iTunes, Facebook, & SoundCould. And if you want one simple model for leading better and growing faster per month, follow this blog by entering your email at the top right of the screen.

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

Joe & T.J.


Amabile, T. & Kramer, S. (2011). The power of small wins. Harvard Business Review.

Coates, J. (2012). The hour between dog and wolf: Risk taking, gut feelings, and the biology of boom and bust. New York: The Penguin Press.

George, B. (2017, April, 24). Courage: The defining characteristic of great leaders. Forbes.com.

Girls Who Code (2018). The future is sisterhood. Girls who code annual report 2018.

Goggins, D. (2018). Can’t hurt me. Lioncrest Publishing.

Jast, J. (2016). Laser-sharp focus: A no-fluff guide to improved concentration, maximised productivity and fast-track to success.

Pearse, S. (2017, May, 29). Courage, the most important leadership virtue. Huffpost.

Willink, J. & Babin, L. (2017). Extreme ownership: How U.S. navy seals lead and win. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

#SH302: Resilience–Six Techniques for Bouncing Back

#SH302: Resilience–Six Techniques for Bouncing Back


Being resilient, possessing the ability to withstand various challenges and then quickly bouncing back from setbacks and adversity, regardless of their magnitude, is something we all desire to have in our leadership toolbelt. Life is a maze of new ground to traverse, and if we are not careful, we can quickly lose perspective, dwell on a mistake, or become overwhelmed with doubt and fear. We all want to be resilient, persevere, and endure the shots. Despite circumstance, we want to stay laser focused on our values and purpose. Fortunately, it is possible to have the capacity to be resilient. There are tons of examples throughout human history, and we can use those examples to create our own techniques for bouncing back when things get tough. Although we offer a formula for helping you learn the needed skills, one thing that remains pivotal in our own understanding of resilience is that some of the most talented people, both living and dead, have suffered tremendously. There are stories of terror and defeat and yet so many leaders still find a way to move forward. As an example, Lincoln is heralded for his unwavering courage and steadfastness in one of the darkest periods of the United States. We often look to him with inspiration and admiration. Rarely discussed, though, is the fact that,

During a bleak winter in 1840, thirty-two-year-old Abraham Lincoln fell into a depression so profound that his friends feared he might kill himself…Most troubling to Lincoln was the realization that his reputation had been compromised. (Goodwin, 2018)

After Lincoln had promised a better economy for Illinois, the state experienced a devastating recession and much of the community infrastructure that he guaranteed fell through with Lincoln shouldering much of the blame. As time passed, and with the help of key people, Lincoln rebuilt himself, started a law firm with a partner and soon thereafter married. The incredible lesson we learn from this story is that even in the darkest times we can survive and position ourselves to make the impact our communities need and deserve. Lincoln, and many others, show us that resilience is primarily a product of our ability to resist our own faults and fear becoming our personal prison.

The truth is that we may not face the grim reality that Lincoln encountered, but as leaders we are constantly subjected to pressures, conflict, and resistance that can become a heavy burden that can negatively impact our performance. In the profound book, Flow, by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (Me-high-Cheek-sent-me-high), the primary message about resilience is clear: “of all the virtues we can learn, no trait is more useful, more essential for survival, and more likely to improve the quality of life than the ability to transform adversity into an enjoyable challenge” (2008). To offer some insight into how to develop the qualities necessary to enhance this ability, we offer six techniques housed within the acronym R.E.S.I.S.T. to serve as a mnemonic to call upon in times of need. The goal is to resist falling into states-of-mind and negative behaviors that are unproductive and potentially damaging to ourselves, our careers, and the people around us. These tools are gleaned from various sources and incredible experts on the topic, such as Martin Seligman from the University of Pennsylvania’s Positive Psychology Center. Learning to find your focus, gain perspective, and remain or quickly re-enter a resourceful state is what we are trying to achieve at all times, especially when we hit a period of interference with our goal attainment.


Regulate your self-talk by using positive and forgiving language.

In Jon Gordon’s The Positive Dog (2012), he discusses the notion that we should talk to ourselves in a positive manner versus listening to our negative self-babble. The difference is profound. We can either choose the words we use when we address ourselves or passively listen to whatever comes to mind when we make a mistake. We have two dogs gnawing away at our souls, a positive dog and a negative dog. You need to choose which one to feed (Gordon, 2012).

Challenge: Next time you make a mistake and you find yourself kicking yourself, take a quiet moment to: 1. Identify the error and its “real” impact, 2. Expose how or why you made the mistake, and then 3. Decide what to do differently in the future. Write all three down on a piece of paper, then crumple it up and throw it away. Tweet #MasteredMyMistake @TSH302 to let us know that you used this technique.

Exercise discipline over the things you can control and let go of the things you can’t.

International bestselling mental strength author, Amy Morin reminds us that “you can’t force your spouse to change, you can’t prevent a storm from happening, and you can’t control how other people feel…sometimes all we can control is our effort and attitude” (Morin, 2017). That’s actually good news, especially for control freaks who often try to control everything but find themselves unable to control anything. Resilience, especially in the worst of times, is often defined by how a leader responds in terms of their work ethic and/or their positive outlook. When times get rough, leader often try to control more, micromanage the situation, or frustrate themselves with what everyone else is doing, thinking, and feeling. Resist the urge, and let it go.

Challenge: When we feel out-of-control, we must be reminded that our best point of control is own effort or attitude. We must learn to let everything else go. Next time you find yourself trying to control a situation when you can’t or worrying about something incessantly that is out of your control, take a deep breath: 1. Realize what you are trying to control, 2. Note that it is not helpful, and then 3. Identify the space where your effort and attitude will mean the most. Write all three down on a piece of paper, then crumple it up and throw it away. Tweet #ILetItGo @TSH302 to let us know that you used this technique.

See potential in every situation to make a positive impact.

“In the face of uncertainty, people who conform pull away to a safe place to protect themselves. Adaptable leaders who make leadershifts lean into uncertainty and deal with it head on” (Maxwell, 2019). The biggest difference between leaders who accept the status quo versus those who push forward for positive impact is in the ability to see potential even when faced with fear and uncertainty.

Challenge: Work hard to see the potential positive outcomes versus the negative repercussions in any situation. Next time you are faced with an unpredictable or particularly worrisome scenario: 1. Don’t retreat no matter how strong the urge may feel, 2. Look for all potential outcomes and silver linings, and then 3. Pick the most positive impact and work toward that as the goal. Write all three down on a piece of paper, then crumple it up and throw it away. Tweet #PotentialPositiveImpact @TSH302 to let us know that you used this technique.

Interpret challenges with a measured perspective and a belief that the situation can be improved.

“If we want to be able to select the reality that will lead to greater productivity, engagement, and revenue growth, we first need to recognize that we have control over how we choose to interpret the objective facts in our external world” (Achor, 2013). Using a measured perspective that any situation can be improved means shutting out the thoughts and preconceived notions that you have about any scenario before entering into it. Achor (2013) tells readers to battle their perspective by pursuing the most valuable reality, which means that we must recognize alternatives. Realizing that there are more vantage points than the first one that comes to mind is the first step to measuring multiple perspectives and choosing the best option.

Challenge: Let go of your predetermined beliefs about what the world should look like (Achor, 2013). Next time you feel yourself interpreting a challenge in one way: 1. Realize that your first perspective might not be the only reality, 2. Conjure up as many alternative perspectives as possible, and then 3. Pick one that best matches an improved future. Write all three down on a piece of paper, then crumple it up and throw it away. Tweet #MultiplePerspectives @TSH302 to let us know that you used this technique.

Solidify your core values and key principles.

“High-performing, values-aligned teams and companies embrace the promises they make to each other and to customers” (Edmonds, 2014). By solidifying your core values and key principles, you can hold yourself and others to the behaviors that are associated with the actions that you need to take to move forward. We can often become paralyzed by the ambiguity of day-to-day operations. We resist the emptiness of the mundane by having solid principles by which to live.

Challenge: A huge step in resisting the negativity that holds us back when we need to be resilient is in a reconfirmation of our core values. Next time you feel like your work or life is not making sense: 1. Reflect on the thing that seems to be distracting your work, 2. Go back to your core value statements or principles and highlight what matters most right now (write them out if you don’t have them already have them), and then 3. Identify a key next step and move forward based on your passion and purpose. Write all three down on a piece of paper, then crumple it up and throw it away. Tweet #PassionateLeadership @TSH302 to let us know that you used this technique.

Take decisive action with purpose and clarity.

“Strategic decisiveness is one of the most vital success attributes for leaders in every position and every industry, but few leaders understand where it comes from or how to find more of it” (Tasler, 2013). The best way to make a solid decision is to go back to your purpose and clarify your next set of critical action steps. In times of doubt, leaders can easily get stalled and find fault in every decision they might think to make. The best course of action as a resilient leader is to take action and move forward.

Challenge: Resist the desire to back off or back down. When we doubt ourselves, we can be left with inaction. Instead take massive action. Next time you feel yourself questioning what to do: 1. Identify the decision that needs to take place, 2. Weigh your options with a clear list of pros and cons, and then 3. Pick the action that best aligns with your purpose and do it. Write all three down on a piece of paper, then crumple it up and throw it away. Tweet #MassiveAction @TSH302 to let us know that you used this technique.

Learning to resist is a process that takes time. Like learning to meditate or practicing any other process in furthering your mental acuity, it takes preparation, training, and tons of hard work. But resilient leaders know how to bounce back from even the most difficult circumstances in life and at work. The key is in using these six qualities to enable yourself to push past whatever is in the way of reaching your goals. We hope to hear from you regarding our model for R.E.S.I.S.T. Next time you feel the need to be resilient, use this model to bounce back with the best of them.

Let us know what you think of this #SH302 post with a like, a follow, or a comment. Find us on Twitter, YouTube, iTunes, Facebook, & SoundCould. And if you want one simple model for leading better and growing faster per month, follow this blog by entering your email at the top right of the screen.

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

Joe & T.J.


Achor, S. (2013). Before happiness: The 5 hidden keys to achieving success, spreading happiness, and sustaining positive change. New York: Random House, Inc.

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2008). Flow: The psychology of optimal experience. New York: Harper Row.

Edmonds, S.C. (2014). The culture engine. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

Goodwin, D.K. (2018). Leadership in turbulent times. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Gordon, J. (2012). The positive dog: A story about the power of positivity. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

Maxwell, J. (2019). Leader shift: 11 essential changes every leader must embrace. HarperCollins.

Morin, A. (2017, May, 13). 6 Ways to stop stressing about things you can’t control. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/amymorin/2017/05/13/6-ways-to-stop-stressing-about-things-you-cant-control/#4497024130db

Tasler, N. (2013). Just make a decision already. Harvard Business Review.

#SH302: The Passion-Culture Formula

#SH302: The Passion-Culture Formula



Passion is the fuel that drives every great leader to be their best and to influence the success of those around them. Passionate leaders are contagious because their work transcends the routine policies and practices that are designed to drive a task; instead of working for assignment completion, they focus on values. Their work moves beyond the mundane toward significance and the daily interactions they have with others that create meaningful relationships over time (Dalio, 2017). Passionate leader do more than influence other individuals to achieve greatness. They create cultures of success, and they cultivate both a vision and a brand by taking action and showing the way. Through demonstrated passion, they integrate the brand of the organization with the purpose it serves for customers and employees alike. “You must cultivate a distinct culture that is fully aligned with your brand identity–that is so well integrated with it that it is hard to distinguish what you do internally from who you say you are externally” (LeeYohn, 2018). Leaders who can unite the people around a shared vision that speaks to the organization’s values are those who will revolutionize any industry for the future, and they always possess the same three qualities. Passionate leadership is defined by a leader’s keen ability to combine three key elements: a growth mindset, a strong work ethic, and a positive attitude. The challenge that passionate leaders face is that to maintain this critical combination, we have to learn how to overcome some of the counterintuitive aspects of practicing each consistently.

The Power of Passion

The Power of a Growth Mindset

The first element in the makeup of a passionate leader is the desire to grow as a person to increase one’s overall effectiveness. Passionate leaders believe two things: 1. They believe that they can and will grow as a result of professional learning experiences, and 2. They believe that growing is essential to leading better for the sake of others. The growth mindset of a passionate leader is the power that they have in helping themselves to help others. They want to accomplish more by adding more value, and they know that they will succeed if they can improve their own capacity along the way. Their work permeates the culture so that everyone desires to do more and be more for the sake of the team. But, it doesn’t happen when we only focus on growing the people who are doing the work; we have to intentionally spend time of self-leadership. As leaders we can fall into the trap that our job is to consistently develop others, but without self-development, leading ourselves first, we cannot be our best for everyone else  and the culture that our organization needs to be its best (Lawrence, 2017).

Spotlight: Justin Comegys and Ry Culver are two Delaware educators. They demonstrate the power of a growth mindset, and they inspire others to do the same. Both of these influencers are taking risks, creating curious environments for teachers and students, and sending the message that the learning systems of the past are not what students need in the future. They are not only creating success for themselves but working to create cultures of success for students in every classroom in the schools where they lead. You can find more from Justin and Ry on Twitter @twoguysde.

The Power of a Strong Work Ethic

When things get tough, passionate leaders choose to respond with more energy and enthusiasm. Often, when work piles up, we can be tricked into believing that systems, more support, and perhaps a better balance in our life will reduce stress and anxiety. The truth is that passionate leaders never ask for a lighter load, instead they pray for a stronger back, which is the work ethic they invoke to overcome a challenge. We tend to think that “work ethic” is doing more, digging into the thick of things to get unstuck, but that doesn’t work to gain momentum. Spinning the wheels faster will rarely lift you into a better position for any given problem. The best examples of a real work ethic, alternatively, are when we stay focused, “obsessing” on what matters most to yield the greatest result (Hansen, 2018). Passionate leadership requires leaders to have precision in all of their resolve to produce results and create new outcomes within the current culture. It’s all about a concerted effort in the right direction, and not just about doing more. It means working harder for a stronger capacity, not complacency, and it’s not about one person. For organizations to be successful, passionate leaders create a culture of hard work that manifest is both beliefs and behaviors.

Spotlight: Cynthia Jewell is no stranger to hard work. In fact, when challenges surface, and the path seems to be getting even more arduous, Cynthia pushes forward with more grit and determination. She told us a story about a time at Stockbridge Elementary when she experienced a 40% teacher turnover due to a journey that the school began, which included a harder look at student performance, collaborative structures in PLCs, and frequent visits to classrooms to provide instructional feedback. The resistance, though, transformed itself to a newly found purpose and passion over time, and it came with better results and improved experiences for students and staff. She transformed the culture of her school through the passion she had, and it made all the difference for everyone on the team. You can learn more from Cynthia on Twitter @SESPRINCIPAL16.

The Power of a Positive Attitude

Positivity might be the most important ingredient in a leader, and it’s a practiced skill. In fact, positive psychology has a growing body of research from which to draw. Researchers have typically been apt to study general patterns by ignoring outliers, but in the area of positivity, more is being done to look at how the most positive people behave that everyone else can learn to replicate (Achor, 2010). Although counter to what we might think about positivity, it can be learned and consistently applied, even during adverse situations (Breuning, 2007). And, positivity is contagious within the culture of any organization. When the leader is positive, it’s much more likely that everyone else will be too. Positivity is not a fool’s attempt to ignore reality, though, but it is a wise man’s approach to confronting all situations. Passionate leaders always create a winning culture, not because they have great expertise, necessarily; their advantage, rather, is that they have learned how to keep a positive mindset, grounded in purpose and focused on achieving predetermined goals.

Spotlight: Taylor Armstrong is about as inspiring as any educator we’ve met. He is constantly lifting others and showing the way. As a “tech-guy,” he developed networks of student-led tech teams to support a 1:1 movement in his district. The best part, as he explained, was the ways in which the students were celebrated. The positivity that Taylor brings to the work we do is what keeps himself and others on the fast track to success. He knows that it takes a positive attitude to change the culture of any school so he goes about his day influencing the culture to celebrate the people. That’s how passionate leaders systematize positivity; they create a personal brand by being the change that they want to see in the world. You can join in on the fun by following Taylor on Twitter @TAYLOR_does_IT.

Making Mantras Matter

As leaders, we often need reminders about the important work versus what might get put on our plates as the urgent work of the day. We have to know that we are more than just a cog. We are living within a culture that needs clarity in our vision and purpose in our work. We like to use mantras as messages to ourselves regarding how to stay focused on our core beliefs. Valuing growth experiences, work ethic, and a positive outlook is a critical formula for success, but even more than knowing the formula is taking action. Great leaders are always focused on the intentional pursuit of excellence. It requires determination and daily impact. The definition of leadership is influence. The challenge of leadership is conflict. The result of leadership is change. We do not get to overcome conflict to make change through influence without learning to grow, working hard, and staying positive. We use the following three mantras on a regular basis to refresh our thinking and our intentions as we approach all of our tasks in work and life. They ignite our passion, and we hope you’ll use them to ignite your own.

  1. Today I will grow by challenging myself to be the best I can.
  2. Today I will work harder than yesterday because there isn’t anything more important than now.
  3. Today I will lift people through positivity.

Some of the content for this blog is inspired by our research for an upcoming book we wrote with Salome Thomas-EL, Passionate Leadership: Creating a Culture of Success in Every School, which is scheduled to be released in June 2019, by Corwin. It’s a deep dive into what great leaders do, including real stories from the field of education, so that you can ignite your passion every single day. It’s ready for pre-order, and we hope you’ll check it out. Either way, we hope you like our passion-culture formula. Let us know how you use it.

Let us know what you think of this #SH302 post with a like, a follow, or a comment. Find us on Twitter, YouTube, iTunes, Facebook, & SoundCould. And if you want one simple model for leading better and growing faster per month, follow this blog by entering your email at the top right of the screen.

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

Joe & T.J.


This blog post is adapted from a guest blog that we wrote with Salome Thomas-EL for the National School Transformation Conference. You can find it here. We hope to see you at the conference.

Joseph Jones is the Director of Assessment and Accountability in the New Castle County Vocational Technical School District in Delaware. He’s a co-author of Candid and Compassionate Feedback: Transforming Everyday Practice in Schools and the forthcoming Passionate Leadership: Creating a Culture of Success in Every School.

Salome Thomas-EL is a nationally recognized speaker and the Principal of Thomas Edison Charter School in Delaware. He is the author of The Immortality of Influence and I Choose to Stay. He is a co-author of the forthcoming Passionate Leadership: Creating a Culture of Success in Every School.

T.J. Vari is the Assistant Superintendent of Secondary Schools and District Operations in the Appoquinimink School District in Delaware. He’s a co-author of Candid and Compassionate Feedback: Transforming Everyday Practice in Schools and the forthcoming Passionate Leadership: Creating a Culture of Success in Every School.


Achor, S. (2010). The happiness advantage: The seven principles of positive psychology that fuel success and performance at work. New York: Random House, Inc.

Breuning, L.G. (2007). The science of positivity: Stop negative thought patterns by changing your brain chemistry. Avon, MA: Adams Media.

Dalio, R. (2017). Principles: Life and work. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Hansen, M. (2018). Great at work: How top performers do less, work better, and achieve more. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Lawrence, K. (2017). Your oxygen mask first: 17 habits to help high achievers survive & thrive in leadership & life. Lioncrest Publishing.

LeeYohn, D. (2018). Fusion: How integrating brand and culture powers the world’s greatest companies. Boston: Nicholas Brealey Publishing.


#SH302: 3 Ways to Get Ahead–Looking Beyond Your Shadow for Better Weather

#SH302: 3 Ways to Get Ahead–Looking Beyond Your Shadow for Better Weather

Groundhog Day

What would you do if you were stuck in one place and every day was exactly the same and nothing that you did mattered? ~ Phil Connors in Groundhog Day

Minding Your Mental Map

As leaders, we have to be mindful of the map that our brains make of ourselves, other people, and the world around us. The average person has between 12,000 and 60,000 thoughts per day with up to 95% of them repeating themselves. In other words, 95% of the thoughts we hold at any given moment are occupying space that they have already occupied in the past 24 hours. And, considering that 80% of our thoughts are negative, that’s a lot of unproductive time and energy. Negative thoughts are a liability for leaders. We call this “liability thinking” because the thoughts are burdensome, blur our thinking, and limit our ability to move ahead, forcing us into a recurring scenario. Negative and limiting thoughts can be like Groundhog Day because when we live in the shadows, we can often only predict a future with bad weather. We can get stuck in the same place, repeating our lives in an unproductive way. But, that doesn’t have to be the case. We can learn to look at opportunities instead of obstacles. We can learn from what happened to Phil Connors.

Groundhog Day

I was in the Virgin Islands once. I met a girl. We ate lobster, drank Piña Coladas. At sunset we made love like sea otters. That was a pretty good day. Why couldn’t I get that day over and over and over? ~ Phil Connors in Groundhog Day

February is home to a few special events, such as Valentine’s Day, President’s Day, the Super Bowl, and what we really look forward to at TheSchoolHouse302, Groundhog Day. Not only is this an important day, that lets us know how many more weeks of winter we should expect, but it reminds us of the insightful and introspective comedy film, Groundhog Day, featuring Bill Murray as a cynical T.V. weatherman, Phil Connors. Phil is begrudgingly on assignment covering the annual event in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. And, maybe because of his ironical behavior about the whole thing, Phil ends up stuck in time, living the same day, Groundhog Day, over-and-over again. He lives the same events, interacts with the same people, and consistently makes the same mistakes. The genius behind this film, and the point it raises for us as people and as leaders, is to question the approach we take each day in life and work. Phil learns, as the days unfold in precisely the same way, every time he awakes to the same song, that we should see opportunities in life, not obstacles.

Once Phil realizes that he’s stuck in a time loop, he first sees his situation as a curse. It isn’t until he learns how to live well with a full heart and good intentions that he brings his very best self to every situation, improving the lives of others, which eventually allows him to break free from the continual loop in which he was stuck. In the beginning, Phil is cynical, derisive, ungrateful, and curt. As he learns, in the end, he finds himself whole, he reflects, and he improves his ability to see the power in each day. He gains insight, and he also falls in love.

We don’t have the ability to redo days or to make them perfect. What we do have is the ability to manage our mental map, how we view ourselves, and our world. We do have the distinct freedom in life to turn obstacles into opportunities. The following model provides three clear behaviors that will help you to avoid the mental map trap of liability thinking.

Mental Map

Flip Your Thinking

We have to remain sensitive to our own thoughts to make sure that they are not sabotaging our personal and professional success. How we think and see situations has consequences regarding our ability to successfully navigate through complex situations. The answer often runs counter to our innate ability to generate solutions to common problems. It means that we have to flip our thinking, taking the following approach to thoughts and ideas.

Focus on what you want, not what you don’t want. This seems odd at first, but the language we use, out loud and in our minds, is powerful. As Judith Glaser says, “our words create worlds.” So next time you find yourself saying something like, “I don’t want to be overweight, I need to lose ten pounds.” Flip it and say, “I want to be fit and I’m going to lose ten pounds.” Loss aversion, according to psychologists, creates a strong response in our brains to avoid setbacks versus looking toward progress. It’s the negative “expression of fear” versus the positive outlook (Heshmat, 2018). Flip your thinking by flipping the language that you use.

Foresee opportunities, not challenges. Our primal nature is designed to recognize potential threats and challenges. In many respects this is important, safety being the first. But, it also means that we can become mired in the obstacles in front of us instead of the possibilities that await us if we flip our thinking. In his book How Successful People Think, Maxwell (2009) reminds us that our thinking is what makes for great leadership. How we think, what we think, when we think, where we think, and with whom we think are all important. Successful people learn to explore “possibility thinking,” which changes the path of our energy toward “accomplishing tasks that seem impossible.” Possibility thinkers believe in solutions. One technical way in which this can be done is through the use of a SWOT analysis, focusing intently on opportunities, not threats, as we work to make big things happen.

Think with your team. Too often, especially when challenges arise, leaders can clam-up or shutdown. Others reserve their thoughts, processing information for too long or even holding back for fear of being wrong. Sometimes, people keep an idea to themselves because they worry about dissenting against the group. All of these reasons limit our ability to find solutions together. Flip your thinking from an internal monologue to an external dialogue. This doesn’t mean that all thinking must be “fast thinking.” In fact, there are benefits to slow thinking (Kahneman, 2011). But, when we’re together with our team, we should use the “spitball” method to get as many ideas out on the table for the purpose of slow thinking, later. Decisions don’t need to be made on the fly, but the best decisions are made using multiple perspectives.

Don’t Jump to Judge

The best leaders know the appropriate times to play the role of the judge, and those times are rare. But, as evaluators, supervisors, observers, and performance appraisers, we often find it hard to take off the boss hat so that we can truly come alongside others versus looking down from above. The key is knowing the difference between coaching and judging, being able to see positive intent, and working to empower people to have a voice on the team.

There’s a difference between a coach and a judge. One key to making sure that you don’t become a judge when you’re looking to coach is to remain conscious of what it means to build buy-in from your boss, your team, and your employees. When we judge a person or situation, especially without constructive criticism, we break down the connection that we need to be able to coach. Bartholomew (2017) reminds us that coaching is best when it’s with someone, not to them. We must remember to be in the moment, experiencing it with the people, rather than passing judgement after it occurred. The best coaches stop the game and call the plays; they don’t just scream in the locker room.

Always assume positive intent. Assuming positive intent, especially when someone does something that seemingly goes against the core values of the organization or directs judgement in an unhealthy way, is really hard to do. Great leaders can have really good “intent antenna” but not all antenna work perfectly every time. For that reason, we have to take a step back from these difficult circumstances to see them through a lens of opportunity (Eckfeldt, 2017).

Empower people to be open to giving and getting feedback. According to Stone and Heen (2014), giving and getting feedback is incredibly difficult for three reasons: it can simply be inaccurate, it might be coming from someone we don’t respect, and we take it to heart that it’s about ourselves versus our work. The problem with anything that thwarts or stalls a cycle of feedback is that it doesn’t support our growth the way that feedback can when it’s healthy and received well. For feedback to be a norm, leaders have to model an identity that growth is important for everyone. When we communicate the need to get better, we empower people to give us feedback and accept our feedback in return. The key is in developing a culture where everyone has a desire to learn, grow, and improve in our efforts to reach toward excellence.

Adapt, Don’t Adopt

Some leaders fall into the trap of thinking that adopting a canned program or embracing a certain business ideology will be enough. There is no doubt there are models of excellence that can be effective, but for the long-term health of the organization, leaders must ensure that the program is aligned to the core values of the company. When organizations simply adopt a program it rarely works, mainly because the community lacks ownership and many will hang on to the philosophy that “this too shall pass.” We often lose sight of the truth about real change, hoping that new programs will overshadow our problems and meet our every need. The problem is that many of the programs are mere band-aids to the real issues that need to be addressed. Be sure to connect all the dots, see the program for it’s real purpose and the intended outcomes so that you have a true breakthrough and not a backfire.

Suffering from perceptual illusion. Too many leaders suffer from the inability to accurately see a situation in it’s true light. One of the reasons is due to perceptual illusion, which is when we hold a perception as true due to the way it appears in our minds yet what we accept as truth is actually a misperception of the actual nature of a person, place, or thing. We contend that this is primarily due to a lack of solid foundational knowledge or a gross generalization of something that we think we understand. People who suffer from perceptual illusions aren’t the same as people who are simply “full of it.” Perceptual illusions actually create the reality that we know something when we don’t. Whether it’s a lack of practice, experience, research, or arrogance, the illusion prevents growth, gains, relationships, etc. from progressing the way we believe they should. The only way to avoid this cognitive deception is to work hard to really learn in new areas of our lives. Read the books you buy, seek out experts, and remain intellectually humble. Don’t simply adopt an idea until you know it well enough to adapt it.

Use multiple sources to connect the dots. There’s always more than one authority on a subject. Great leaders know how to curate tons of information, synthesize new ideas, and communicate them for a change in practice. The problem is that we can get caught up in thinking that one source or one guru has the answer to a given problem. To build a unique culture, organizations need to take into consideration as much expert advice as possible and then create something altogether new. Influential leaders poses divergent thinking, which “is the ability to uniquely connect new information, ideas, and concepts that usually fall far apart. People with this skill can match dissimilar concepts in novel and meaningful ways and uncover new opportunities that others may overlook” (Furr, Nel, & Ramsoy, 2018). Fidelity to a program, process, or even diet is one thing, but adopting a practice from one source of information is destined to fail within a culture that has its own set of beliefs and behaviors. As Seth Godin always says, “without a doubt, the ability to connect dots is rare, prized and valuable. Connecting dots, solving the problem that hasn’t been solved before, seeing the pattern before it is made obvious, is more essential than ever before. Why then, do we spend so much time collecting dots instead?” Stop collecting single dots and start seeing their connections to move ahead.

Mold to fit and flourish, don’t crush and crash. Great leaders build; they don’t bust. Yes, great leaders know how to disrupt, but they do it productively by moving the team forward. Too often disruption and transformation are confused, replaced by an out-with-the-old, in-with-the-new approach. Even the worst practices can be blown up with enough pieces to put back together versus bashing everything to oblivion and starting fresh. One benefit to employing people who have the “impulse to break” things is that their “flashy ideas may energize and inspire others,” but those who value building something tend to stick with projects, teams, and organizations much longer, playing the long-range game to flourish beyond any seemingly quick fixes (Kanze & Lyenger, 2017). It’s far better to mold what you have than to end up with nothing at all.


Persistent people have the ability to change the trajectory of their lives as well as the lives of others. They push past the mundane, seeing a future that is bright and different from the present. “Resilient people actually resist illnesses, cope with adversity, and recover quicker because they are able to maintain a positive attitude and manage their stress effectively” (Breazeale, 2012). The key to leading yourself and others is being able to see the silver lining while the gloom is taking place, not after. To do so, we often have to flip our thinking, empower others, and adapt something to meet our needs. It took him a good while, but when Phil Connors made the switch in Groundhog Day, he ended up happier than before he got trapped in the loop. When we mind our mental maps, we can get ahead by seeing beyond the shadows where we stand.

Let us know what you think of this #SH302 post with a like, a follow, or a comment. Find us on Twitter, YouTube, iTunes, Facebook, & SoundCould. And if you want one simple model for leading better and growing faster per month, follow this blog by entering your email at the top right of the screen.

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

Joe & T.J.


Bartholomew, B. (2017). Conscious coaching: The art & science of building buy-in. Omaha, NE: Bartholomew Strength LLC.

Breazeale, R. (2012). Thoughts, neurotransmitters, body-mind connection: Our thoughts influence our bodies directly, and vice versa. Psychology Today.

Furr, N., Nel, K. & Ramsoy, T.Z. (2018). If your innovation effort isn’t working, look at who’s on the team. Harvard Business Review.

Eckfeldt, B. (2017). The Hidden Power of Assuming Positive Intent. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/entrepreneursorganization/2017/08/15/the-hidden-power-of-assuming-positive-intent/#69c4cfb159e0

Godin, S. (2014). Connecting dots (or collecting dots). Seth’s Blog.

Heshmat, S. (2018). What is loss aversion? Psychology Today.

Kanze, D. & Lyengar, S. (2017). Startups that seek to “disrupt” get more funding than those that seek to build. Harvard Business Review.

Kahneman, D. (2011). Thinking, fast and slow. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Maxwell, J. (2009). How successful people think: Change your thinking, change your life. New York: Hachette Book Group.

Stone, D. & Heen, S. (2014). Thanks for the feedback: The science and art of receiving feedback well. New York: Penguin.