Learn How To Ignite The One Powerful Path to Reclaim Your Purpose in an Otherwise Disillusioned Environment

Learn How To Ignite The One Powerful Path to Reclaim Your Purpose in an Otherwise Disillusioned Environment

“I thought this would be better.” How many times have we had that thought? There’s no doubt that at times our experience does not meet our expectations, resulting in disillusionment, possibly even resulting in sadness or despair. Let us say right out of the gate that we are not psychologists, we don’t pretend to be, nor have we stayed in a Holiday Inn Express recently. But, we do work and interact with countless people every day, and we strive to understand how they tick, what influences their beliefs, and where they get new ideas. 

Why? To lead better means you must become a student of human behavior. And, for a myriad of reasons, especially throughout Covid19, we find more-and-more individuals who are feeling like “things should be better.” Whether in education or the private sector, it’s not uncommon for us to experience disappointment. If you find yourself nodding your head in agreement, you’re not alone. This is one reason we broadcast our 302 Thoughts in front of a live audience–to create a space for leaders and learners to gather and rumble with difficult topics. If you want to lead better and grow faster, hopefully you’ll join us. 

As we listen to others, travel around conducting school leadership training in schools and districts, we’re finding that one thing definitely stands out–to move forward we need to reclaim our primary purpose, which is to simplify the road ahead and focus on student learning and well-being. There are quite a few things that school leaders can do to improve school conditions, such as incorporating SEL sessions for staff, providing additional time to catch up on emails, lesson planning, contacting parents, and grading, and conducting listening sessions to hear how staff are feeling. All of these external efforts will help, but they are only one side of the equation and generally become temporary outlets. There also needs to be an internal, personal declaration that needs to be made for lasting assuredness and faith that things actually will get better. 

To begin the process of developing a personal declaration in an effort to reclaim our purpose, we start by getting grounded. In an atmosphere of disillusionment, when we think things should be better than they are, it’s likely that we aren’t as grounded as we should be so that we can thrive in our environment and inspire others to do the same. 

Getting Grounded

One misguided thought in improving our well-being, and, in turn, our school cultures, is the belief that “fixing” external conditions alone will be the answer to our problems. We know as educators that self-efficacy and collective efficacy are incredibly impactful social constructs that support student learning. However, efficacy does not stop at the classroom door and is not only for our students but also our staff. It’s something that we can develop as adults, as leaders, as people–in ourselves and others. We have to work on our internal capacity so that we can even appreciate and recognize the external factors of life and work. If we are not in a mentally resourceful space, any external attempts to improve will fall short. Efficacy is the belief that our actions can make a difference–that we have the power within us. It has nothing to do with waiting for something or someone to influence us, but rather the other way around. 

This type of mindset requires flexibility and openness. And, in a state of disillusionment, these characteristics of our thinking–flexibility and openness–must be extreme in their use. We are not suggesting to ignore reality or simply be naively positive. Rather, we must embrace a belief that we can create a better situation if we work together toward that end. Happiness, as we can see from the passage below shared by Dr. Tara Well, associate professor of psychology at Barnard College of Columbia University, should not be fixed or our well-being will suffer. 

“…we can develop some pretty fixed ideas on what will make us happy, and eventually train our minds to believe that we’ll only be happy if we get those things. We mistakenly believe that it’s the thing that is going to make us happy, and when we don’t get it, we’re disappointed.”

Knowing that fixed ideas regarding what we think will improve our situation can trap us; instead, it’s critical that we ground ourselves in those things that do create greater fulfillment and success. This is what we mean by getting grounded.

Getting grounded requires an unbridled effort to identify those things that are most important to our personal and professional core values. This works in life as well as it does in school leadership as you work to guide your school or district community. 

To understand how to pursue and identify our ground, we take a look at the wisdom of the great Greek stoic philosopher, Epictetus. Our aim is to identify those things we can control in a world that is still seeped in uncertainty, distrust, and fear. To venture down this road of getting grounded, we offer three primary paths: 1. Look for solid ground; 2. Reclaim your ground; and 3. Thrive in your ground. 

Look for Solid Ground: Introspection

Suffering arises from trying to control what is uncontrollable, or from neglecting what is within our power. ~ Epictetus

The last two years have undoubtedly knocked us off balance, and as leaders we need to find solid ground again. We cannot do that without looking inward and establishing personal and professional standards in this new world. We do that by identifying our overall purpose as a person and as a school community. And then we align our daily actions to this greater sense of self, connected and grounded. 

     If you are a classroom teacher, what is your purpose? 

     If you are a school or district administrator, what is your purpose?

No one knew what the devastation of a pandemic would bring in the long run–first graders not knowing how to walk the halls properly or how to manage their materials at a desk. We’ve heard incredible stories of students being oddly possessive of classroom supplies in the younger grades–markers and erasers–trivial things that are readily available. And we’re witness to students up-and-leaving a room without asking in the upper grades–something that they did without asking when they learned from home.  

It’s fascinating to see the skills that are typically taught in schools, yet never captured in any accountability rating or report card, now starkly missing from our students in ways that require tons of attention. This, among other strange byproducts of time away from school, dramatically impacts culture, our well-being, and our abilities. Because we are challenged by such new and different problems in schools these days, we can quickly lose our sense of purpose in what we do. Purpose is such a strong indicator of groundedness that when it’s not clearly defined can bring misery.  

So, as we look within ourselves, we want to approach introspection the best way that we know how, effectively working toward finding our solid ground. Instead of just thinking about ourselves and dwelling on our work or lives, we offer very succinct prompts to begin your professional introspective analysis. 

Consider the following reflection prompts:

  • I know my purpose at work each day.
  • My purpose at work directly corresponds with my daily activities.

The answer to the first prompt may seem simple and intuitive at first, such as, “Of, course, I know my purpose, I teach. I’m a teacher. My purpose is to impart knowledge.” But, work beyond surface responses that don’t provide the specificity that truly reflects your inner definition of the purpose behind your work. You might come to something like “My purpose is to change lives” or “I plan to influence the system to be more innovative than education typically is.” The grander the statement, the better. Next, ask yourself the second prompt…if your purpose no longer matches your daily activities, you need to reclaim your ground. 

Reclaim Your Ground: Empowerment

No matter what happens, it is within my power to turn it to my advantage.  ~ Epictetus

Once you clearly identify your solid ground, you need to reclaim it. There is serious power in taking control of the things that you can. Despite all of the challenges in schools for teachers and leaders, there are several elements of schooling that we directly impact and that are within our control. A few that we work through in our school leadership training are as follows:

  • Visiting classrooms 
  • Planning with high-yield instructional strategies 
  • Increasing student engagement
  • Empowering teacher leaders 
  • Creating a winning culture
  • Clarifying the vision of the school
  • Praising others and using feedback cycles for school improvement 

The next step is to identify a process goal within a particular area that we can control for the day or week. If classroom management is a challenge, then that can become a clear area of focus. Danielle Doolan, team member of The Career Contessa, which “…helps working women be more fulfilled, healthy, and successful at worktell readers this: 

Process goals are the specific actions we take to increase our chances of achieving our outcome goals. These are the behaviors and strategies that we implement that help us set a path to achieve our desired result. Process goals are 100% controllable.”

This is of vital importance as you work to reclaim your ground. Process goals require specific actions. Those actions are under our direction and control. Determining the specifics of what you work on each day creates a greater sense of calm, connectedness, and confidence (The Three Cs of Empowerment).  

Consider the following reflection prompts:

  • I feel connected to my work.
  • I see the results of my efforts.

Take the time to think about your responses. If you feel connected and you are seeing results, what is contributing to your success? Name it so that it can be repeated. However, if you are reading this and you find yourself disconnected and frustrated, start by identifying a couple goals that you would like to achieve this month and be sure to identify the actions you need to take to reach success. 

With the clarity of our purpose in mind and process goals for taking action, we are ready to bloom. 

Thrive in Your Ground: Blooming

Attach yourself to what is spiritually superior, regardless of what other people think or do. Hold to your true aspirations no matter what is going on around you. ~ Epictetus

Identifying, finding, and claiming your solid ground will provide the necessary foundation to thrive in work and life. We approach thriving and this journey of development from a different angle than your typical school leadership training. The reality is that we don’t see the effects of all of our decisions right away. Development takes time and is actually a practice of redundancy and habit formation. Thriving can actually seem uneventful at first for those who love to start and try new things. Setting and starting activities and initiatives is fun, but the real work is in the day-to-day activities that will bear the fruit of our labor. 

This pursuit and drive forward flourishes in what Jim Collins describes as The Hedgehog Concept versus what he explains to be the work of the fox. The fox, “[is] scattered, diffused, and inconsistent, while the hedgehog understands that driving toward a concrete destination is what really works.” Thriving is focused and consistent; something that many of us struggle with in a time when so much has changed and so much is still uncertain. Disillusionment is born from doubt, skepticism, and suspicion about which direction we’re going and why. We get back on track when we find our inspiration and we rekindle our passion. 

Consider the following questions regarding how your purpose is congruent with you developing and growing in your role–thriving for the future.

Consider the following reflection prompts:

  • I’m inspired by the people with whom I work. 
  • I am passionate about my daily purpose.

We find inspiration in the people with whom we work, not just because they’re doing the work but because they want to get better at it. In all of our findings, readings, and trainings, we’ve realized that the most passionate people are inspired by the company they keep and the strategies they use as a team to improve. We call that a learning culture and a performance culture because it’s based on continuous improvement and a desire to do whatever we can to find success. We also recommend that leaders measure purpose and other aspects of school culture so that we can lead from a point of our strengths and work on the areas that require our attention. 

Assessing School Culture with REPSS

In our book, Building A Winning Team, we developed TheSchoolHouse302 Reputable, Effective, Perception Survey for Schools (REPSS) to measure a school’s culture using the perceptions of the staff. This process can create greater levels of clarity, trust, accountability, support, growth, and innovation in schools–all indicators of highly supportive, effective, and caring cultures.

This month we are completely focused on the purpose aspect of the survey because it sets the stage and tone for the other areas. You’ll find some of the reflection questions throughout the blog post and below as well. Take a few minutes to respond to the questions/prompts to fully unveil your purpose and consider the power in knowing the aggregate answers that your school community might post if they took this survey together. What might you do with that data as someone who wants to lead better and grow faster? After all, if things aren’t as good as they should be…or could be…then we have work to do. 

Reputable, Effective, Perception Survey for Schools Purpose

  • I know my purpose at work each day.
  • My purpose at work directly corresponds with my daily activities.
  • I feel connected to my work.
  • I see the results of my efforts. 
  • I tell a positive story about my workplace. 
  • The school brand communicated to the public is the same as the culture I experience as a professional. 
  • Our school’s core values are so clear that I know what is expected of me on a daily basis.
  • I find the work I do rewarding. 
  • I’m inspired by the people with whom I work. 
  • I am passionate about my daily purpose. 

As always, let us know what you think of this with a like, a follow, or a comment. Find us on Twitter, YouTube, iTunes, Facebook, & SoundCloud. And, again, 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. 

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The 5 Triple Bs to Avoid as a School Leader–Bad Boss Behaviors that We Hope You Don’t Recognize in Yourself

The 5 Triple Bs to Avoid as a School Leader–Bad Boss Behaviors that We Hope You Don’t Recognize in Yourself

If you want to get a quick laugh or a snarky response from a friend, just ask about a bad boss they’ve had in the past.There’s almost never a shortage of stories or experiences to share. It’s true for all of us. In fact, the topic itself–bad bosses–is not an easy one to write about. As always, our aim is to help our audience to lead better and grow faster. To do so, we can’t always focus on our strengths, even though that’s a great place to start most of the time. We must also uncover our weaknesses to improve as leaders. 

As you may recognize yourself in the following passages, be careful about that. The following content might otherwise be misconstrued to represent people we have worked with throughout our careers. It might even seem that we’re reflecting on our own leadership as many of our readers have witnessed us, firsthand, with mistakes and mishaps. Regardless, this topic deserves attention. 

Why bad boss behaviors this month? Simply put: retention. We should all be focused on staff retention, specifically teacher retention. And bad boss behaviors get us into trouble in terms of losing staff. Too often, when leaders think about retention, they target things that they can do for others. We also need to direct our attention to how we behave as leaders.

Despite the funny, albeit inappropriate movie, Horrible Bosses, most leaders aren’t as outright awful as the characters in the film. We won’t likely find a “maneater” or “tool” in the position of principal. The movie is an exaggeration, which is what makes it funny. But what makes the exaggeration work is that there’s truth in the depiction of the horrible bosses. 

That said, the behaviors that alienate staff, limit their success, and even sabotage our efforts are far more subtle. As a leadership development firm, our goal is to needle through these subtleties to empower leaders to be more effective. Because we travel to schools around the country, conducting school leadership training in so many districts, we get to see too many of the pitfalls that we’re going to get into in this blog. We hope this isn’t true for you, and if it is, we hope you’ll consider a change by developing the skills that are included in our remedies below.  

Bad Boss Behavior #1: Micromanaging Your Team 

The moment you feel the need to tightly manage someone, you’ve made a hiring mistake. The best people don’t need to be managed. Guided, taught, led–yes. But not tightly managed. ~ Jim Collins

Micromanagement is a common problem in organizations across a wide variety of industries. Unfortunately, from our experience working with schools and districts around the country, it’s rampant in education. One primary reason that it’s so prevalent for educational leaders to be micromanagers is because we are altruistic by nature. We entered the field because we want to help others, and we often end up micromanaging for that same reason. 

That doesn’t make it okay. If you’re managing people and projects that are below your scope of reporting or that simply belong at another level, you’re demonstrating bad boss behaviors. In fact, micromanagement, although a common problem, is the worst BBB that you can have. There are several clear signs that you’ve fallen into this trap

  1. You’re doing work that others should be doing to serve the organization. You might even be at a meeting that someone else should have attended for you. Worse yet, you called a meeting with an outside group, and you didn’t invite the people who need to be at the table. Sign number one
  2. You consistently feel the need to be in-the-know on everything, even minor details. You take control of the work even after it’s underway, change directions after decisions have been made, and insert yourself just enough that no one else can really take the lead. Sign number two
  3. You reach past your direct reports and sometimes past their direct reports to get clarity on an issue or to manage something new. The best example of this that we’ve seen recently is a principal of a large high school who micromanaged something in the counseling department when an assistant principal had that as her scope of work. And she didn’t even know about the priority until a counselor told her about it. Sign number three

Micromanagement stems from insecurity, a lack of trust, and insufficient communication regarding the vision. People who are insecure about the value that they add are more likely to jump around in the chain of command to try to be of value wherever they can instead of focusing on the value they should add in their role. Micromanagers lack trust that others will perform a task the way that they would do it. And, leaders with a crystal clear vision for how they want a project to turn out–those who know how to paint done as we’ve learned from Brene Brown–don’t micromanage at all.  

The problem is that not only is it unproductive, it causes apathy, humiliation, and even embarrassment to your staff. When you micromanage people, they shut down completely, doing even less work than what you’re managing them to do. They become humiliated that you’re constantly doing their work or meeting with people that should be reporting to them. And, worse yet, you’re embarrassing them by communicating that you don’t think they’re capable of the work you’ve essentially stolen from them.  

The Micromanagement Remedy 

If you know you are a micromanager and you want to end this behavior, do the following:  

Ask yourself, and ultimately answer, these three simple questions every time you need action on something, especially prior to a meeting you’re about to schedule:

  1. Whose role in the organization fits this work best? 
  2. Who should I assign to this task? 
  3. When should it be completed?

Empowering leaders assign work and then follow up. They’re very rarely around when the work is getting done. That’s not the role of a visionary. 

Bad Boss Behavior #2: Withholding Information from Others 

Control of the flow of information is the tool of the dictatorship. ~ Bruce Coville

Of course, the bad boss behavior we are discussing here is not withholding information on purpose. That would make them a horrible boss like the ones in the movie. It’s also worth noting that displaying one or two bad boss behaviors here-and-there doesn’t make someone a terrible boss to have. However, when leaders are not actively working on the remedies–whether they recognize themselves in the bad behaviors or not–they just might be a bad boss (if you’re reading this blog, it’s because you care about leading better and growing faster so that’s a good thing and a reminder to yourself that you want to be better in your role). 

Back to the problem: bosses who withhold information. If you’re withholding information from your subordinates, and you’re not doing it on purpose, it’s likely that you have a systems problem. In other words, you’re going about your day, learning all kinds of new things about the organization’s moving parts, but you don’t have a forum to share what you’re learning with the people who are supposed to be managing those parts. We call this The Information Bottleneck Syndrome. It’s when information is being funneled to a source (usually a person) who doesn’t have the capacity to disseminate it. 

The problem is that any bottleneck, especially in the case of information, slows the organization down, rendering it incapable of meeting its goals. In The Goal, Goldratt explains the Theory of Constraints. Organizations simply cannot move toward their goals until the natural and imposed constraints are removed. Worse yet, if you, as the leader, are the one introducing a constraint into the organization, you’re likely not going to remove it without help and no one else is likely going to say something to you (because you’re the boss and rarely does a subordinate point out our bad behavior to us). The good news is that there is help, and it comes in the form of a strategic remedy. 

The Information Bottleneck Syndrome Remedy 

To remedy the problem of the information bottleneck that results from leaders who consistently gain access to information but then don’t share it with the rest of the chain of command, we find the need for a new communication method or tool. And it really is a new communication method or tool, not a meeting or structure or document (or some other administrivia that we might think to introduce when information-sharing has become a problem). The simplest of tools is text or email; we like Voxer, Slack, and other more sophisticated technologies, but the key is the immediacy of the use. In other words, at the moment you learn of a new problem, process, procedure, or another piece of information, you communicate it right away. 

It looks like this: you’re walking down the hall and someone from one of the departments in your organization says, “did you know that…” You find out that the science curriculum isn’t going to arrive on time or maybe you find out that a teacher won an award. Right at that moment, you have to assemble in your mind anyone else who might not have that information (maybe they do but assume they don’t) and would want to know it (and would want to know that you know it). 

At that point in time, as the person who just told you moves down the hall, you send a Voxer–or another strategy using your new communication method–to all the people who should know: “Hey, just heard that the science curriculum is late. John told me as we were passing in the hall here in Stern School Elementary as I was doing my rounds. Thought you should know if you didn’t already. I’ll look to you for an update about that. Thanks.” 

You want to be deliberate about your communication to include a four-part message: 1. what the information is, 2. how you found out about it, 3. why you know before the person who should know before you (the one receiving the message), and 4. that they’re back in charge of whatever it is. The last part is to get it back off of your plate and to empower the people under you. If you don’t do all four parts, especially part four, they’ll assume that you’re taking control of the problem and that it’s actually off of their plate now. 

Bad Boss Behavior #3: Stealing Great Ideas 

One can steal ideas, but no one can steal execution or passion. ~ Tim Ferriss

Here, again, we’re not  accusing a leader of overtly being an idea thief. That’s not “bad,” it’s mean. But we’re all in meetings all day where ideas are being presented. We jump from one meeting to the next, and they often blend together in terms of who says what. They also tend to overlap in terms of the organization’s overall goals. This means that one idea in one meeting might be a good solution to a problem presented in a different meeting. Because leaders are the glue, appearing at the cross-section of every major issue and initiative, we hear all of the great ideas that can be shared across the organization. 

The problem is that as ideas spread, their owner is often lost, which leaves the last person to share the idea as the assumed originator of that idea. 

We call this The Idea Propagation Problem. As ideas spread, with the leader being a natural conduit of information, the owner of the idea loses credit. Not that people are actively looking for some sort of credit, but they are definitely not looking to be robbed of it. People genuinely want to contribute to the team, and when we steal their ideas–even when we’re just looking to solve a problem using something we heard in another meeting–it strips away trust and loyalty as well. 

Over time, this diminishes our ability to solve organizational problems at all because people quit volunteering their best thoughts. Instead of advancing the organization through high quality brainstorming sessions, we end up with cooler talk that sounds like this: “I could have told her that this wouldn’t work but then that would have been her idea too.” 

The Idea Propagation Problem Remedy

Look to give credit to what people say and think. Too often, credit is reserved for actions and outcomes. The remedy is to honor words and ideas. Eventually, what you want to build is a learning culture. Organizational learning is a concept that leaders don’t initiate often enough. In a learning culture, people are more apt to work together to solve problems because they like new problems better than persistent ones. For this to happen, leaders have to give credit to innovative thinking, out-of-the-box idea sharing, and risk-taking. Instead of focusing on achievement, we have to put our attention on the process.


Bad Boss Behavior #4: Taking Credit for Success 

Giving credit where credit is due is a very rewarding habit to form. Its rewards are inestimable. ~ Loretta Young

One way to view these bad boss behaviors is through the lens of vices. They are weaknesses not only in leadership but as human behaviors–they appear when we fall short of doing the very best we can. Uncontrolled fear and worry leads to micromanaging the same way as insecurity leads to withholding credit just like our lack of systems results in an information bottleneck.  

What we have found to be thematically true about the greatest leaders who have come through our school leadership training series is that they fix a number of their bad boss behaviors by spending more time than average leaders in celebration mode. They’ve learned that the greatest ways to lift any organization, especially a school, is through praise and recognition. Take a look at the following Gallup poll research:

Our latest analysis, which includes more than 10,000 business units and more than 30 industries, has found that individuals who receive regular recognition and praise:

  • increase their individual productivity
  • increase engagement among their colleagues
  • are more likely to stay with their organization
  • receive higher loyalty and satisfaction scores from customers
  • have better safety records and fewer accidents on the job


But, if the research is so clear, why don’t leaders do this more often? The reasons are endless, but we’ve discovered that it bowls down to scarcity thinking. Stephen Covey, in his 7 Habits of Highly Successful People, first coined this idea where people think in shortages rather than abundance. Similar to the Idea Propagations Problem, scarcity thinking brings leaders down the path where any good news about new supports in place or success stories shared are accumulated as being credited to the leader rather than the people who pushed the work in the first place. 

Of course, in the end, it’s always the leader who truly brings the vision to fruition. It’s her eye on the people and programs, innovation, and future-forward mindset that drives the ultimate success. But, it’s all too easy for leaders to fall into the trap set by their egos. Rather than celebrating others and praising the people they serve, they end up believing that the success is theirs to have, not the team’s or individuals who are truly making it work. 

And, although it may seem like the solution to this bad boss behavior is simply to start praising and recognizing others more often, the truth is that it’s deeper than that. It includes the way we use our language about the team and much more. 

The Scarcity Thinking Remedy

If you glossed over the Loretta Young quote, take a moment and reread it slowly: “Giving credit where credit is due is a very rewarding habit to form.” The key word is habit. For habits to form, we need to be intentional. Here are three keys ways to build your giving-credit-muscle:

  1. Reduce “I” from your vocabulary and begin saying “we” more often. No leader accomplishes greatness alone and this simple change helps us to communicate that we’re on a team, not just that we lead one. 
  2. Start every meeting with gratitude by recognizing the people at that meeting and by allowing them to recognize each other. This should be genuine but not necessarily huge accomplishments. Great schools are built on the small and mundane things that have to be done to perfection.
  3. When you’re out and about, lift the people on your team who aren’t around when a success or new support has been put in place. As the leader, we might be thanked for something that really was the contribution of someone on the team. When that happens, we ought to pause and say, “yes, thanks to [insert name], we were able to get the upgrades we needed in this area.” 

Bad Boss Behavior #5: Using Relationships to Leverage Power 

People with leverage have power over those who don’t. ~ Robert Kiyosaki

The bad boss behavior that we abhor the most is using relationships to leverage power. Manipulation is not leadership and ultimately does not build a successful long-term organization. We are not suggesting that leverage alone is bad or that the power of relationships should be overlooked. In fact, both are qualities that every leader can use for the betterment of their organization and people. 

We firmly believe in investing in others, seeking a competitive edge, and developing a strong inter-connectedness among people. These should be genuine pursuits to lift others and the organization. What we are referring to here is when individuals seek personal notoriety and gain through the active manipulation of others. Again, we link many of these bad behaviors to vices. The allure of success and fame is all too enticing. 

We are not standing on a moral high ground here or condemning those who have fallen prey to this trap, we’re merely pointing out that power is seductive. And the longer we have and the higher we climb the less likely it is that we can see what it has done to us. As Bob Rosen writes in the The Healthy Leader, there is an abuse of power that can take hold of us, a belief of superiority that can trap our thinking. 

The challenge, though, is that many leaders don’t think this way in the beginning. Yes, there are some who are hubris, arrogant, and tyrannical from the start. But we are talking about individuals who have done the work, put in the time, genuinely care about the company, and, yet, they end up having bad boss behaviors anyway. 

The fact is that many people who rise within an organization are terrified of failure and losing the power they’ve obtained. This fear creates an insular attempt to protect themselves, to exclude others, and to use relationships as a means of control. Leaders who leverage relationships as power aren’t building them as a genuine connection with others; they do so to gain authority and even access to information that they might not have otherwise garnered alone. You might be thinking that this is an impossible one to remedy because leaders who suffer from this bad boss behavior aren’t always aware that they use relationships to wield their power. It’s not easy, but it can be done. 

The Seduction of Power Remedy

Becoming seduction proof is probably impossible, but we do believe in a few ways that leaders can remedy their unhealthy use of relationships as an advantage over others: 

  1. First, avoid surrounding yourself with sycophants. Leaders must have people around them who can be honest and truthful with them without fear of repercussions. In high pressure situations, where investors and boards want results, a leader needs a trusted advisory group that can use candor about everything.
  2. Second, put your values and principles in check. Make sure that they are anchored and set in place prior to any new endeavor and especially during turmoil. Check out our post about growing through the grind to reflect on the vision you set for yourself. Without a clear picture of who we want to be, we can end up behaving in ways that don’t match our true intentions. 
  3. Third, listen to the people who you trust the most. Leaders who build relationships for power are so seduced by the advantage that they think they have that they end up building relationships with the wrong people. Ask yourself if you truly trust the source or if you’re only trying to gain control. 

The Need for School Leadership Training 

Throughout the month we are going to dive into this concept so that you are more fully prepared to lead with excellence. Take a few minutes and reflect on the 5 bad boss behaviors and determine which one(s) you need to work on first. This is why it’s so important that school leaders get the proper training they deserve. After identifying the one that you need to work on most, find a training that will help to satisfy your need to develop as a leader. 

#1: Micromanaging Your Team

#2: Withholding Information from Others 

#3: Stealing Great Ideas 

#4: Taking Credit for Supports or Success 

#5: Using Relationships to Leverage Power

As always, let us know what you think of this with a like, a follow, or a comment. Find us on Twitter, YouTube, iTunes, Facebook, & SoundCloud. And, again, 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. 

Growing Through the Grind: 5 Strategies for Staying Focused in a Chaotic Environment for Principal Leaders

Growing Through the Grind: 5 Strategies for Staying Focused in a Chaotic Environment for Principal Leaders

As avid beach lovers and goers, we often look toward nature and how it relates to leadership. There are so many correlations and lessons that can be learned, as long as we are willing to take a closer look than what meets the eye. Our favorite spot here in Delaware is Coin Beach, located just across from a kayaker’s dream, Savages Ditch.

Like so many fascinating and harrowing sea stories, the Shipwreck of the Faithful Steward ran aground after it pushed inland due to storms. Eventually it capsized, taking the lives of 181 passengers. The ship was full of coin-filled barrels that were deposited into the ocean and are said to wash ashore in heavy storms, giving the shoreline name, Coin Beach. Every fall, on the East Coast, we are hit with some incredible storms that range in force and aggression, all with the power to change the course of a ship at sea.

Although we may not be in an actual hurricane as we lead our schools, Covid19 can easily be categorized for the education community as a Category 5. It’s creating what feels like chaos, making our normally difficult challenges even greater and sending us spinning with less of a focus than we would like to have in our roles as school leaders. 

The critical question that we all must ask amidst the pandemic is this: how do we keep our boat–our schools and districts–on course? The short answer: goal setting. At the surface, this may seem trite. But, well-developed, meaningful, and integrated goals serve as beacons, guiding us through any stormy weather. They offer direction, a sense of calm, and even peace. 

The issue is that it’s not enough to just write down your goals on paper and hope the power of the universe brings them into existence. And, trust us, we believe in the infinite potential of our human meditative and cerebral capabilities. That said, ambitious goals are only unstoppable after you write them down and then take action to reach them, no matter the circumstances ahead of us. 

There’s no doubt that the current times are a grind, maybe even chaotic. Yes, teaching and leading in schools through Covid19 is…wait for it…unprecedented. We honor that as the truth, and we also know that leading schools in times of change is nothing new. Michael Fullan wrote Leading in a Culture of Change (the first edition) in 2001. This means that there are proven strategies for making sure that you continue to grow when work and life are a grind and that we have to learn to remain focused, even when the chaos looms. The strategies below are meant to help you during Covid and beyond. 

Putting Your Vision to the Test 

The first thing that leaders should do is ask 4 simple questions regarding their vision:

  1. Does the statement communicate what you desire to accomplish? 
  2. Does the statement communicate who you want the work to benefit?
  3. Does the statement communicate why it is important for stakeholders?
  4. Does the statement convey your purpose or the purpose of the organization?

Again, we want to acknowledge that in many ways the conversation regarding the importance of a school’s or organization’s vision is misguided and artificial. We aim to correct that by offering that the vision of an organization is the fulcrum for decision-making and the basis for accountability.  Figure 1 is a quick way to put your school or district’s vision to the test and determine which side of the chart it lives. Is it hokey and too wordy or is it concise and inspiring? Vision statements should reside in the hearts and minds of those within the organization, not just on a wall or letterhead.

Figure 1

As you can see in Figure 2, we use Google, Facebook, Patagonia, and Nordstrom to demonstrate very vivid vision statements. You might like or dislike the purpose of these organizations, but their statements encapsulate their essence. They do what they say and they say what they do. That’s how a highly effective vision statement should be–both in terms of what we’re communicating with the statement and how much accountability it holds for keeping us centered when times seem disastrous. 

Figure 2

Leading with Your Values 

Richard Shell told us that leaders need to be resilient when they face a value-conflict scenario in life. Inevitably, leaders will be tested with decisions that could go against their core beliefs. Dr. Shell said that when people face challenges to their integrity, they need to ask one simple question: what would a person of conscience do? And, a good answer isn’t to flee or fight back. That’s too basic of an instinct. Our response should be to stop and listen to our own internal sense of right and wrong. 

But even without a value-conflict at hand, we consistently encounter situations that may not align with our core values. Consider the core value that “We always do what’s best for kids,” something that many schools and school leaders espouse, and, yet, we’re often challenged by circumstances where doing what’s best for adults seems like the right decision even if it isn’t ultimately the best outcome for kids. Not that these decisions would cause harm, but adult-driven outcomes are in direct conflict with the value that we claim to uphold. 

Leaders should regularly come back to their values to guide their daily work, and we need to review these values as often as possible when the ship seems to be sinking. These areas of focus should also be where we place our emphasis for growth, especially when things get tough and our strength as leaders is tested. Look at your core values this week, and find a professional learning experience that aligns to them so that you’re not just going through the grind but actually growing through it. 

Don’t miss our interview with Richard Shell in an upcoming episode of our OneThingSeries podcast. Until then, check his book, The Conscience Code.

Determining Urgent Versus Important 

Establishing a worthy vision that is anchored in core values helps with this third strategy for staying focused–determining and working within the important spaces. School and district leaders know the constant push and pull between spending time on important priorities versus being interrupted to handle many of the urgent issues that arise daily. This reality reinforces President Eisenower’s quote: “I have two kinds of problems, the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.”

The challenge is in how we prioritize our day to ensure that we are working on the important all the while effectively managing the urgent. The urgent issues will never disappear, and if they are not handled correctly, they can potentially wreak havoc on an organization, which is why the Eisenhower Matrix below is critical. We like how Check and Click Technologies designed the graphic because it illustrates the action and inaction that the leader should take based on the scenario. 

Determining whether the work is urgent or important as daily tasks arise allows us to maintain our focus on the critical long-term success of the organization. Doing so allows leaders to weather the urgent items in the short-term to be able to decide the best path forward–such as delegating the task–correcting course to refocus on the important. Along with the use of the matrix, we suggest that school leaders ask themselves two key questions when new tasks arises: 

  1. Does this new task need to be done right now? 
  2. Does this new task need to be done by me?


Assessing Full Versus Fulfilling

Coupled with determining urgent versus important in terms of how we spend our time, especially when the day feels like a grind and the environment seems chaotic, is the notion that we need to assess whether our workday is full or fulfilling. The reality is that creating a fulfilling work environment for yourself and those within your school or organization is the hallmark of an effective leader. Busy and effective are too different things. We all can get caught up in the race from meeting-to-meeting without truly making a difference in what matters most–student learning and well-being in our schools. 

We have heard from leaders who use a retrospective reflective approach by taking a look at their week on Fridays to assess how busy they were versus how much of an impact they had. We flip that to a forward-focused examination of your calendar. Instead of using Friday to assess the week that just passed, use that time to assess the upcoming week. A great tip we learned from John Maxwell in Thinking for a Change is to look at your calendar 40 days out. As Maxwell puts it, “that way, I get a jump on the month and don’t get surprised.” 

Use this as an activity to delegate and restructure any upcoming meetings. Make sure that the work you’re engaged with as a leader is going to be about 1. your vision, 2. the people and programs (what’s working and what’s not), and 3. innovation for change and future development. Sticking to these three buckets will have the best chance at making sure you stay away from the administrivia that can hijack your time, allowing you to be effective and, most important, feel fulfilled. 

Attending to the Most Important Spaces 

You can only have so many priorities so they need to be limited. One way to keep the main thing the main thing when everything seems chaotic is to ask yourself what the most important spaces are in your school and whether or not you’re spending the majority of your time in that space. The answer to the first part of the question is not likely to be the office, the cafeteria, or the playground, yet school leaders often find themselves in these spaces for a large chunk of their day. The clear right answer is the classroom, with teachers and students. That should drive us to want to be there as often as possible to be in touch with those doing the teaching and the learning. 

But wanting to be there–the classroom–is not enough. Strategies like time-blocking are a great start, but that also is not enough. The best way to attend to the most important spaces is to have a system in place, designed as a fool-proof way for you to visit every teacher every week. For example, last month, we focused on SEL as a key driver in our schools with getting to classrooms and making connections with staff and students a central activity.  

Your plan should involve seeing all of their blocks of instruction throughout the month and doing so on different days of the week. You’ll need a Google Sheet or what we call “a big board” to draw out your map; when the system is in place and the time is blocked on your schedule, this daunting task is manageable, no matter what storm is brewing. 

We can’t say enough about leaders spending time in the most important spaces of any organization (maybe a future blog post, stay tuned). This is the backbone of a positive culture and a management structure for being around when people are doing their best work. Not only does it provide critical insight into what folks are doing on a regular basis, but it allows us, as leaders, to lift the people through authentic recognition and praise. If you don’t have a working system for visiting classrooms, we need to hear from you because we can help. 

Putting your vision to the test, leading with your values, determining urgent versus important, assessing full versus fulfilling, and attending to the most important spaces in our schools are the five most practical and direct ways to keep you growing through the grind and focused when things feel out-of-control. The essential role of a leader is to attend to her own growth while staying focused on the health and direction of the organization. You can’t do that if your own day is as unruly as the times we’re living in. Using the strategies in this blog will ground your work and get you back to calmer waters. 

As always, let us know what you think of this with a like, a follow, or a comment. Find us on Twitter, YouTube, iTunes, Facebook, & SoundCloud. And, again, 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. 

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