Posted by: principalsintraining | July 19, 2014

Three (+1) Leadership Ingredients I’d Take To A Desert Isle


I’m more of a mountain person, but for a moment I’ll humor that archetypal summer disaster (Hollywood does it – why can’t I?) and strand myself on a single palm desert isle – a dollop of sand in a vast expanse of blue.  What wreckage washes up with me?  Three leadership tenets I don’t leave home without.  The Swiss Army knife that Tom Hanks forgot to pocket before his plane went down in Cast Away.  Let’s just hope there are some calories to be found.

1) Aggressive inclusion.

A few people are bold enough to step up to the leader and ask for what they want or to share what they think.  The 80-plus percent are too polite, stoic, or (sometimes rightfully) paranoid to do so.  The leader needs to go TO people, not wait for a visit or for the phone to ring.  If a leader is to be blamed for aggression, it should be the aggression of rousting people out of their comfortable niches – or trenches – to participate in the bigger conversation.

2) Co-operative risk taking.

Don’t just tell students and teachers to “take risks!”  Do it yourself.  Do it WITH them.  And refer to the point above to move closer to your people, allowing positional boundaries to drop away over time (it will take time).  Principal Curt Rees says it best in this post.

3) Ongoing public reflection.

What are you seeing, experiencing and learning?  If you aren’t sharing that with your organization – and, in the case of schools, with your broader community – then you are committing the deepest of hypocrisies: assuming the boss role in a learning organization without revealing who YOU are as a learner.  When you share your learning publicly, you create a vehicle (eventually, a culture) through which others feel permission to reflect (shedding the shackles of “expertise”).  Your example enables a spirit of #showyourwork.  That gets us back to points one and two.  This post has come full circle.  (So why isn’t it ending?)

Oh, wait, one more thing.  One more vital component too often overlooked – or too often looked down upon – by leaders determined to win respect through mirthless piousness and positional muscle-flexing: giving life every day to a culture of recognition and celebration.

If you are a leader and do not feel proud of your team – if you are not grabbing the pom-poms and getting people fired up about the great things they are making happen – then I believe you need (pardon the sports analogy) to take a little “time out” and think long and hard about your present situation.  Maybe you need a little desert isle getaway; maybe you’ve been in the maelstrom too long and it’s tough to crack a smile after all the battles.

Are you under-appreciated?  Probably.  Have people leveled criticisms at you that are less than fair?  Likely.  These are realities of the leadership landscape – and let’s not forget that teachers experience this as well.  Those could be reasons to make us want to retreat, or, possibly worse, get mad and lead mad.  This is precisely why building and sustaining a culture of celebration is the ultimate antidote to toxicity and anger.  Theorist Robert Kegan calls it the “language of ongoing regard” – a way to breathe life and energy into a system, to always bring it back to our shared humanity – our essential humanness.

What the organization needs (teachers, site admin, students, parents, even feeder schools) is someone willing to set a tone of positivity and collective endeavor.  That is the ultimate act of equanimity (thanks to Daniel Coffeen for the lexical support!).



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