Being a school leader can be a really tough and often lonely job. The goal of this post is to share 10 tips that have served me incredibly well over the last decade as a school leader. I pulled these 10 and rewrote some of the content from my most popular post: 200 Tips for Effective School Leaders.
1 Establish your values … and stick to them.
Do you know what you stand for … what is most important to you? Have you communicated your values via a blog, podcast, or some other public space? Let people know what you stand for. Post them on your office wall and live them out.
If you have a faith component, even better. I have this on my screen saver at work:
Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. (Joshua 1:9)
2. Honor people before your vision.
An inspiring vision can fire up a staff to move an organization to unprecedented levels of success. However, a good school leader will never be great and accomplish her vision if she puts the vision in front of her people.
PRO TIP: You need your people to accomplish your vision.
3. Take care of yourself
Your no use to your organization or people if you’re dead.
On my best days I work extremely hard, budget time for professional reading and writing, and find time to pray.
What rejuvenates you? Be intentional and schedule that into your calendar. Great leaders give themselves permission to recharge.
I tend to struggle with this one. In all honesty it’s a skill set I need to sharpen.
I get many tasks accomplished every day including both major projects and minor day-to-day operations.
I use a white board and stickies to establish what is most important to do each day. On the white board are three columns: backlog, priorities, and done. One hack I recently learned from my friend Tom Schwab is to identify what stickies (tasks) I can delegate. Once I started doing this I became 10x more productive.
5. Leaders are Readers
Leaders consume content and are always “sharpening the saw” as Covey stated it. I don’t care if it’s the written word, audio, or video — my challenge is to consume content that is going to make you better and do that regularly.
6. Go to counseling.
I have found immense value in processing the complexities of life with a trained professional. Recently, I had to cut back on some activities because I was in the red and if I stayed there much longer it could have been disastrous. I don’t know if I would have had the courage to move on without professionals help.
7. Develop a soft “no.”
Maintaining boundaries is an absolute key trait of effective school leaders. One way I’ve heard it described, “If your answer is not a ‘Hell Yes,’ then your answer should be ‘No.’”
Well how do you say no? Use Dr. Ury’s technique in The Power of a Positive No: Yes-No-Yes.
- Say “Yes” to yourself or affirm the other person’s request.
- Gently say “No.” PRO TIP: I like using the phrase, “I currently don’t have the capacity for …”
- Affirm the relationship and offer an alternative solution
8. Hold office hours.
I stole this idea from my friend D’Andre Weaver. He has played with time he offers office hours (before a 2 child home it was on Friday mornings … post 2 child home it is after school on Wednesdays). This gives the staff uninterrupted time to meet with him and discuss important issues without having to worry about a class starting or getting home to feed the kids. The beauty of what D’Andre did is that he removed barriers and gave the staff access to his most valuable resource: time.
9. Write in pencil.
I’m a big planner and that is a major strength. On the flipside I have to be okay with flexibility. Great leaders establish a clear plan that people can get excited about. Plans also reduce anxiety in an organization that is tackling tough challenges.
Write your plans, strategy etc. in pencil. You can always revise and make it better.
10. Join a mastermind.
Just like networking you need to invest in your own development. We do this through continued education and now it is common to do this via masterminds (a group of driven people who know the value of accountability). By meeting regularly with equally driven leaders, individuals can accelerate their leadership development and crush their personal and professional goals. By the way, I organize education masterminds, but seats are limited and they open once a quarter.
You can read the original 200 Tips for Effective School Leaders here which is featured on my blog. I also have a weekly podcast for school leaders you can check out too. Podcasts are a great way to level up your commute to work, completing chores, or working out.
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