15 decisions that will separate the most successful school leaders from the average administrators this year.
Double down on yourself
“Investing in yourself is the best investment you will ever make. It will not only improve your life, it will improve the lives of all those around you.” -Robin Sharma
The first major investment I made in myself was in 2015.
I joined John Lee Dumas’s “Podcasters Paradise.” I wanted to start a podcast that would grow my leadership skills and would serve my listeners. The problem was — I had no idea how to start.
All the information was out there for free online. This actually wasn’t helpful. It was overwhelming.
I heard over and over that investing in yourself was the best kind of investment to make. Author and speaker Denis Waitley has this to say about personal development:
“Personal development is the belief that you are worth the effort, time and energy needed to develop yourself.”
The problem was I had a scarcity mindset.
Back in the day, I was constantly worried about money. I still struggle with that today, but I have coaches and systems to combat that fear.
I decided to listen to the advice to invest in myself and take the plunge. I committed $1200 in order to access “paradise” because I believed it would speed up my success.
Six years later my podcast has over one million downloads and coaching leaders has become my full time profession.
I have the best job in the world.
I get to work with leaders who are hungry to improve their skills. They want to be there. They want to learn. They want to work hard.
This reality started the moment I chose to invest in myself because I was worth it.
Stop talking: Do something.
“Ideas are easy. Execution is everything.”
So many people love talking.
They talk about what they used to do.
They talk about what they are going to do.
They talk about how they had the idea for Netflix, AirBnB, and Spanks.
The problem is that talking is easy. It’s much harder to implement. And that is what separates the top 1% of performers from everyone else.
Have courage and choose to be a leader of action this year. By committing to be a leader of action you will experience more success than your peers.
Commit to your zone of genius
“Deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what to do.”
In The Big Leap Gay Hendricks introduces the idea of a “Zone of Genius.”
The idea is that this is your superpower. It’s where you come the most alive and where you create the most value for others.
One important distinction regarding the zone of genius: other people in the world can do it, but when it comes to you personally, this is what YOU are best at.
I’ve coached 100s of leaders from around the world.
One idea we discuss a lot is the concept of their zone of genius. Depending on the leader and how they want to grow, it might make sense to look at all the tasks they think they need to do.
What we often find is that they are usually doing a whole bunch of tasks that someone else can do and they haven’t given them away.
Why don’t they delegate?
- They think they do it better (and often do). But that’s a poor reason to continue doing something.
- They feel bad asking someone else to do something.
- They don’t know how to practically delegate. They need a process.
- They don’t want to train or provide feedback to those they delegate to.
Here is the easiest way to delegate:
- Write down all the tasks you do.
- Identify what gives you energy and what zaps your energy.
- Identify what only you can do, what you think only you can do, and what you know someone else can do.
- Get rid of everything that zaps your energy.
- Get rid of everything that you know you can give away (but just haven’t yet).
- Get rid of everything you think only you can do, but someone else in reality could actually do it.
And remember: delegation is not abdication. You need to train and provide feedback to those you delegate to in order for them to be successful.
If it’s not a “Hell Yes!” then it’s a “Hell No!”
“Don’t say maybe if you want to say no.”
Carte blanche open door policies are stupid.
I get why school leaders say they want to have an open door policy.
But that doesn’t make them any better.
So I’ll say it again. Open door policies are stupid.
And the reason they exist is that leaders don’t know the difference between pleasing and serving.
If you want to please everyone you have the inability to say “No.” This is how leaders get stressed out and find themselves wondering why they agreed to do something in the first place. All because of pleasing.
There is a better way.
When you are a leader focused on serving you do what is best for yourself and your community in every situation. You have the ability to say “No” and to say other hard things.
When you focus on service you get clear on how you add the most value to your organization.
And you can’t do that if you have a revolving door of access to you during your day (this is also the reason many principals work ungodly hours — they’ve been pleasing instead of serving all day!).
Boundaries are okay. Saying No is okay.
Another way to think about it. If the majority of your time spent each day was focused on creating massive value for your school, how much better would your results be at the end of the year.
This is a tough one.
Choose to serve this year and elevate that commitment over pleasing.
Start the Day with a Win
“If you make your bed every morning, you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride and it will encourage you to do another task … and another …”
-Admiral William H. McRaven
It may seem ridiculous, but making your bed each day might be what you need to unlock a great school year.
That’s because by doing this simple act, you start your day with a win and that win generates momentum for the rest of your day.
I usually rise before my partner so this activity isn’t how I start my day, but the concept is still useful. The point is to consciously choose to do what needs to be done from the moment you wake up and are blessed with another day.
Other ways to start your day with a win:
- Walk your dog
- Drink a tall glass of water
- Pray or meditate
- Recite an affirmation
- Read something encouraging
At all costs, you must avoid checking email and social media.
Email and social media puts your brain in the wrong place. It introduces other people’s agenda for your life and requests for your time and attention. It gets you in a reactive mode — responding to requests and putting out fires. It can also harm you via the comparison trap — where you start looking at what everyone else has (nice house, attractive partner, 1000s of followers, and so on …)
This is not how you want to start your day.
Starting your day with a win puts you in control. It generates momentum that can carry into successive wins.
And in a worst case scenario where the day was a complete waste — at least you made your bed!
You’re not too busy to journal
“Keeping a personal journal, a daily in-depth analysis and evaluation of your experiences is a high-leverage activity that increases self-awareness and enhances all the endowments and the synergy among them.”
- Stephen R.Covey
What do Ben Franklin, Oprah Winfrey, Arianna Huffington, and Albert Einstein have in common?
They all have a journaling practice.
I have been journaling every morning for six years now. It includes prompts for reflection, a prayer for my wife, and the same three questions to help me think through the day.
This year I’ve added an evening journal routine and the results have been tremendous from improving my physical health to generating more than $20K for my business in just over a month.
Each evening I ask myself five questions in order to reflect and learn from the day. This also helps me grow my emotional intelligence.
The last part of my end of day journal routine is to identify my “big three” tasks, which are my most important tasks aligned to my quarterly goals. For example: today I am finishing this article, I am revising a chapter of my second book with my copyeditor, and I have a coaching proposal to send a school district in Texas.
There are two common objections to journaling.
- I don’t have the time.
- I don’t know what to write.
Both challenges are easily solved.
Journaling takes me 5 minutes in the morning. 10 in the evening. If you can’t find 15 minutes of time to boost your performance each day, you have bigger problems than a time problem.
I have used the same prompts for years now. If a question begins to get stale after years of repetition I search for new questions I can cycle through my routine. Prompts works well because it tells me what to write.
For example, each morning I answer, “What am I excited about today?” Each day there better be something exciting on my calendar!
Each evening I ask myself, “What did I learn today?” Much of the value found in journaling is by looking within and reflecting on lessons learned.
If you want to journal you can prioritize the time and find the prompts that would suit you. I believe we all have a deep well of wisdom found inside us. Journaling helps us engage with that wisdom.
Share your message more than you are comfortable with sharing it
“Just when you are tired of saying [the message], that is when your people start to hear it for the first time.”
Podcasting and leadership has the same challenge.
It gets boring telling the same stories over and over again.
But if you want your message to resonate with as many people as possible, then you need to tell the same stories multiple times.
The fear is that people have already heard your message. Trust me, most have not heard your message! And even if they had, you can begin a story you have already told like this: “I know you have heard this story before so now you have a choice. You can turn your brain off by daydreaming, checking email, or scrolling through social media, or you can listen with new ears. You can listen for a new insight that just might change everything for you today.”
Leaders wrestle with things like vision before their organization does.
Remember that no one will ever care as much as you do about your vision, initiative, curriculum, product, or service. People you serve may not even be aware of what you want to accomplish or where the organization is going.
So keep communicating the same message continuously. And learn how to say it in different ways so that your message will land.
Via my coaching, podcasts, videos, and blogs, I’ve probably taught my approach to journaling 100+ times. That’s okay. People need to hear that message!
So share your message a lot. Share your message in a variety of ways. And don’t give up.
Do you understand what kind of feedback they are providing?
“Feedback comes in three forms: appreciation (thanks), coaching (here’s a better way to do it), and evaluation (here’s where you stand).”
-Douglas Stone & Sheila Heen
Here is a feedback trap — you think the only kind of feedback is evaluation, but it’s not. Feedback can also come in the form of coaching and appreciation too.
This is a critical understanding when it comes to feedback.
The person you are sharing feedback with has one expectation (maybe she wants coaching) and you deliver evaluative feedback. Whenever there is a mismatch in the feedback desired and the feedback given, there is a missed opportunity.
The person receiving feedback doesn’t listen when the mismatch occurs, or worse, they are offended.
The solution is actually quite simple. Ask what kind of feedback the person wants to receive. Or you can share the kind of feedback you want to share and check-in that the receiver is open to that kind of feedback.
Dismantle racist systems
“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”
If you don’t think racism exists in the system of school you are not living in reality.
When I went to high school ages ago, I went to a diverse school, but all my classmates were a majority white. It wasn’t until PE class or lunch when I saw my black and brown peers. Where was my school putting my non-white peers?
Seeing systemic racism in your school is quite easy if you are willing to look and ask some questions:
- Look at your discipline data. Which students are suspended and disciplined the most?
- Look at your dress code. Do the rules target students of one race?
- Look at who has access to your “advanced” classes. Is this where you put most white affluent students with a few “exceptional” students of color?
- Look at who is considered SPED. Is this a class crowded with black and brown students?
- Look at the books your students read. What percentage of the authors are white?
- Look at your history books. Do they teach how African American veterans didn’t benefit from the GI Bill?
- Look at your teaching staff. Do they reflect the race of your students?
And one more quote for those who do not think it is the role of a school leader to address systemic racism:
“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”
Craft a bold vision
“Even God lends a hand to honest boldness.”
Too many leaders play small.
They play small because it seems safer.
I remember once having a conference with a veteran teacher at the beginning of the year. We were discussing her professional goals, one of which had to do with using the document camera in her room consistently.
I was new to the building so I asked an obvious question.
“Have you used this document camera before?”
“Pick another goal, please. Pick one that would stretch you.”
We play small because of fear and/or we see it as the easier path forward.
This teacher was casting a vision for herself that year and how sad that she chose a goal that she had already accomplished.
I coach and mentor school leaders. I currently support just 70+ school leaders. My goal should not be to serve 100 school leaders. Instead my goal is to support 1200 school leaders.
Within the next 6-months I’m sure I will be supporting 100 school leaders. 1200 is a distant dream at this point.
On one hand it is scary. Who do I need to become to lead and organization that supports 1200 school leaders? Who will we need to hire? What internal systems will we need to create to provide a world-class experience? How will we attract 1200 leaders to our community?
On the other hand, I am super excited by this vision. I have an opportunity to grow my skill set and build an incredible team to accomplish my goal. I’m on a mission to change the landscape of professional development that is offered to school administrators.
Because I believe, “Everyone wins when a leader gets better. Everyone wins when you get better.”
A bold vision is inspiring and working toward it will help set you apart from other leaders.
Develop your emotional intelligence
“If your emotional abilities aren’t in hand, if you don’t have self-awareness, if you are not able to manage your distressing emotions, if you can’t have empathy and have effective relationships, then no matter how smart you are, you are not going to get very far.”
You might think you are a school administrator, but the fact is you are a meteorologist.
Your presence influences the climate of your school. The question is whether your emotions control you or if you control your emotions.
Years ago I took 100 or so students to a college visit. When we returned to school we had to eat. I ordered pizzas and had a system to get the right pizzas to the right classes based on preference, but also allergies and that sort of thing.
When the pizza arrived I wasn’t notified. My colleagues (who were trying to help) sent the pizza upstairs to the students.
I was livid and I let my colleagues know how disappointed I was.
I was also a complete jerk in that moment. Anger had gotten the best of me.
I was angry because I was scared. I was worried that some students wouldn’t be able to eat and those with allergies would be at risk. My plan was going to fail.
I hurt those relationships and it took time to repair them.
Over the years I’ve had a few instances when I didn’t treat my colleagues fairly or with respect. I’ve worked hard to change that by investing in growing my emotional intelligence.
Emotional intelligence is broken down into internal and external awareness. Internally it helps to understand what is going on inside of you. Externally it helps to understand how to play nice with others.
Leaders that master emotional intelligence are always at the top of any organization. This soft skill is one of the fastest ways to accelerate your career.
Express gratitude often
“When you arise in the morning, give thanks for the food and for the joy of living. If you see no reason for giving thanks, the fault lies only in yourself.”
I mentioned earlier in this post how I have been journaling for years at this point.
Each morning I start by identifying three things that I am thankful for. It can be as general as being thankful for waking up today or as specific as enjoying a cup of coffee with my sister on her deck.
By developing my gratitude muscle I am training my mind to look out for things to be thankful for each day. It’s so easy to identify the problems that exist in my life or to make a list of all the things I wish I had, but do not have.
When I focus on what’s missing or what’s wrong, I put my mindset into a negative space. The solution is to express gratitude.
It’s hard to be upset and grateful at the same time.
So choose gratitude and enjoy it’s fruits: a mindset focused on abundance, creativity, optimism, and potential.
That kind of leader people want to follow.
The gap and the gain
“The distance between [your] goal and [your] ideal is ‘The Gap.’ Measuring
your progress this way only leads to unhappiness.”
Other than my evening journal, this idea has been the biggest game changer for me this year.
I have a bold vision. I am going to serve 1200 school leaders in our leadership community, “The Mastermind.”
Today I serve 70+ leaders from around the world. Said another way, I am 1100 leaders short of my goal. What a loser! At least, that’s how I feel when I measure my present self with my future self. This is “The Gap.”
We need aspirational goals to inspire us. We do not need to measure our current self with our idealized future self.
The trick is to flip our focus around.
In 2016, I served 7 school leaders. Today I serve 70+. That’s 10x growth! I am a success!
I feel so much gratitude and pride for what I accomplished when I measure my current self with my past self. This is what Dan Sullivan calls, “The Gain.” By looking back to our current position in life, you can see how far you’ve come. That is a gift.
Avoid comparing yourself to others. And avoid comparing yourself to a future that is yet to exist. Only measure your current self with your past self.
Collaborate with other leaders regularly
“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”
It’s a missed opportunity that there is so much competition between schools.
Think about it. Who cares if you are the #1 school in your district? When we compete for the top spot in the district, in the state, or in the nation, we usually take a stance that is unhelpful. We keep our best ideas and what works to ourselves. This is a finite mindset.
There is a better way.
Imagine a district where information flows freely. The best practices that serve students and staff are shared between schools. As a result, all schools are lifted up. Student achievement soars on all campuses. Faculty are able to grow no matter what campus they are on.
Isn’t that a better way?
When we play what Simon Sinek calls an “Infinite game,” you don’t have to lose in order for me to win. We can all win.
The key is collaboration.
“On the world stage, we do not talk about working hard. Everybody works hard. Everybody is a freaking hard worker on the world stage and they’ve got this incredible talent to go with it. It’s exciting and it’s fun to work hard.
We talk more about science and the art of recovery so that we can work hard on a regular basis and we don’t burn ourselves out in ways emotionally, physically or sometimes spiritually so to speak that we can’t go the distance.”
-Dr. Michael Gervais
Dr. Michael Gervais works with top performers including executives of world-class companies, professional athletes and olympians.
Top performers take their recovery seriously.
And yet school leaders:
- skip meals or when they do eat, eat unhealthy foods
- don’t prioritize fitness
- sleep less than 7–8 hours a night
- And so on …
I remember reading a few years ago about an Australian principal who died prematurely at her desk. One night she didn’t come home from work so her husband went to visit her at school. He found her dead at her desk. No family should have to experience this.
This principal was known to work consistent 12-hour days. Her husband said, “She just didn’t have time to look after herself properly, … She was under a lot of stress and terrible pressure just to be successful in her job.”
This year I challenge you to take your health and recovery seriously.
Your community is counting on you and you are a lot more useful alive than you are dead.