The 5 Enemies of Effective School Leadership
I have 5 enemies when it comes to school leadership . . .
These enemies keep me up at night because they block the progress that collectively needs to be made in education. Sure, great progress is being made in pockets around the world. But if we are honest with ourselves, the gap between where we are as a profession and where we need to go is incredibly wide.
My five enemies have a grip so tight on the lives of school leaders that dreaming about where we need to go can feel like a pipe dream . . . A fool’s errand.
But I refuse to accept that we can’t level up as a community.
I’m on a mission to connect, grow, and mentor every school leader who wants to level up.
I know that movements are made by starting small. The spark eventually turns to a roaring flame. It was Margaret Mead who said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
So I’m putting my enemies on notice.
You may have slowed us down until now.
That ends today.
Enemy #1: The Status Quo
“Tradition becomes our security, and when the mind is secure it is in decay.”
― Jiddu Krishnamurti
The biggest enemy that school leaders face is tradition.
Tradition is often used to protect sacred cows — those seemingly “untouchable” aspects of your organization that no one cares to discuss. The topic is too volatile. The tradition is too entrenched to create meaningful change. Like the story of the golden calf, tradition can act as an idol in our schools and rob us of our living out our purpose.
The truth is all traditions should be questioned. Ask yourself, “How does this tradition serve us at ‘X’ school?”
Not all traditions are bad, but many are built on oppressive and racist policies of the past. Others serve a student, teacher, or community member that no longer exists in the school. And of course, a few are good, and should be honored and preserved.
All traditions should be questioned and after investigation, kept if they are in service of the school.
Enemy #2: Stagnation
“Stagnation is self-abdication.”
― Ryan Talbot
In the 1630s Galileo created a thought experiment that is a useful mental model for school leaders.
The thought experiment went like this: a scientist stands in a boat below deck. She drops a ball from the waist down to the ground. The scientist only notices the ball’s vertical movement toward the ground because of gravity, but doesn’t recognize that both she and the ball are moving horizontally along with the boat.
Perspective changes everything.
A person outside the boat would easily see that the ball is moving both horizontally and vertically. This thought experiment eventually became the science of relativity. And your leadership growth, or lack thereof, is facing a similar crisis.
If you are not growing, you are stagnant.
While you are standing still other leaders are passing you up by investing in their own development.
Enemy #3: Isolation
“Isolation is the number one enemy of excellence.”
― Greg Salciccioli
There are a lot of reasons why leaders work in isolation.
Some have an adverse reaction to asking for help. Others are egomaniacs who think they do everything better. Maybe you don’t have a high level of trust with your team and thus keep everything to yourself.
Whatever the reason, it’s a fact that most school leaders work in isolation.
And isolation is not a recipe for increased effectiveness.
Enemy #4: Lack of Mentorship
“No one learns anything by driving blind except what it feels like to crash.”
― Paul De Leo
There is a motivational speaker that I love named Joel Weldon.
He is the best speaker I’ve ever seen. Joel is a master storyteller and uses imagery effectively. One thing Joel says is “It’s hard to read the label when you’re inside the jar.” Just like relativity, perspective changes everything. The best way to level up your perspective is to hire a coach.
If you don’t have a mentor or coach, you’re not alone. In 2020 the Learning Policy Institute and NAESP surveyed 407 school principals and found that:
- only 23% of principals had access to a mentor or coach in the past two years.
- and only 10% of principals who served in high-poverty schools had access to a mentor or coach.
How will we ever grow as a collective industry if the majority of school leaders are driving blind?
We need to flip that percentage. What would we be able to accomplish in education if only 23% of school leaders did not have a coach?
Enemy #5: Lack of Self-care
“Self-care is not selfish. You cannot serve from an empty vessel.”
― Eleanor Brownn
- Do you consistently eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner?
- Do you eat a healthy, nutrient-rich diet?
- Do you work out regularly?
- Do you allow yourself to take breaks throughout the day?
- How often do you meditate?
- When was the last time you had a massage, or got a manicure/pedicure?
- Do you work with a coach or therapist?
I love educators. They are my people!
Most educators are natural at nurturing and serving others. The irony is that they are terrible at taking care of themselves.
My friend Fran is a retired principal with 40-years of experience. He used to tell his staff that he was lucky because he walked among “gods and goddesses.” You see, Fran wanted to communicate to his people that they had great worth and that he held them in high esteem. Fran’s staff knew exactly where they stood with him. They knew exactly how he viewed them. What do you think that did for them on a personal and professional level?
If Fran looked into the mirror, what do you think he saw? Did he see a leader with incredible value?
If you looked into the mirror, what would you see?
And if you saw an educator with incredible worth, would that person allow themselves to ignore their mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual health?
If you saw yourself as Fran would see you, how would you change your daily routine?
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