Simple, Not Easy

That’s been one of my mantras – focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.
Steve Jobs

Good leaders have strategies, great leaders have a system. The best systems are simple to understand, yet difficult to implement because of the high level of work and focus they require. This of course is not to be confused with how long they take to implement — this is not a argument for working more hours each day — but the quality and level of performance they take to put into place. A great system should be short enough to remember at a moments notice and simple enough to be understood by a five year old. L.E.S.S. is that system for my work. My youngest child can understand what it means to care for people, to help people get better, to give to others freely, and to do things for yourself every once in a while. He may not have the vocabulary for Love, Equip, Serve, and Self, but the concepts are not difficult for him to understand. Yet, as for most adolescents, the concepts in L.E.S.S. elude him on a regular basis. It is always easier said than done.

The challenge lies in implementing the L.E.S.S. process in our everyday lives. It is not easy to love people everyday when it is simpler to cast blame and make excuses for them and their performance or ideals. It is not easy to help others improve themselves when just giving advice and walking away is much simpler. It is not easy to stand alongside someone in service when there are a hundred other things on your own to-do-list. It is not easy to step away from the busyness and constant notification chimes on our phones to take time for our own personal physical, emotional, and spiritual health.

So, why does this matter? Because we live in a world of increasing complexity. There is an unbelievable number of problems, challenges, or changes that get in the way of administrators, teachers, and students everyday. If I asked you to stop and make a list of the five problems, challenges, or changes that occured today (depending on when you are reading this), what would you write? Now, what if I told you that with the snap-of-a-finger, all those problems could be gone. What would happen to your list? Do you think it would stay empty, or would you find a new set of problems, challenges, or changes?

I would venture to say that for everyone that list would fill back up fairly quickly. Life is really good at giving us problems, challenges, and changes to confront daily and sometime hourly. They are always there, no matter what you do; no matter how smart you are; no matter how positive you are; problems will always exist. What the most successful people I have encountered do, during times of challenge that sets them apart, is retaining a positive attitude about the challenge, regardless of the circumstances. They realize their reaction to the change at hand is what makes the difference. Things change, of course they do, but how we react to that change and how we attack problems is our choice. As educators, we are part of a profession of change; and it changes- a lot. Ultimately, our job is to make a change in our students. It is our responsibility to be the change. So, change is unavoidable, and more pointedly the mission, in the profession we chose. In this, the attitude we have each day is the most important thing we bring to our profession. As educators, our attitude can be buried in comfort, support, trust, inadequacies, and a variety of other deeply personal things. While our attitude is extremely personal, it is never a secret. Regardless of the reasons behind our attitude, we wear it on our sleeves. Our students, our colleagues, our loved ones, can all tell us how positive or negative our attitude is on a minute by minute basis. But we always need to remember, our attitude is always our choice; it is always in our control.

No matter how hard we try, life is always going to throw things at us we are not expecting and are often not prepared to handle. Life is really good at forcing us to face change. So, maybe we think that the best plan is just to avoid challenges. Avoidance, though, will present its own set of problems. The problems avoidance creates will likely not be any better than the ones you might encounter while moving forward. And, ignoring the challenges keeps us stuck in the same situation that caused the problems in the first place. Avoidance really only doubles the issues.

There are problems in front of us that take a great deal of time to change. Problems where we will need to settle in to play the long-game. This is why a simple system is paramount in managing complex situations. A simple system will keep us focused on the behaviors that will move us forward and impact the most change for those we lead. As a leader, you may get tired of saying the same thing over and over again, but it is vital to stay consistent with the message. You will find that if you are saying the same thing over and over, then your focus continues to be one a singular issue within your school, bringing yourself back to the core everytime. If you are constantly saying different things, jumping from bandwagon to bandwagon, always looking for a quick fix to problems, how are the people you lead suppose to know where to focus? If you cannot focus, no one you lead will be able to focus either. That lack of focus leads to frustration and chaos as no one is on the same page with where you are going, or what you are trying to accomplish. People will be stuck in the perilous cycle of always looking for what is next and never focusing on what is best. What was important yesterday, is not important today; what was important last month, is not important this month; what was important last year, is not important this year. You get the point – keep it simple, keep it consistent.

We can wish the problems away and replace them with new problems, or we can meet these issues head on and get to work on finding a solution. The key is in having a system to drive our behavior when working towards a solution. Problems worth solving are going to take time. Time is the enemy, because it is hard to stay focused for days, months, or ever years. L.E.S.S. is the system that can be used in the midst of these problems, challenges, or changes. No matter the issue, bring it back to these simple ideas. Love people, equip them for success, stand alongside people in service, and never forget to take care of yourself. Simple does not make it easy. As we continue to go forward with these posts, I hope I can continue to break down how L.E.S.S. can be a system to make the complex, less complex, and the challenges, less challenging.

When you are stuck in a challenge remember to lead with L.E.S.S.

Until next time…keep learning; keep growing; keep sharing!

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