What’s On Your List?

In this ever-changing society, the most powerful and enduring brands are built from the heart. They are real and sustainable. Their foundations are stronger because they are built with the strength of the human spirit, not an ad campaign. The companies that are lasting are those that are authentic.
Howard Schultz

Last post I discussed how simplicity is vital to our success. Simple solutions provide focus to drive decisions. We are living in an ever-changing world and we often feel we must keep up to survive. There is an intersection in our schools between “what’s next” and “what’s best” and that is the place in which we must live. We need to have laser focus on what we know is best, but we must always keep some portion of our vision on how the next idea can be used to tweek or improve our current status. The core of our ideologies should never change. What we believe in (for our schools) must be consistent and repeated over a long period of time. Along with simplicity there must be clarity. In fact, there cannot be simplicity in decision making unless there is a great deal of clarity in our beliefs.

So, what is on your list of what’s best for your classroom or your school? Then, how does that intersect with what needs to happen to build continuous improvement in our personal and professional lives? As a leader, this means you must stay focused on what is most important. I would argue that it needs to be a written list, a mission statement, or a set of core values. If you want to depict your focus for success, a written outline is crucial. After, you must continue to examine that list in your current reality to see if it is working. This is not an easy task. It requires you to be in constant tension with reality. You must challenge your beliefs everyday to see if they hold up to the test of time. The hardest part as a leader is not just that your current reality pushes back on your beliefs, but people do too.

What do you do when people push back? Do we give in; do we adjust; or, do we stand strong in our beliefs for what is best? The challenge, we will find, lies in dealing with the people who push back. It seems that negative people are often tougher than us. It is much easier to stay comfortable, rather than move forward. Those that are comfortable can every easily stay entrenched in their way of doing things because change it hard. The negative folks in our world are usually willing to stay at it longer, not listen to perspective, and ultimately wear us down. We give in, because we find ourselves putting energy into a seemingly unwinnable fight, and they win; not because they are right, but because we give up. When they win, we all stay stagnant and therefore, our kids lose. It is difficult to stand strong, and this is why it is imperative to know your list. We must know what we are not willing to compromise. This is the only way we will outlast the push back from those who do not want to change. We must lead, not just manage, the schools and students we serve.

When we lead, we are constantly being evaluated by others and scrutinized from the armchair  quarterbacks. When things are going well, it is because that is the way they should be and praise can be ephemeral if it happens at all. If things are not going well, leaders and their decisions can be relentlessly analyzed and criticized. This can cause many highs and lows, some are self-inflicted while others are legitimate points of contention and struggle. What we have to remember is that our identity is not found in how we perform or what we achieve, it is found in what we do for others, it is found in who we are as a person, it is found in what we value. Too often we put our concern on the wrong people. We often get push back from adults who don’t want to change and keep the status quo, and then we have to worry about their commentary of each situation when speaking to others. We forget that the worry should actually be placed in the direction of the students we serve and how our daily decisions impact them. We must always try to take care of the adults needs, but our worry needs to be in the overall  growth of the students.

Leaders understand this, managers try to control it. I want you to take a moment to think about the difference between a leader and a manager. There are many lists you can find that compare leaders and managers; this is my version:

ask what and why
challenge the status quo
see risk as an opportunity
ask, ‘why not’
are flexible
see the big picture
work interdependently with staff
do the right thing
ask how and when
conform to the status quos
ee risk as something to avoid
say, we are safe, why change
are rigid
live in the day to day
work in isolation
do the ‘things’ right

Leaders take responsibility as they push forward and realize that much of the control is given to others, while managers try to control it all because that is safe. Building Level Leaders give staff autonomy to make decisions. The same can be said for those teachers who truly lead their classrooms and give the control of the learning to the students even though they ultimately hold the responsibility for getting it done. In this same vein, a leader takes responsibility for things that they do not control, while a manager takes responsibility mostly (or only) for themselves. As a leader you take responsibility for yourself and all other things in your world as well.

To be a leader, it is paramount that you know who you are and what is on your list of leadership. One of the most important things you do as a leader is deciding who you want to be and what you want to do. When you come face to face with a difficult situation, it is too late in that moment to decide what you believe as a leader. You must already know what culture you are trying to create; what values you hold at the core of your school; what must happen above all else? While this list is vital, also remember as a leader in L.E.S.S. you hold a great responsibility in never allowing how people perform, or what they achieve, to overshadow the value you put into who they are.

As we move forward, I will begin to break down the key parts of L.E.S.S. We will examine the items that are on my list as I work to Love, Equip, Serve, and never forget about Self. I hope you continue to read and enjoy the journey to L.E.S.S.

But, before you go and join this journey, please make sure you know what is on your list for those you lead.

Keep learning; keep growing; keep sharing!

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