Timeout for Leadership-your one-minute leadership idea

The Principal Coaching Clinic #22

Are you boring your people to death?

Did you ever notice that the air just got sucked out of the room?  Sure, you noticed it.  More importantly, you caused it.  I am convinced that principals and other leaders are capable of draining the energy from any room because for the most part, we talk too much.  We love to hear ourselves.  I have always joked that if you put ten principals in a room and have only one microphone, you would see one heck of a fight.  For much of my career, I lived it.  I had too many meetings just for the sake of having a meeting.

Let’s first start asking ourselves, is the meeting really necessary?    If you answered this questioned honestly, I am sure you will agree that you probably could have transmitted the information in another way.  However, there are distinct times that you need everyone in the room together.  You will know these crucial times as they arise.  However, by eliminating some needless meetings, you automatically increase the ownership of the intended audience.  Those that were supposed to be at the meeting will now have to read the information in some other way, be it a hard copy or an electronic message.  The participant is now responsible.    This responsibility is something most will clamor for but when given it, many will blow it by simply not reading the material.  Then they will surely look to blame other people.

I also feel strongly that when you do have a meeting, each participant has a responsibility to contribute.  Each person must be an active participant. To get something out of a meeting, you must put something in to it.

I have a very simple two step framework that I ask each person to follow.  Each meeting must have a start and stop time and each meeting must have an agenda.  It is the leader’s job to get that agenda to everyone before the meeting.  This allows time for adequate participant preparation.

I recall times I was running out of my office door to the meeting with the agenda ink on the pages barely dry.  I wasn’t prepared.  I did not practice my facilitation for the meeting.  When you lead a meeting like this it destroys all of your credibility.  If you ran a meeting like this, who could blame your staff from looking for escape routes. Never underestimate the importance of how you spend another person’s time!

Whenever meetings are held, especially ones where the participants are vested and passionate, conflict can be expected. How will you deal with this conflict? It is important that dissent happens and is aired, but it can never denigrate into personal attacks that are disrespectful and damaging. Allowing this to take place will destroy the meeting and the hopes of ever reaching a decision. It also could damage future relationships.

When you are leading the meeting, lead! It is easy for someone to hijack the meeting. Some may be vocal and overt in this process, but others can be sly and manipulative and can destroy a meeting covertly. By preplanning, you should know the agenda and the purpose of each agenda item thoroughly. Do not allow your leadership to be undermined. Remember, it is your meeting. Yes, discussion, dissent, and hearing from everyone is important, but you can never lose control.

It is critically important that as a leader, you keep your emotions in check. I wish that I could have always practiced what I preach. When I lost my patience or became emotional, I ended up sabotaging my own meeting. Some on your team might be experts at pressing the right button for you to lose your patience. Be smarter than your participants. Do not let them push your personal hot button.

I have always been disappointed when I watched people enter the room with their body language communicating a negative demeanor. It is written all over their faces that they do not want to be there. This negativity drains the energy from the room before the meeting begins. Just think of the impression one’s negative attitude has on the facilitator when he or she is looking at pouting and disengaged faces. Each participant must choose his or her own personal attitude of engagement and excitement for the meeting.

Arriving for the meeting promptly is critical. Nothing is more annoying for the facilitator or the entire group than when participants trickle in. This especially goes for the leader. Do not keep people waiting. This is both rude and disrespectful.

I used to be able to regularly predict those who would be late. When you are attending a meeting, take careful note of traffic patterns to the meeting location. Always be prepared for those parking lot meetings that are apt to happen. A real irritant for me would be for a person to walk in late, carrying a designer cup of coffee. This communicated to me that the person could stop for a coffee, yet could not be on time for the meeting. When I addressed this, the tardy participant wondered why it was such a big deal. This attitude was disappointing at best, and it just fueled a negative culture.

Please keep your cell phones tucked away. Nothing is worse than looking out at the group and seeing everyone reading their e-mail or texting. Take care of impending questions from your home base before you attend the meeting. I am also aware that people would text each other in the meeting—yes criticizing me and my meeting, while I was leading the meeting.

People get tired of the meeting bully. These bullies tend to hijack every meeting and are strategic passive-aggressive manipulators. There are only so many ways one can say no. I also knew a person who felt that if he yelled the loudest, he would win his point of contention. It was immature, but for him it proved effective because he was allowed to bully and many times get his way.

Side conversations are also quite annoying and distracting. Save your comments to your colleague until a break or after the meeting.

Just remember, your leadership skills will be judged along every step of the way. A meeting can very easily make or break you.  Get your head out of the sand! 


Timeout for Leadership-your one-minute leadership idea

The Principal Coaching Clinic #21

Are your shades at one level?

This is my annual message about the shades in your building.  You must think about the little things.  My “shades at one level” theory applies to just about all of the little things that are many times overlooked by the principal or leader in your organization. 

My “shades theory” is an outgrowth of the broken windows theory of public policing that was popular in the 1980’s.  The broken windows theory was based upon the belief that at the first visible sign of any anti-social behavior if left unaddressed will encourage more similar types of behavior.  In other words, if the window is broken, fix it. There has been considerable debate about the success of this theory as it applies to society in general.  However, I am convinced that my “shades theory” works in the school.

My “shades theory” is quite simple.  At the close of school, every shade must be placed at the same level so when someone rides by and looks at the school one sees neatness and precision.  When someone looks at this, they will see an organized and safe environment.  In an era when we must market our school in competition with charters, magnets and parochial schools, this small technique is important.  It sends the same message to the parents and the community of your present students.  This communicates that the school is clean and ready for the students and the teachers.  We are ready to teach and learn here!

Let’s take a look at some other quality of life issues.  Namely:

  • Any graffiti must immediately removed.  Photograph it and get rid of it.
  • Your student restrooms must be clean and functional.
    • Soap is always available
    • Stalls are working, private and functional.
    • Paper towels are available to dry hands.
    • Hot water is available.
    • Toilet paper is always available.
  • How often do you visit your student restrooms?  How about your staff?  Random adult visibility is critical.  Do you encourage your staff to walk into the student restrooms? 
  • Do your custodians “run the halls?”  That is, do they have a regular schedule where the halls are swept?   As part of this regular procedure do, they check the restrooms?
  • Do you and the other adults bend over to pick up a piece of paper or do walk right over it?  Think about what message you want to send.   What do you want to model?
  • Is cold, clean drinking water available?  Are all of your drinking fountains clean and operable?
  • Do students have adequate time to eat?  Is food quality acceptable? 
  • Are lockers operable?  Are they secure?
  • Is student entry and exit safe and sensible?
  • Look at the outside perimeter of your building. 
    • Are weeds growing around the foundation?  (I have seen some as big as small trees)
    • Is the grass cut?  (all year)
    • Are shrubs and bushes well maintained?  (all year)
    • Are outdoor teaching areas safe for instruction and play?
  • Are parking lots safe and well maintained?  Do outdoor lights work?  Do you have your lot regularly swept to remove any debris or broken glass?

I could probably go on and on.  You must personalize this list and make it your own.  I guarantee people will notice. 

I strongly believe that if you take care of the little things, the big things like teaching and learning will start to improve.  Cleaning up the space is the first step to improving the culture and the climate of your school or organization.  And we know by now, especially if you read this blog, that, IT IS ALL ABOUT THE CULTURE AND CLIMATE.



Timeout for Leadership-your one-minute leadership idea

The Principal Coaching Clinic #20

Is your personal lens focused?

Perhaps the better question might be, how is your personal lens focused?  What do you really see and how do you process it?  This is not a lesson in anatomy and physiology.  I want you to instead take a look at your frame of reference when you see something.  How does your world of work look to you? 

What do you see when you turn to the back of the magazine and see that cartoon of the old witch and beautiful woman?  You may have to move the magazine at a specific angle to see both pictures or move the pages closer or farther away from your eyes to process both images. 

What do you really want to see?  What are your preconceived notions about what you may be viewing?  Although I think we have gotten a great deal better with classroom observations, I know our pre-visit ideas about the teacher will help focus what we are about to see. Letting these notions drive us is quite unhealthy and unfair.  As I watched the Democratic debates over the last few evenings, I know I had my own set of preconceived notions that I know will help focus my lens and form my opinions.  These preconceived notions taint the reality of what we see.  I did not want to see the warts on my preferred candidate and I know that I went into many observations not wanting to see the warts on my favorite teachers.  This is juxtaposed to my reticence to acknowledge good teaching from someone I did not expect it from.   I experienced the same feelings during the debates when I did not want to credit someone I did not feel good about.  My personal lens was not focused.

You see, I am convinced that our focus, or how we look through the lens drives us and at most times this is not productive. Do you shortchange your teachers (or other employees) because of your preconceived ideas about them?  Your perspective when you view something is critical.  Your point of view will help paint that picture.

Do you want your team members to succeed or fail?  Please do not give lip service to this.  I know there are probably people that you cannot stand to see as succeeding.  And when that drives you, it is clearly a flaw in your behavior.

Yes, this has a great deal to do with the “glass as half full or empty” concept.   Can you force yourself to be neutral?  Can you force yourself not to let preconceived ideas about someone or something drive you?  This is extremely hard to do, but a good principal, a good leader can call it like he or she sees them.  You have to be that home plate umpire who calls a strike a strike regardless of who is pitching or batting.

Your mindset cannot be similar to Winnie the Pooh’s lovable friend Eeyore who only sees everything from a perspective of doom and gloom.  Eeyore goes through life wanting to see everything as sad and depressing.  It is essential that you not be your school’s or your organization’s Eeyore.  And these words of advice are coming from a crusty curmudgeon.  Every day you must work at it.  Take my word for it.   And to paraphrase the Farmers Insurance Group, “I know a thing or two because I have seen a thing or two.”

****Note Well—I write both this blog and my books from a perspective of my experience.  Many times, pointing out what not to do because of how I may have handled something during my career.  A trusted advisor told me I usually sound too negative and this person knows a great deal of positive accomplishments occurred during my watch.  I like to think this is true but I choose to try to make my writing lessons about learning from my missteps.  Time has allowed me to reflect and become that undefeated Monday morning quarterback.  If only it was that easy.