Leadership /First Year of Teaching
Are you “Locked In”?
I hope you had an opportunity to look at the picture I posted this week in anticipation of this article. Take a moment to look at the lion’s eyes. I see an intensely focused animal, single minded, and completely “locked in”. This animal is focused on a single priority. In the lion’s case, it is probably survival. In your current position, are you able to “lock in”? The inability to “lock in” is a problem that plagues school leadership. The way our current system is structured it is almost impossible to achieve a laser like focus on any one initiative. Ultimately, by being forced to juggle multiple priorities and by keeping all of the many balls up in the air at once, very little ends up getting accomplished.
It may be easy for one to sit back and criticize the leader that is having this management problem. You may say that he /she needs training in organizational skills. There seems to be hundreds of workshops designed to help one manage multiple priorities. Each workshop has a catchy title, and they all seem to promise magnificent results. Each and every day, school administrators come to school well organized and prepared to handle significant details of important educational issues. All of these plans go quickly into the garbage can when a student crisis develops or an angry, unmanageable parent arrives on the scene. Try to visualize walking into a school primed for action on your to do list when the first thing you hear is that you have ten classes without substitutes for the day. As you scramble to get class coverage, you learn from the policeman sitting in your office that there was a student fight in town last night that will spill into the building today that must be contained. The police, parents, and the overall community expect you to solve this problem. This occurs while you are trying to think about improving test scores. Like the lion, you will focus on what you need to do for survival, and it probably is not the test scores. By now, I think I have painted the picture for you.
You can see it in a person’s eyes when they are focused. I used to have a picture I cut out of the newspaper of two New York Jets linemen leading the way blocking for their running back. Their eyes were as big as flying saucers. They were “locked in”. I used the picture to teach students about focusing. Coaches continually implore their players to “make their eyes big” in an attempt for them to improve their intensity on a single-minded assignment. When a baseball player goes on a hitting streak, they are “locked in”. They see the ball as bigger than it really is traveling at a slower rate of speed. They are focused.
So, what can we do about this problem of lack of focus? I think the first thing that must be done is to take a serious look at the way school leadership is structured. It is impossible for the principal to perform all of the tasks required of the position. What we need to do is to structure positions and job responsibilities that take into consideration all of the peripheral tasks that invariably end up on the principal’s desk. Does the principal need to be the one that handles everything? I don’t think so. Can a building have an operations manager to handle operational tasks? Yes, it can. Can a job be designed to handle specific social issues? Of course, it can. Can a job be designed to handle parent and community issues? Certainly. Most buildings already have these tasks assigned to someone. So why doesn’t the system work?
The system does not work because leaders have a very difficult time delegating and letting go. We have to have trust in the abilities of the people that work with us. If we do not have this trust, we might as well not have them in our inner circle. It is also important that we let these people do their jobs without our interference. This is extremely hard for me because I am the ultimate micromanager. But ultimately, my micromanaging hurt productivity. Although, I thought of myself as a hands-on manager, it may have been a bit better if I took my hands off. Dwight Eisenhower only became successful in his planning and execution of Operation Overlord on D-Day because he was able to delegate effectively. Once his critical staff was in place, he let his people do their jobs.
The leader must also be able to shed him/herself of the needless extraneous garbage that clouds our work day. Everything is not important. The leader must know what is important and focus on these issues. Likewise, it is acceptable for the leader to say “no” at times. The first few times that I said no to participating in something, people were astonished. It was a very freeing experience for me.
With delegation of responsibility comes accountability. The team will also not function effectively if the members do not communicate. The leader is responsible for keeping this communication flowing between all parties. When the communication channels break down, the project stalls.
Once again, inasmuch as we all tend to like lists, let’s take a look at the following:
THE TOP SEVEN THINGS A LEADER MUST DO TO IMPROVE FOCUS.
- Structure your positions to provide no overlap in assignments. Each person must skillfully handle his/her responsibilities.
- Fill these positions with the right people. Remember that once you have found the right person, design the tasks of the position around the person’s strengths. Do not lose good people because he/she does not fit a preconceived job description.
- Allow these people to do their job. Do not micromanage them.
- Hold people accountable. If they cannot do their jobs, replace them.
- As the building leader, know what is important. Do not get entangled in meaningless tasks.
- Be able to limit your involvement in activities.
- Communicate, communicate, and communicate.
In conclusion, understand that you cannot do it all. When you try to do it all, nothing credible will get done. If it is not working for you, start by restructuring your team and get the right people in the right positions. Then let them do their jobs. Get focused! Good luck.