Timeout for Leadership-your one-minute leadership idea

The Principal Coaching Clinic #27

What do you sacrifice for expediency?

Answer:  A lot!

Yes, expediency is one of the many poisons of excellence.  (Other poisons include, but are not limited to: complacency, laziness, and apathy.)  If you choose the expedient way, you will likely lose.

Probably the biggest thing that I sacrificed for expediency was honesty.  I would tend to tell people the things they wanted to hear rather than take on the difficult and yes honest conversation. 

I would tell myself, or rather delude myself, into thinking that this was no big deal because I had so many other things to do. I needed speed to make it through my “to-do list.”  I would further tell myself that there was probably nothing that was really going to be gained by having this difficult conversation.  For example, I would rationalize that committing probably three hours for honest feedback would never change the behavior that needed to be changed. I found this especially true when dealing with the tenured teacher.  Needless to say, I was wrong. 

When a principal or a leader in any organization behaves in this manner, he or she is not doing his or her job.  Taking the time to effectively provide honest feedback, is not only your job, it might be the foundational bedrock of your job.  To build a culture of trust and honesty, it is essential that you take the time to do your job correctly.

Did I behave this way because I just wanted to be liked?  Although I do not think that this was my motivating factor, I think that for many leaders this is what drives them.  He or she wants to be one of the “gang.”  You know the gang that sits around and denigrates everyone and everything.  The complainers.  The gossipers. The blamers.  This behavior does nothing to build an atmosphere of trust.  It only encourages more of your team to join the “dark side.”  I have spoken about the “dark-side” in the past.  It is that place in your school or in the minds of your team where nothing is right, especially you.

There were also times when I would be the problem solver for every individual.  I did not take the time to nurture or encourage staff to learn to solve problems by themselves.  Why?  Because it was just easier and quicker to tell that person what to do.  Part of your job as the principal of your school is to build a problem-solving capacity within each of your staff.  If you are always there to problem solve for everyone, you will never grow leaders and then you can go complain to some other principal about the lack of leadership skills among your staff.  Remember that you created this environment, so quit your complaining.

I also sacrificed in the name of expediency my ability to show gratitude to my staff.  This was never a strength of mine and I think part of my reason for this, I was too busy to take notice.  This is no way to build a positive culture.  If the leader fails to show appreciation and gratitude, your staff will seek to find this elsewhere.  I know that for those that exist on the “dark-side,” they will be happy to provide all of the emotional support or gratitude that your team needs. 

Slow down, you are moving too fast.  Do one thing at a time and do it right.  Being a principal is a marathon, not a sprint.  Never let honesty and candor escape because you do not want to be bothered.  Make the time to do things right.  It will pay huge dividends in the future, that I guarantee.


Timeout for Leadership-your one-minute leadership idea

The Principal Coaching Clinic #26

Where does “your buck” stop?

On his desk President Harry Truman had a wooden sign which said “The Buck Stops Here.”  I am sure we have all heard about it.  My question for you today is where does your buck stop? (It may be somewhat of an awkward question, but I think you understand it.)

Any good leader knows that the buck should always stop at his or her desk. The leader is in charge and must make the ultimate decision.  In one of his final speeches while he was still in office Truman said “no one else can do the deciding for you.”  When you are at the top, you are not allowed to play pass the buck.  I am sure you have seen this game played first hand.  It is when everyone passes the responsibility for a failure or a bad decision on to the next person.  It is almost like musical chairs.  Someone will get stuck holding the bag when the music stops. Another good lesson to learn is to never leave a meeting when a big issue is at hand or when finances are discussed.  I have seen people get his or her budget cut while he or she was in the bathroom. As a leader and as an organization, that is no way to operate. 

Everyone needs to take one on the chin every now and then.  Every leader needs to willingly take one for the team.  The good coach after a loss takes full responsibility for it.  He or she does not blame one of his or her assistants.  He or she does not blame the players.  The good coach accepts full responsibility.  He or she will say at the press conference that he or she has to coach better, or that he or she has to manage the game decisions better, or for that matter he or she has to prepare better.  That good leader does not point fingers.

There will also be times when one of your assistants will make a mistake.  In football, he may call the wrong defense at the wrong time.  He may commit to rushing the passer and leave the secondary vulnerable to a long pass.  And when it happens the head coach does not stand at the podium and question that defensive coordinator’s judgement or call.

The questions, the discussion and the arguments should take place behind closed doors .  You should extrapolate my football discussion to any organization.  In a school, the buck stops with the principal.  In a school district, the buck stops with the superintendent.  Where does the buck stop in your organization?  If you are in charge you cannot blame one of your subordinates.  You can correct everything in private, but when you are in public own the responsibility.

Your staff must also be well aware that you cannot, nor will not, keep taking that punch to the jaw for them.  You must coach them up and make them better.

Dwight Eisenhower had his speech prepared taking full responsibility for any failure of D-Day if that was to have occurred.

When the team wins, you share the credit and take none of it for yourself.  When the team loses, stand tall and take the responsibility for the loss.  That is the way true winners conduct themselves.  Are you that winner?


Timeout for Leadership-your one-minute leadership idea

The Principal Coaching Clinic #25

Your new teachers and new staff have started their jobs.  Now what?

Your school year has started and your students have been in school now for at least several weeks.  You had a pretty good start.  Of course, there were some busing issues and new students arrived that you were not prepared for.  You and your team handled it.  Your new staff is here and they have started.   You can now relax with your new staff.  WRONG!  Take my word for this. It took me many years to figure out the importance of on-boarding your new people.  Your job with these important team members is really just beginning.

Ensure that all new people have been through orientation.  Probably over the course of several days, during the summer, your staff was bombarded with information from the Business Office, Technology Center, Health Benefits Office and their direct supervisor.  Did any late hires miss this?  And I can almost guarantee that each person when asked, told you that “they got it.”  They smiled and shook their heads in affirmation.  But if you think that this is true you are kidding yourself. 

Now is the time that you must shift gears and really bring them on board.  Make them truly part of your team.  Help make them a high functioning member of your team.  This process must be ongoing and may truly take several years to do it right.  What is your on-boarding plan?  Do you even have one?   If you do not, it is not too late to get going.  Listed below are several items that I would like you to consider.  Namely:

  • Does each person have a true mentor?  This must be someone that can really help them.  Help them solve the little problems that will arise on a daily basis.  This person must be someone that they can laugh with and unfortunately cry with.  These mentors must be trained by you and must be able to deliver the “team’s” message.  Never assign a toxic person to mentor someone else.  You are likely to create another toxic person.
  • Sit with your new person and truly listen to them.  This cannot be a lecture by you.  Now is not the time for war stories of your glory.  Now is the time to find out what might be bothering them.  Now is the time to sit with him or her to review each form and important piece of paper and actually help him or her figure it out.  Help each person manage the paperwork.  In all likelihood the paperwork has been managing them.  You have to slow down the process.  When a college athlete moves to the professional ranks one of the biggest obstacles for them is the speed of the game.  Things happen much quicker at this level.  Your new teacher will need time so that everything has a chance to slow down for them.  They will eventually get it but it takes some time.  Support them in this process.  Be patient.
  • Please make sure that each person has the tools needed to do his or her job.  I personally know of a situation currently where a teacher still does not have a computer or a printer needed to do his or her job.  Likewise, his or her e mail may not be working and passwords are a mess.  Yet you as the principal expects this person to function on a high level.  You are kidding yourself and I bet this staff member is seriously looking for a new job.  Shame on you.  Solve this at once.
  • Take some time to review the person’s job description.  Are you sure that he or she knows what is expected?  It is essential that you are clear and tell people what you want.  It is hard enough starting a new job.  You cannot ask them to be a mind reader in addition to all other tasks.
  • Now is a good time to monitor the new person’s social interactions.  Although everyone must find out for themselves, you know the toxic places and of course the toxic people.  You must be able to effectively steer your new hires away from these people and these places.  You know the complaining and whining posts in your building.  If you see that person heading toward these people and places, you must really coach them up because if not you will lose them.
  • It is now time to talk about the culture of your school and how this new person fits in. Take time to clarify values and talk about them.  What’s important to you?  What is important to your school?

I could go on and on talking about the on-boarding process.  Don’t blow it.  How a person enters into your school’s or organization’s culture will go a long way in determining the success of this new hire.  You must figure out a way to do this right.  Juggle your priorities.  This is important and must move up on your list.  It ultimately is up to you.  Be like Nike and JUST DO IT!