Timeout for Leadership-your one-minute leadership idea

Op-ed #28

Are you an emotional babysitter?

Fact:  Yup, it is part of the job.

Unfortunately, there will be times that you will think that emotional babysitting is your only job. This element of your job can seem overwhelming.  In my second book, EduKate Me II -A Survival Guide for the First Year Principal: Unspoken Commandments of School Leadership (Available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble), I devote a full chapter to this topic.  As a former school principal and superintendent, because of this babysitting need, I thought that I was not an educator.  I thought and felt like a psychiatrist.  I was forced to spend hours dealing with the psychological issues of my staff.  I was constantly putting salve on their emotional wounds.  I wound “bandage” them up to the best of my ability to ready them to face another day.  Was this the job?  And was it for me?

I would also wrestle with the concept of whether I was an instructional leader or an operations manager.  I had a vision of myself as this big-time instructional leader and yet I felt consumed with operational items.  I was caught in some sort of mental conundrum.

However, with time and experience I became better at managing both the emotional needs of my staff and my personal angst with dealing with what seemed to be endless operational issues.  To be a successful school principal or superintendent you have to do or be anything that the situation demands.  Yes, you might have to be that psychiatrist.  Yes, you might have to be that plumber to fix the toilet, and yes you may have to be that bus route manager.  It is all part of the job.  Until you get the culture and climate right, instructional issues will stay unresolved.  Teaching and learning will never take place in an environment of emotional distress or operational crisis.   Go fix the toilet first before worrying about the X’s and O’s!

Kim Scott, in her book Radical Candor, Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity addressees this concept.  I am finding this book a dynamic read.  Your job is to build a great school or a great company.  It is all part of your job and Scott calls this management.  For you are the boss and this work must get done.

Scott goes on to describe why people do not like using the term of “boss.”  He contends that this term infers some sort of injustice.  The term manager, to him, indicates bureaucracy.  We all like to consider ourselves leaders.  Scott claims that all leaders do is “bullshit” you and do very little.  The term leader, flatters you.

There is nothing wrong with thinking of yourself as the boss.  For that is what you are.  Now go out and be the best boss that you can be.


Timeout for Leadership-your one-minute leadership idea

Op-ed #27

What is your key?

Fact:  Accountability

Back in my coaching days I would shout to my team, “what’s the key?” and they would respond in unison, “intensity.”  Yes, I wanted my team to think in terms of intensity, but perhaps more importantly, this became a bit of a rallying cry for us, especially when we were down.  I was trying to build a culture of intense players.

Today, as a principal or superintendent, standing before a group of teachers, if I was to ask “what’s my key?” I would like the group to respond in unison “accountability.”  We can all laugh out loud now.  Yes, I know that it would never happen.  Maybe I am being ridiculous. But what is so frightening about accountability?   Yet, be that as it may, I think for many people accountability is a dirty word.

I recently read an article which spoke about how asking teachers to be accountable is probably one of the worst things one can do when trying to build a culture in a school.  The authors argued that it will encourage a “gotcha” mentality and asking people to be accountable would be deleterious to the culture of the organization.  I could not disagree more.  There is nothing wrong with being held accountable, or asking for accountability.  A good worker should embrace it.

In these difficult times of the COVID pandemic, I have personally seen people run and hide from their job responsibilities.  It seemed as though their goal was to do as little as possible and yet be paid their full salary.  Is asking someone to do a legitimate day’s work for a legitimate day’s pay that far out of line? Once again, I do not believe it is out of line. Schools should expect accountability.  Taxpayers should expect that teachers, principals, and all school employees, be held accountable.  And yet overall, this does not happen.

I think it all starts with a person holding themselves accountable.  This aspect of a good work ethic must start very early in one’s career.  We have had the discussion about work ethic and the question of whether or not it is in one’s DNA previously on these pages.  I do not think that possessing a good work ethic is somehow etched in your DNA. I do believe that possessing a good work ethic is a result of how we were nurtured.  This nurturing process begins very early in life. 

However, parents and employers have stopped holding people accountable because many times the leader decides that it is just not worth the effort.  It is not worth the fight.  Parents and leaders are too tired to embrace this battle. The leader would rather accept subpar work or re-do it him or herself.  I have sat in meetings across the desk from an employee and the union delegate where I have tried to hold that employee accountable and I was thinking to myself, why did I put myself in this position? Is it worth it?  I was only asking a person to just do their job!  And when this happens the pervasive lack of accountability just keeps rolling along.

The next think that I think has to happen is that we have to step up to the plate and hold each other accountable.  There is a way to model the right way and encourage your neighbor to do the same.  But perhaps, on the job, we are just too concerned about making friends rather than doing the right thing.  We do not want to ruffle anyone’s feathers.

So, as we close today’s article, I want everyone to consider the concept of accountability and to start with self-accountability.  And when you do this, quit lying to yourself.  Answer the question honestly.  Do you hold yourself accountable for your actions and the quality of the work that you do?  I remain convinced that we will never move forward until we get this self-accountability thing down.

To all of my school principal friends out there, as you prepare to onboard your new teachers, figure out a way to prioritize accountability.  Make accountability your key and maybe when you ask your new teachers, just like I asked my players about their key, you will hear the response that you are looking for. ACCOUNTABILITY.


Timeout for Leadership-your one-minute leadership idea

Op-ed #26

How strong is your wall?


 Your wall is stronger than you think.

I am sure that you are as troubled by the events of the past several weeks as I am.  It has caused me to reflect and think deeply about who we are as a society.

I was appalled and outraged by what I saw on television.  My outrage transcended the act of murdering George Floyd but outrage of those that stood by watching or looking away.

Hate is in one’s heart and I hope that over time we will be able to extinguish that flame of hate that burns in the hearts of people.  That change will take time. 

I am also outraged by the wall of silence that exists all around us.  I am convinced that wall is in every workplace.  How can we break through this wall of silence?  As we watched George Floyd take his last breath, we were able to see the blue wall of silence in action.  We will never get better as a society until we break down these walls.

This act also brought me flashing back to the Jerry Sandusky criminality at Penn State.  We were all quick to condemn that young coach who happened to witness what was going on.  We were all quick to offer opinions of what we would have done.  I am sure that the same words were spoken watching the other officers stand idly by watching George Floyd die.  We were quick to point out what we would have done.

It is easy to sit back and say all of those things.  But the walls of silence that are built up in all of our subcultures is strong.   Yes, almost unbreakable.  One will sit and watch an act and do nothing because you don’t tell on your partner.  You don’t tell on a teammate. You don’t tell on a colleague. You never break this wall of silence no matter what. You really don’t know what you would have done until you are placed in that situation.  I only hope that I would have done the right thing. These walls exist in police departments, coaching staffs, teams and in schools.  I have seen them in these environments.  You can add to this list from your own personal experience.

When I was a principal, I saw the same behavior with some of my teachers.  Although I am not talking about what we saw with Floyd or Sandusky the transgressions are still there.  Please don’t misinterpret me.  I am not trying to conflate these acts witnessed on my job with aforementioned atrocities. 

It is time that every profession, every person must tear down their own wall of silence that exists on the job.  I will use the words of President Reagan when he said to Gorbochov to tear down that wall.  I say to you now, tear down that wall at work.

That wall that protects incompetents.  The wall that protects bad acts.  That wall that protects those that are not doing their jobs.  The wall that protects evil.  I challenge each teacher to think about an act where they turned their backs to a wrongdoing when they should have stepped forward.  You were afraid perhaps of the walls generated by your union or some other peer group pressure.  You just looked away and went about your business.  When you looked away you may have saved yourself some grief, but you cheated your students, you cheated your jobs and more importantly you cheated yourself.

I recall a situation where I had to deal with where a teacher sexually abused a student for years.  The abuse only came out decades later.  I remain convinced that people knew about it when it was happenening.  Fellow teachers and administrators knew or suspected this abuse but did nothing. They turned away. Shame on all of you.

Each person must once again reach in his or her heart and do the right thing. You need to hold each other accountable.  You need to hold yourself accountable.  And when this level of personal accountability happens real change may happen.  I only hope that I see it in my lifetime.  And I have been there before where I thought we were on the precipice of real change and have been left disappointed.  I think this time is different. Let’s make sure that it is.