You have just received word that you have gotten the principal’s position that you have been pursuing.    You have apprenticed as a vice-principal for five years, and you have done all of the “heavy lifting”.  You start tomorrow.  What is the first thing that you should do?  My recommendation is that you go on a listening tour.   Find out what your team is thinking about (Harvard Business Review-Management Tip of the Day, 6/1/17).

There should be no hidden agenda when you go out on this tour. The purpose of this tour is to listen to people.  Engage them in conversation and truly hear them. Try to find out what is on each person’s mind and how he /she sees themselves as part of this school.  Try to ascertain how they see themselves as part of the pursuit of the vision and mission of the district.  Many times, the individuals in the “trenches” do not see themselves as part of the vision. If this is so, one of your first tasks becomes clear.  You must be able to get all of those involved to see themselves as part of the strategic plan and how what they do every day contributes to the attainment of this plan.

When you go out on this tour, it is important that you listen more than you talk.  You are doing this to find out about the people on your team.  There will be other times for you to do the talking.  Begin to process what you hear.  It is not essential that you respond to each idea that you hear.  Your response, if needed, may require time for you to think clearly.  Many times, I have dug myself into a hole which was difficult to climb out of because I blurted out a response.  Your credibility will take a hit if you are quick to answer and then have to go back and correct yourself.  Your team will forgive a few “do-overs”, but when they become the norm, people will stop listening to you and believing what you say.

Truly listening to people is hard work.  At times, you may feel uneasy.  It can be like the deadly silence you perceive when you are providing adequate wait time for a student to answer.  Force yourself to use good active listening skills and keep quiet.

People need to be seen, and they need to be heard. They will feel their worth when you acknowledge them (Rockwell, 2017).  I have seen administrators walk down a quiet hallway, pass a colleague, and look away without even saying hello.  What does that type of action communicate to the person that you are trying to lead?  However, your acknowledgement must be genuine and sincere.  I recall a leader that I worked with who would always say something nice about the tie I was wearing.  The first several times, I was impressed and walked away feeling good about myself.  But after a while, it became old and fake.  It became a joke behind his back.  Do not let yourself become that joke.

It is important to ask people questions and to ask the right follow up questions when given the opportunity.  Work to gain insights from the people that you lead (Naseer, 2017).  These people are out there doing the job.  Most likely they will know more than you about how to do their jobs.  This is especially true with your experienced personnel.

I am sure that you have your “First 100 Day Plan” in place.  This is a calendar of activities that you wish to accomplish in your first 100 days in your new position.  We have talked extensively about the need to listen.  The listening tour should be your first activity.  However, I wish to extend this and share some important points from an article that I recently read.  I think it nicely summarizes what I have been talking about.  Once again, a list is in order.  Dan Rockwell in his blog calls this list “Three Leadership Commitments That Cost Little and Payoff Big”.

  1. Commit to see and be seen. Look for things to praise.  Say thank you three times before lunch.
  2. Commit to listening.
    1. Look at people
    2. Nod
    3. Don’t interrupt
    4. Ask two questions before making one statement
    5. Count out six seconds when somebody stops talking before responding.
  3. Commit to celebrations. Look to praise, praise, and praise (Rockwell, 2017).

I truly believe if you follow the guidelines presented here you will be off to a good start.  What else is in your “First 100 Day Plan”?  I will get into more of that in upcoming articles.  Good luck as you begin your new journey.


Rockwell, D. (2017). How Leaders Change People by Simply Seeing Them.  Retrieved from http://www.leadershipfreak.blog/2017/06/05/how-leaders-change-people-by-simply-seeing-them/

Rockwell, D. (2017). Three Leadership Commitments That Cost Little but Payoff Big. http://www.leadershipfreak.blog/2017/06/011/three-leadership-commitments-that-cost-little-but-payoff-big

Naseer, T. (2017). How Failure Taught Me to Become a Better Listener. Feed @tanveernaseer.com



Leadership /First Year of Teaching

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:


  1. Structure your positions to provide no overlap in assignments. Each person must skillfully handle his/her responsibilities.
  2. 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.
  3. Allow these people to do their job. Do not micromanage them.
  4. Hold people accountable. If they cannot do their jobs, replace them.
  5. As the building leader, know what is important. Do not get entangled in meaningless tasks.
  6. Be able to limit your involvement in activities.
  7. 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.



Can a Leader be Open and Honest?

Wow, what a question!  I hope everyone who reads this article today takes a moment to reflect and think deeply about this topic.  I was taken aback last week when a good friend and colleague of mine told me that he does not think any school superintendent can be open and honest.  I was a bit shocked inasmuch as I was his superintendent for five years and thought of myself as nothing but honest and open. Was he talking about me?  Was I included in his broad statement?  Since our conversation last week, I have not stopped thinking about the comment and began to re-examine my crucial decisions and actions as a superintendent.

Take a minute and do a quick search of leadership traits and you will most likely find that just about every article or book lists honesty as one of the most important traits of a leader.  One can conclude that to be an effective leader you must be honest.  Linked closely with honesty is integrity and trust.  Each effective leader that I know possesses these three qualities.  These leaders have the ability to have the crucial conversation in difficult situations, even if the result of the conversation will be negative.  These leaders know that to grow these conversations are essential.  These leaders also possess a tireless work ethic and demonstrate this through the approach to the job.  Trust is also communicated in what you do, not what you say.  These are personal qualities that you either have or you do not have.  I am not convinced that they can be developed where they currently do not exist.

Does the school’s, the district’s, or the business’s environment support openness and honesty?  Once again, the importance of school culture and climate is illustrated.  It seems that almost everything that we discuss on these pages comes back to refer to climate and culture.  If people on a daily basis operate with a spirit of honesty in their daily communications and actions, I would bet that the leader is perceived as open and honest.  The actions include how we interact with one another and how we interact with the leader.  In a school, one can look at how teachers treat one another, how the principal interacts with the teachers, and how everyone interacts with the students.  Honesty breeds honesty at every level.

I know some people that continually lie.  I have come to believe that the more one repeats a specific lie the more they believe that it is true.  These people are mocked behind their back inasmuch as it becomes a given that everything that comes out of their mouth is not true.  If this is the leader, it quickly builds an environment where everyone is operating in a myriad of lies.  No one really knows the truth. How can an organization succeed like this?  These continual lies could for a quick moment make people feel good, but this exhilaration will quickly fade when the lies are uncovered.

Some people are master manipulators.  They are able to take a grain of truth and spin it in such a way that the new spin of the information becomes true.  I know that most leaders will take negative information and try to paint it in the best light. Others are gifted in the art of exaggeration.  They are always seeking to top the current story.   They always have to be the one who catches the biggest fish.  It is easy to cross the line separating truth and lies.  Be careful!

It is also quite easy to tell everyone what they want to hear.  They have this innate desire to be liked, and they will avoid anything controversial.  Everyone may walk around feeling good about themselves, but nothing gets accomplished.  Everyone likes to be liked.  If this is your need, leadership may not be for you.

One of reasons I do not feel that the wave of new teacher evaluation systems has been successful or really changed anything is that evaluators still are not being honest.  Although people have gotten better at receiving and giving feedback, most administrators still are not able to call it like they see it.  I think this occurs for two reasons.  Primarily, they do not want to create “waves” with their staff.  They cannot be honest with the teachers who they also perceive as “friends”. They will sacrifice the truth for a smooth ride.  They question whether the battle is worth it. Change is hard work.  Secondly, these same evaluators do not possess the skill set or confidence to constructively enter this conversation.

Lying is also a slippery slope.  Once one lies, more lies most be told to cover the first lie.  I have seen this snowball on people and become very destructive, not only to the individuals but to the organization.

Finally, it is imperative that an honest leader take full responsibility for his/her mistakes.  They must own the situation, even in failure. I have seen many leaders fail to do this. They will most often blame the people that work with them or somehow the culture or environment.  They blame anyone or anything but themselves.   This type of leader is clearly not a winner.  I have always encouraged young administrators, when a mistake is made, to own it, tell me about it, come to me with a plan to correct it, and create a plan to not let it happen again.  I never wanted anyone to be afraid to tell me about a mistake, yet I wanted them to come prepared to correct it.  Each of us must grow from a loss.

It seems so easy to tell the truth. Yet for many people, it is almost impossible. Being honest can be difficult.  Those in leadership positions will verify this.  Read the newspapers.  Celebrities, politicians, and other public figures make headlines daily because of the lies they tell.  Although some may disagree, for leaders, being open and honest is not only the best policy it is the only policy.