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





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.





The Art of the Meeting, Part II

Last week I examined the work of the leader or the facilitator of a meeting.  I took a look at some of the responsibilities of the leader such as preparing for the meeting, leading a meeting, and following-up after a meeting.  The article must have resonated with some people, and they provided me some well appreciated and valuable feedback.  In today’s article, I will take a look at the responsibilities of the participants of the meeting.

Yes, you as the participant of the meeting have certain responsibilities just as important as the leader of the meeting.

It is essential that you come to the meeting mentally prepared for engagement and work.  Although you may dread the thought of another meeting, attending this meeting with a negative mindset will not be productive. You have been asked to attend this meeting or are required to attend because what is being discussed is relevant to your work assignment.  You also may have critical information to share that impacts the outcome of some of the agenda items.  Perhaps you have been asked to attend because the leader values your opinions and insights.  I ask you to possess a belief that you are an important cog in the operation of the organization and attend the meeting with the enthusiasm and the zeal that accompanies this status.

I have 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 your negative attitude has on the facilitator when he /she is looking at pouting and disengaged faces. Each participant must choose his/her own personal attitude of engagement and excitement for the meeting.  Although this may sound “corny”, the meetings will be better for all when everyone embraces an enthusiastic attitude.

Arriving for the meeting promptly is critical.  Nothing is more annoying for the facilitator or the entire group when participants trickle in.  This communicates volumes about how one feels about attending the meeting. I used to be able to regularly predict those that would be late.  When you are attending a meeting, take careful note of traffic patterns to the meeting location and 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 Dunkin Donuts cup of coffee.  This communicated to me that one could stop for a coffee and 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.  I always admired Bill Coughlin, former head football coach of the NY Giants because the players knew that “Coughlin time” was always set at least five minutes ahead of the normal time.  When I was coaching, I always had the bus departure set for an odd hour.  For example, the bus would leave at 12:13 PM. It only took one or two players being left behind to set the tone that being punctual is important and the program will move forward without you, win or lose.   Nobody is personally bigger than the program.

Prior to the meeting, take a moment to prepare for the agenda if one was pre-distributed.  If it is a standing agenda know what you will contribute when your time for input comes.  If you were asked to read something, read it.  It is easy to see when one is “winging it”.

Plan to contribute and participate.  Nothing is worse for the leader than when input is asked for and nothing is shared.  The silence is deafening.  The meeting stops.  Any possible momentum that was generated is quickly lost.  I recall several times when I lost my patience because the group covertly failed to participate.  There was a feeling generated that the less they contributed, would result in the meeting ending quicker.  For those that chose to contribute, I could see and sense the scornful looks pointed in that person’s direction.  I can only guess what was said behind that person’s back.  I am thankful that person did not care what was said.  The meeting was important to him/her and it showed.

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.  Place your phones on vibrate, and if needed, you can be reached.  If you have a secretary, let them know that you do not want to be disturbed at this time, and let them know your place of meeting and how to reach you in an emergency.  Take care of impending questions from your home base before attending the meeting.  For example, a meeting should not have to be interrupted to ask you if the students were to go outside during recess.  This decision should have been made ahead of time. I am also aware of people texting each other in the meeting while I was leading.

As a participant, it is important that we treat each other with respect and know how to disagree without being disagreeable.  We cannot let a meeting become a free for all.  It is also important that we avoid interrupting each other.  It is essential that we do not personally dominate the meeting.  People do get tired of the “meeting bully”.

Side conversations are also quite annoying and distracting.  Save your comments to your colleague until a break or after the meeting.  If several side conversations are going on at one time, the important message will surely be lost.  I readily recall telling students to use the SLANT method (developed in the Kipp Schools) when in a class.  The same can be applied to meeting participants.  Let us take a look at SLANT:

  • S-Sit up
  • L-Listen
  • A-Ask and answer questions
  • N-Nod your head
  • T-Track speaker.

You cannot go wrong applying the SLANT philosophy in a meeting.

I argue that the culture of a school or organization is everyone’s responsibility.  Likewise, I will argue that a successful meeting is also everyone’s responsibility.  If you dread a meeting, ask yourself about how you contribute to this dread?  If when you leave a meeting your critique of the meeting is abysmal, what was your role in making it abysmal?  If you assert that the meeting was a waste of time, how did you contribute to this waste of time?  If you answer these questions honestly and reflect as to how you can more positively contribute to these meetings, I remain convinced that your meetings will be more productive, and when you leave, you will leave with a better sense of accomplishment.  Good Luck!