3 Things no one told you about becoming a successful school leader

Photo by Kristina Flour on Unsplash

You are a 3D character to your staff, students, and community.

“A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself.”

-Joseph Campbell

I believe leaders are called to leadership.

But here is an inconvenient truth: when called to leadership many leaders are much more comfortable being the leader versus being their full self.

It is a myth commonly taught that we must separate the professional (whatever that is) from the personal aspects of our lives.

That advice is unhelpful.

To illustrate why, we need to travel back to my first job at the age of twelve.

The year was 1990 and I counted the comic book inventory at Fat Dutchie’s so Chuck, the owner, could forecast how many comics to order in future months to run a profitable business.

At Fat Dutchie’s I fell in love with reading.

My favorite Marvel character was Spider-Man. My favorite DC character was Superman.

And I was just as interested in the lives of Peter Parker and Clark Kent as I was with their heroic alter-egos.

Now, you might not be able to swing between tall buildings with your webs and you might not be faster than a speeding bullet …

But just as I was as interested in the lives of Peter Parker and Clark Kent, your community is interested in YOU!

It’s a shame too many leaders hide that from those they serve.

I’m not arguing that you become Facebook friends with all stakeholders nor am I advocating that you overshare …

My point is that you are so much more than “just a leader.” The question is, does your community know who you are other than principal?

If you are willing to accept that you are a 3D character like Spiderman or Superman to your community, then here are 3 places to start:

  1. If there were only 5 things people knew about you, what would they be?
  2. When it comes to education, who are your enemies? It’s better to have enemies that are concepts (like poverty or the status quo) instead of an actual person like the school board president!
  3. What are your personal core values?

Once these things are formally identified, communicate them often and watch your influence and impact increase!

Ignore the test scores (as much as possible). Focus on culture instead.

“A school’s culture has more influence on life and learning in the schoolhouse than the president of the country, the state department of education, the superintendent, the school board, or even the principal, teachers, and parents can ever have.”

-Roland Barth

Test scores are to schools, as revenue is to a business.

Both are important to measure, both are fun to increase, and both are NOT the most effective ways to improve their respective organizations.

Helping a profitable business make even more money isn’t really inspiring. Neither is helping a high performing school perform even better.

So what is inspiring?

Creating something MAGICAL, SPECIAL, and UNIQUE.

Wrestling with difficult questions like: What do we want our legacy to be?

And most importantly: focusing on the type of culture you are creating.

Culture is how everyone in your school behaves.

Culture is also the secret to most high performing schools. Get this right, and culture acts as the lead domino.

Building a world-class culture is the one thing you can do today that will make EVERYTHING else in your school EASIER or even UNNECESSARY.

Imagine that.

Simon Sinek said, “Customers will never love a company until the employees love it first.”

I think you could also say that “Students will never love a school until the teachers love it first.”

And if that is true, what would need to happen TODAY so that teachers LOVED coming to work at your school?

And if teachers loved the school (and the students loved it after that) …

What do you think that would do to the BIG 3 in education — Achievement, Attendance, and Discipline?

The five things you must do everyday (that they don’t teach you when earning your principal licensure).

“Our bodies are our gardens, to which our wills are gardeners.”

-William Shakespeare

And now for the most important thing you should know about successful leadership.

(Read this slowly and read it twice …)

YOU are worth it!

But often we behave in ways that do not show that we are worth it.

We cut sleep, skip meals, and put in ungodly hours.

People love sharing a meme like this online:

So why aren’t people doing more about it?

Maybe we need to reckon with the fact that we are addicted to work and/or get too much of our self-worth from work.

A 2016 study of principals in Australia found that school leaders scored below the general population in terms of well being. All positive measures (e.g. self worth) were lower and negative measures (e.g. stress) were higher.

I’m sure the same is true in other countries as well.

So if you are worth it, and your physical, emotional, relational, and spiritual health is the foundation of your performance, what would need to change in order to BE YOUR BEST?

My business coach, Ron Reich, introduced me to an idea that I have “stolen” and now use to challenge the school leaders I coach each and every week.

I call it The Ruckus Maker Mindset™ — 5 things within your control that will improve your performance.

They are (drum roll please) . . .

  1. Eating
  2. Sleeping
  3. Moving
  4. Meditating
  5. Unplugging

Each week I send out a short survey to leaders I coach. They score themselves against The Ruckus Maker Mindset™. The point of the tool is to act as a mirror.

If we know that the 5 components of the tool lead to improved performance, then are we prioritizing what needs to be prioritized.

Remember: YOU are WORTH it!

You probably are thinking, “Danny these things are common sense.”

Or, “I don’t have time to do these 5 things …”

The problem with common sense is that it is usually not common practice.

Most of the top performers I know have mastered the FUNDAMENTALS.

And if you find yourself STUCK and PLATEAUED in terms of leadership impact, then I wonder if you have mastered this “common sense.”

And when it comes to time. You have it.

There is no nice way to say it.

Any complaint about time is just an excuse.

So you have a choice:

stop complaining about time and take care of yourself

… Or …

keep doing what you are doing, getting the same results.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.”

  • Slow down.
  • Sleep 7–8 hours a night.
  • Eat healthy meals throughout the day.
  • Walk away from work and get your body moving.
  • Learn to meditate (you’ll be surprised at how this really LEVELS UP your leadership).
  • And unplug from your devices. Your mind needs downtime too!

Ready to LEVEL UP?

I’m running my BEST SCHOOL YEAR EVER, free 5-day challenge again in early 2022.

The best marathoners get faster as the race goes on.

Learn how to finish the school year strong by joining the BEST SCHOOL YEAR EVER challenge today!

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