Sometimes I wish I could have a “do over”. Remember those when we were kids? I had one of those moments earlier this month when I hosted our educational leadership and principal teams in our first collaborative learning sessions of the school year. While I am convinced that the content we were learning about is a critical part of our work if we want to move student learning forward, I made a rookie mistake. I did not do nearly as good of a job as I usually do at connecting something new to what we incessantly define as our most important work around teaching and learning. I’m still beating myself up about it a little bit because typically it is something I am very good at as a leader, and I am relentless as a coach of other school and district leaders about clarity of vision, focus, and message. With a little distance though, I have had an opportunity to reflect and remind myself of some critical leadership lessons:
1. Vision, focus and clarity are critical to success. Your actions and words need to stay in constant alignment or you will throw people off course. Marcus Buckingham author of The One Thing you Need to Know says this:
Employees crave simplicity and clarity; they want to know precisely what they can do to be most effective—and then not be distracted from that. Their highest priorities—the “core”—must be clarified incessantly. Clarity is the antidote to anxiety … if you do nothing else as a leader, be clear.
2. Be explicit about how any new ideas, concepts or learning connect to your vision, focus, and message. When introducing something new into the work, give people time to process and make connections. Don’t assume everyone else will see the same connections you did right away.
3. Value and use the organizational language, frameworks and structures to introduce new concepts. Spend time learning the concept using language that is already part of your system long before sharing any new labels or buzz words, and frame it in a structure with which your team is familiar.
4. Relationships matter. While I prefer to think of myself as a valued colleague and member of the team when I work with principals and central services administrators in my department, at the end of the day, I am also the boss. People typically want to meet the expectations set by their boss, and in many cases won’t give their boss honest feedback. If you have established relationships, good rapport, and a culture of learning rather than perfection, your team will be honest with you. I so appreciated my colleagues who called a “time out”and challenged me to a better job of communicating how this new piece of work connected to our focus.
5. Admit you made a mistake and work diligently to clear up the confusion. Based on feedback during the meeting, I was able to make adjustments, and in the two weeks since, I have had several one on one conversations with principals and members of my team making sure we understand things the same way. I have made revisions to the document we will refer to all year to make sure we stay focused on our most important work. I have written a reflection that I have shared with my team presenting what I hope will be an enhanced part of our work this year using organizational language we are familiar with and putting the new concepts into a framework with which we are all familiar. I have checked in with all of our principals about their initial staff meetings and the work they are doing to set focus and direction with their school teams and I am listening to hear if our meeting a couple of weeks ago threw them any curve balls, and I am clearing up my message if necessary.
So… while my best hope would be that I could have a do over and set a few things up differently from the beginning, I have appreciated the opportunity to reflect. I have also appreciated the great team I have around me and their willingness to put up a mirror, hold me accountable, and not allow me to throw them off course.