5 Secrets every principal should know about leadership development

by | Jan 27, 2020 | Leadership

SECRET ONE: You don’t have to do everything and know everything

I don’t know where we learn the misguided idea that the leader has all the answers.

Maybe it’s just from the sheer amount of questions we get throughout the day.

“Hey Leader … what should I have for lunch?”

You train your staff how to behave.

If you’re available all the time and answer every question you get, what happens next?

More questions.

The alternative?

Train and trust your people to solve problems.

Sometimes we answer questions too because we feel like we should know the answer. Just because you have a leadership title doesn’t make you an all-knowing god.

If you are surprised in the hallway with a question you weren’t expecting, it’s preferable to say, “Can I get back to you on that? I want to put some more thought into your important request.”

Knee-jerk answers represent half-baked ideas.

If I invited you to my home and offered you a half-baked turkey, cookie, or cake, would you enjoy it?

Two (underutilized) gifts available to all leaders: silence and time.

Go on, I dare you.

The next time you get a question (even if you know the answer) use silence and wait. You’ll be thrilled with the results.

And if you make a mistake or give wrong information, there is no shame in admitting it.

SECRET TWO: Leadership takes time

I remember when I was out of college I wanted a nice car like my Mom (a Toyota Camry for perspective — we’re not talking a BMW). I also wanted the newly released, original iPhone. She had both.

But I was young. My salary and savings were low.

She was much older and had a lifetime of savings that she could use on a new car or tech gadget.

Maybe that just shows how materialistic I am, but I also think it shows a leadership concept as well.

We have to allow ourselves to grow into our leadership.

Today, I can easily purchase a car I want or get the latest iPhone.

It is a mistake to compare ourselves with leaders who have been doing it longer. Use those leaders you look up to as role models and mentors. Not as a comparison.

Aspire to be like them. Study what they do. Experiment with their style and make it your own.

Just don’t expect yourself to be able to perform like them as a novice leader.

Even as a veteran, it’s not helpful to compare ourselves to others.

Anyone that you see as a “success story” has years of effort (and probably a support system) behind them.

Give yourself a break and allow yourself to mature with time and experience.


SECRET THREE: Read outside of education


To illustrate this point, a quick story about fish:

“There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, ‘Morning boys. How’s the water?’

And these two young fish swim on a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, ‘What the hell is water?’”

You read plenty about education. Maybe one reason school hasn’t changed that much in 100 years is because you read plenty on education. Like the fish, we read so much about education we forget we are swimming in water.

When I coach school leaders, I only recommend books outside of education.

There is value in studying other disciplines, stealing the best ideas, and applying those ideas to leadership in education.

The more school leaders read outside of education, the more tools they develop to be effective and make better decisions.

The excerpt above comes from David Foster Wallace’s commencement speech which was turned into a book called This is Water.

Alternatively, you can listen to the speech below.

SECRET FOUR: The inner game matters

Tim Gallwey wrote the essential book on this idea: The Inner Game of Tennis.

To boil the book down to it’s essential, Gallwey asserts we have two parts to our personality.

Self 1 is the “Teller” it judges all our actions and tries to keep us safe.

Self 2 is the “doer” it is capable of amazing feats and performs naturally if we get out of its way.

Many leaders attempt to drive results through sheer will and effort.

What Gallwey has observed is that elite performers have found a different way, “the art of relaxed concentration.” This is the secret of top performers.

In order to get to that level, leaders must invest in radical self-inquiry and abstain from allowing their Self 1 to judge and label all their actions.

Think about it. If you allow yourself to constantly criticize your actions, how can you perform at your best? Even if the negative self-talk only shows up when you are stressed or at crucial times, you are sabotaging your greatness.

If you want to boost your self-awareness, then this post is for you.

SECRET FIVE: Plug into community

There is an African proverb that states if you want to go fast go alone, if you want to go far go together.

The single best idea that you can take action on today is to plug into community. That’s because a community can help you with every idea presented in this blog as well as with every other leadership trait that matters.

An easy and free way to join a community is on different social channels.

  • Twitter is a great place for chats and following popular hashtags.
  • Facebook has plenty of private school admin groups.
  • Thought leaders share helpful articles on LinkedIn.
  • Voxer has private chats where school admin can leverage voice and ask questions or contribute to a discussion on-the-go.

But in my experience, relationships are shallow and inauthentic on social media. They are the Cliffs Notes on community.

Sure you get a sense of what is happening, but you miss the nuance.

I’m sure you’ve seen this Jim Rohn quote:

“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”

Great leaders surround themselves with other great leaders.

If you are ready to take your leadership to the next level, then I encourage you to read and apply to our leadership community, “The Mastermind” here.

In the mastermind, we are all on the same journey of leading with excellence so that our community benefits.

We believe, “Everyone wins when a leader gets better. Everyone wins when you get better.”

We can go far, together.

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