Today I thought it would be helpful to share some things I’ve learned coaching effective school principals on proactive leadership. Some of the ideas are helpful reminders, some might be new information for you. 

All of these ideas are actionable and represent the characteristics of effective school leaders.

Flex that Pareto Principle. This is also known as the 80/20 rule. Essentially 20% of your activity generates 80% of your results. I challenge you to structure your day this way. What would it take to spend 80% of your time doing “business as usual” and 20% of your time to dream and plan for the future?

If that is a BIG ask, then start at 90/10 or 95/5 per day. 

I coach school leaders to have one deep work session per week for 90 minutes to 3-hours when creating their ideal week. Even 3 hours is just 8% of the total time of a 40-hour workweek. The time is there.

Journal your challenges. In this post, I tell a story of my friend, Gene, a principal in NJ. He accepted a 2-week challenge I issued him to journal each day contemplating the hard part he would face each day. 

The result: a small 5-10 minute daily investment of time saved him hours of work, headaches, and clean up later in the day/week/semester. How about that for ROI? This is the definition of proactive leadership.

Actions aligned with values. When we do things aligned with our values we are energized. When we act outside of our values the opposite is true — we are drained. We also find ourselves doing too much and in danger of “running in the red.” If you drive a car for extended amounts of time in the red-zone, the engine will die. Doing things outside of our values also indicates that your YES/NO ratio is out-of-whack. 

Some of the best advice I’ve ever received: If it’s not a HELL YES, then the answer should be NO!

Busyness is not the same as deep work. I feel good crossing things off a list, but that doesn’t mean I completed meaningful work. Understanding what creates the most value for your organization helps you a) act within your values and b) honor the Pareto Principle. The Tyranny of the Urgent is a real thing. Proactive leaders look at opportunities and challenges in a similar way. Urgent is secondary to significant. Always. 

Think about secondary consequences. Everyone can predict with some level of accuracy the primary consequences of a decision. Proactive leaders set themselves apart from other leaders by considering the second and third-order consequences that may happen. Here is a post on second-order thinking in order to be a proactive leader.

Feedback loops. You need excellent communication skills to be an effective leader. But you need great follow-up skills to be a proactive leader. Days run fast and leaders are confronted with an incredible amount of information. How much is retained? How many balls do we drop just because we don’t have a system for follow-up? 

The bullet journal is a great way to keep yourself organized. Personally, I use a combination of Google Calendar and Todoist to stay on top of things. I love ToDoist because the tech is so smart. I can quickly type a reminder for a specific day or a recurring amount of days. This is how I remember so much. For example, recently I typed in “Check with Michelle on hard conversations every Fri at 9 am.” And just like that, I’ll get a reminder every Friday at 9 am.

This post includes a 3-minute video showing how I use Todoist to stay organized and be proactive.

Building the next generation of leaders. If you’re doing it all, you’re doing too much. There are a number of reasons we don’t delegate, but without delegation and training we can’t a) build capacity and b) focus on what only we can do. So if you’re bogged down by too many tasks there is no way you can be a proactive leader. There is an incredible investment of time and energy at the front-end of delegation, but building the capacity of other leaders sets them up for future success as well as frees your time up to be more proactive.

Ask great questions. Managers have answers. Leaders ask questions. Two questions you should ask to be proactive:

  • What if …
  • We can if … 

It doesn’t have to be difficult. These questions take a curious stance and make room for possibility. When you entertain possibility you are now leading in a proactive manner.

See challenges as opportunities. Sometimes you hit a roadblock and quit. Not so for proactive leaders. A Beautiful Constraint discusses how you can take a constraint and add a propelling question to encourage innovation and high performance. 

This is how Dr. Seuss created Green Eggs and Ham. The head of Random House bet Dr. Seuss $50 by to write a book using just 50 words. 

Design, then follow your roadmap. Seneca said it best, “If one does not know to which port one is sailing, no wind is favorable.” One of the best ways to transform into a proactive leader is by spending time crafting a meaningful vision. 

This post describes how to create a school vision.

Even better, work with me and other school leaders this summer and create a 3-year roadmap for your personal, family, and organizational life. Bring yourself and your team. I guarantee it will be some of the best work you’ll do all year.

Here’s one more … (and it’s a big one)

You can read all the newsletters, blogs and social posts you want on proactive leadership. But until you take action to change your attitude and behavior, nothing will change in your life.

Imagine how much better you’d be by meeting regularly with other leaders from around the world …

Each week in “The Mastermind” we dive deep into both education and leadership topics. It’s hands-down the best PD available for school admin.

If you ever wondered what kind of topics we discuss you can read this thread from one of my Twitter posts.

And I want to personally invite you to review what our leadership community, “The Mastermind,” is all about. 

I’m looking for 5 Ruckus Makers in education to support in “The Mastermind.” You can apply and learn more about our community on this page.

I created “The Mastermind” because I believe “Everyone wins when a leader gets better. Everyone wins when you get better.”

By investing in yourself via the mastermind … by taking action today … not only will you become more proactive … your community wins as well.


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