This week's #TBT blog is from our good friend and client Jay Dostal. Jay is the principal of Kearney High School in Nebraska and worked with us in 2013. It was a year marked by big ideas, thoughtful conversations, and even the occasional pearl of wisdom. Jay reflects on some of those here. (Here is the link to his original post.)
Last week marked the end of my school’s yearlong work with Eklund Consulting and I have to say that it has been a tremendous year of growth for me professionally. It has been a year of awesome reflection and soul searching to discover the type of leader that I am and the type of leader that I am striving to be. I’ll admit, it was uncomfortable at times, but I have been rejuvenated by the process and am excited about all the great work ahead. This year has been one of removing mental blocks and making a concerted effort to LEAD my school and not just manage the day to day operations. I am far from complete in my journey, but I feel that I have laid the necessary foundation that will support me for years to come. The primary tenet of this foundation is that “Great Leadership is Un-Natural.”I did not arrive at this point without obstacles along the way.
Like most new principals, I had a very clear vision of what I wanted to accomplish and how I was going to get there. A funny thing happened along the way, however. The vision for where I wanted my school to go didn’t necessarily take in to account the people in the school who I desperately needed to carry out the vision (my staff). By excluding them from this process, it turned me in to a CEO rather than a Principal. Please don’t misinterpret this as meaning CEO’s are bad people or poor leaders. CEO’s, like principals, are an integral part of the business world and are an indicator in the success of their organization. Although many would argue that schools are businesses as well, the main difference is that a school’s product is people and they won’t see the return on their investment until years after they have left the school. Because of this, a Principal must be a different type of leader than a CEO.
With that being said, my exit interview with Eklund Consulting provided me with some major takeaways that will be at the forefront of my work from this point forward. These are not difficult concepts, but they do challenge the ego that most administrators, including myself, have. My challenge to you is to incorporate them in your school because I have seen them work and know that it can help change your workplace.
Have Tired Ears and Well Rested Mouths
1. One thing that I have noticed in ALL schools is that everyone has an opinion on how things should be done. As an administrator, it is not your role to talk louder than everyone else, but instead, do a whole lot of listening. Go in to every conversation with a staff member with the thought, “THEY MIGHT BE RIGHT!” Whether you believe this or not, it puts you in the mindset that you need to respect that others have opinions and they might help out your organization tremendously. People have an inherent need to be heard, so open your ears and listen.
Infuse Authentic Value in your School
2. This ties in directly with the point above. Do teachers and other staff in your school share authentic value in your school’s goals and mission? Do they really believe in the vision that you have? Are they really buying what you are selling? The answers to these questions really determine if culture can improve in your school and if your school’s workplace is one that teacher’s actually like to work in. It’s safe to say that the Principal is the one who leads this charge. Rather than paying lip service to changing the climate in culture in your building, actually do something about it and build a system of infusing authentic value in everything you do. I am just beginning this, but it is proving to be totally worth it.
If Left to Chance, It Will Skew Towards the Negative
3. Do you remember the old adage, “Don’t leave anything to chance?” This is so very true in schools. If you want to work on something and improve your school, don’t just say it and hope that it happens. This is just like telling your students to read a section in their books and take notes on what they have read. If they haven’t been taught to properly take notes, you aren’t going to be happy with their product. This applies to adults as well. If you want to empower adults in your building, TEACH THEM how to do it, otherwise you aren’t going to get the desired outcome. At the end of the day, if you value it, teach it. If you don’t, you shouldn’t be surprised when it skews towards the negative.
Overall, I am very thankful for my year with Eklund Consulting because it has been very rewarding. I feel blessed to have had someone from the outside come in and provide an objective opinion on how my school was being run. The year was full of frustration, joy, anger, smiles, and great conversation, but I would do it again in a heartbeat because as Robert Frost wrote in his famous poem.
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
The difference is that I am now starting to view my role as a leader in a whole different light.