leadership, emotions, joy, management, leaders, accomplishment, ego, success, talent, hard work

Four Great Quotes On Leadership That Inspired Me As A School Head

There are many “must read” articles and books that land on the desks and in the email inboxes of school heads. There are terrific workshops to attend, theories of management to understand and apply, and great courses and seminars to register for in order to better comprehend one’s work environment and take the initiative. I do not mean to disrespect any of that by saying, however, that much of the time, in the maelstrom of daily school leadership, it is helpful to keep some simple and clear mantras in mind. As emotions ebb and flow, personalities parade back and forth, politics and petty power grabs distract and annoy, and crises, some genuine and others imagined, erupt and play out, school heads need to stay grounded, balanced and steady in their confidence in tried, true and simple wisdoms about organizations and working with people. And so, I offer four of my favorite quotes, all of which sit on a “stickie” on the screen of my laptop, as guides for navigating the job of school leadership in both conflicted and normal times.

Entrepreneur and engineer Elon Musk leads my list with the Dilbert rule of management. He said, “In general, always pick common sense as your guide. If following a ‘company rule’ is obviously ridiculous in a particular situation, such as it would make for a great Dilbert cartoon, then the rule should change.” Sometimes we find ourselves in what seem to be extended bureaucratic loops, with factions or individuals insisting on redundant or endless process, defending narrow interests, or defaulting to reflexive dependence on doing things as they have always been done. Keep poor Dilbert in mind, endlessly trapped by the absurd, ossified and institutional, and never fear to defer to simple common sense. Exercise your best judgment rather than getting stuck in the conventional flow of events.

The second quote on my list is from Fox commentator and business journalist Neil Cavuto, who said; “There’s nothing wrong or evil about having a bad day. There is everything wrong with making others have to have it with you.” This sentiment rather speaks for itself in a general sense. The reality for school leaders, however, is that every conversation you have with someone in your school community may be the most important interaction that person has in that entire day; it may seem benign to you, but rarely is that the case for the other person. You are always being scanned for cues and clues, and people are often measuring their own worth by the quality of their contact with you. So Cavuto’s wise admonition has an exponent attached to it for school leaders in terms of the degree to which you can undermine much of what you seek to accomplish simply by over-sharing your moods and the pressures you face.

Third is from business writer and Inc. columnist Jeff Bariso, who offered this nugget: “Setting aside our emotions so we can accept and grow from negative feedback is an invaluable skill, but one that’s so difficult to develop.” As a school head, I was rigorously evaluated annually. I never grew to love that process. I endured it. Yet, I learned to force myself to really hear all the news, good and bad. Part of the lesson here was that when I rationalized negative feedback, or when I personalized it by attributing it to a certain individual or group, I was investing energy into what was actually avoidance. The truth, I believe, is that we can’t change much about who we are. What we can do, however, is enhance our self-awareness and manage ourselves better. I would, after negative feedback, seek the counsel of a trusted mentor to help me figure out how to move forward and reach the next rungs on my personal and professional ladders.

And finally, from Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos comes this formula that I think is a brilliant and succinct summary of the path to triumph in leadership: “Success is going to require talented experts, a beginner’s mind, and a long-term orientation.” Surround yourself with people smarter than you are and let them do their jobs. Approach every new problem and challenge as if it is an opportunity to learn. And sacrifice immediate satisfactions for positive transformation over the horizon. Ask yourself constantly if your actions, decisions and behavior reflect those objectives. If they don’t, then adjust, and be sure you have people in your life that you can invite to give you realistic feedback as to whether you are on the right track.

It is easy write all this down, and to offer pithy commentary. Yet I do recognize the hard work all this entails. The point, however, is to keep it simple, and not to lose track of the joy that comes with the work because the details and pressures become overwhelming. And, of course, the pace of the summer months does seem to arrive just in time!