Launching into Success on Your New Campus

As aspiring campus and current campus administrators know well, some of us too well, preparing and securing an administrative position is an arduous task. For those fortunate enough to gain employment in campus administration, congratulations.  Now it’s time to get to work.  Getting the position is nothing compared to the enjoyable and interesting times ahead of you.

When a new president is elected in this country there are the inevitable comparisons of each president’s first 90 days in office. Over the decades, some have thrived early on and created a future defined from this time.  Some have not thrived early in their tenure and have found the work following it to be more difficult than they would have liked it to be for them. Although a president’s work ends up in our history books and thus gets more visibility. This type of scenario plays out in campuses throughout our country each year. The work they do on a campus is no less important, if not more, to those who inhabit their building on a daily basis.

The first days, weeks, and months you are on a campus will define your work going forward. The goodwill and trust one can develop during this initial time will allow you to accomplish meaningful work for your campus in future years. This initial meaningful work can look different depending on the campus environment you inherit upon arrival.  There are some tried, and trusted methods which can steer you in the proper direction for success on your new campus.

  1. First, foremost, smile. Carry yourself with the same emotion you had when you were offered this position. People gravitate to positive people and repel the negative ones.
  2. Provide effort to your position. Eventually, you will be judged on your production and results, but during this grace period people want to see how hard you are willing to work. For example, deliver textbooks to classrooms for teachers, mop the floors, and do it all with a smile on your face.
  3. Beware of those who befriend you with exuberance. This is not unique to campuses. There are those who hope to curry favor and look to improve their position on campus by kissing your backside. Nearly all of the others in the building know who these people are and are awaiting to see how your reaction is to their overtures.
  4. Repeat after me. Never tell your new campus “this is how we did it on my previous campus.” Unless you came from a gold star campus who met all of your states distinctions just keep silent on your past experiences.  Show them your experiences by producing results. Too often administrators like to embellish their past to give them more confidence at the new one.  In today’s digital age, it’s a bad idea. Your past will follow you to your new gig.  Own up to it.
  5. Don’t legislate via email. This approach makes you look weak and fearful. When you do have to email information it should be to spread good news or follow-up from something you presented face to face with them.  Also, in those emails, avoid “I” and focus on “we”.
  6. Be passionate in all endeavors. Your every move is being watched. If you clean up spilled milk with the same passion as you do when leading instruction you will be welcomed into the conversation.
  7. Your title does not make you a leader. Your employment title does not make you a leader. Your position does not make you a leader. I could go on and on here, but it is clear. People will listen to you initially because of the title you were employed for in the district. They will follow you afterward if they believe you are a leader who wants to empower them in their position.
  8. Don’t be a travel agent. Don’t ask your faculty and staff to go where you are not willing to go yourself.
  9. Be about them and not about yourself. Safe and protected employees create the trust and goodwill needed for meaningful success in the future. View the video below to see more on this topic.

Getting hired and being given the keys to the campus is an awesome responsibility. Embrace the challenges ahead and pursue success with energy.

What do you think is important for a new administrator to possess or perform when arriving at a new campus?   Feedback is always welcome in this arena.

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A Leaders Most Important Tool? Their Story.

Can meaningful leadership exist without quality communication? Do great communicators always provide great leadership? What comprises a great communicator to you and your campus? Should communication be a priority for campus leaders? Why all the questions about communication?

The above is meant to illustrate the nebulous nature of what constitutes great communication on a campus.  There is no one correct answer for a leader. If you polled your colleagues you would find responses all over the map. For example, take our current president and some will say he is a compelling communicator while others will view him as the antichrist. Politics aside, this point illustrates the importance of the message behind the communicator as well as where you are as a follower to accept their message.

Leadership and the work you do on a campus is worthwhile when you are focused on student learning. Where campus leaders fall into troubles is when they don’t tell their story. I was blessed to begin my career with a campus principal who is a compelling communicator and preached the importance of telling your story.  Quite simply, if you don’t tell your story to your faculty, staff, and community someone else will tell it for you.

I work each day to intentionally communicate where we are now as a campus, where we need to go, and how we need to get there. I am by no means polished in my communication style but I work each day to get to this point. I have learned more from my own failings, as well as other failings, on the importance of meaningful communication. Thus far in my career I have learned two important lessons about telling your leadership story.

Lesson #1: Failure to tell your story means someone else will tell it for you.  Don’t be naïve about this because I will give you a 100% guarantee someone else is telling a version of your story right now on your campus.  The life lesson where this became crystallized for me was when I ran for a public office in my community. I did not do enough to tell my story while my opponent went door to door to spread a message which conflicted with my values, beliefs, and my story.  The failure to tell my story adequately altered the professional lives of many people.  Expending your time and resources to tell your story will never steer you wrong. My failure here was to believe I had done enough to tell my story. I needed to provide more effort in this instance.  A leaders efforts to tell your story is ongoing and endless. Others are just waiting for you to tire so they can alter your story. Lesson learned.

Lesson #2: Tell your story directly to those who least want to hear it.  Only telling your story to people who want something from you means you will find compliance and little meaningful growth.  A campus leader must reach out to those who disagree with them and find common ground for which to work on. A leader who only seeks the support of those who agree with them turns a campus or a district into a compliance factory where growth is stifled. When you reach out to those who disagree in a positive fashion you will find meaningful campus growth. This existence of this type of campus environment means the story you tell becomes more nuanced over time and adapts to an environment where student learning is paramount and compliance to leadership simply because they hold a position does not exist.

Your leadership does not exist in a vacuum on your campus. Whether it is a discussion over procedures or the introduction of a new program on your campus get out in front of the message and tell your story.  This can often mean you are placed into uncomfortable positions. I say, lean into the uncomfortable.  Your staff will respect you and work with you in the long run because of it. Decrees from the mountain top are not an effective long-term communication tool.

Feedback, comments, positive or negative are always welcomed on this blog.

How to Survive Anxiety. The Unwanted Companion for Educators.

Anxiety is ever-present in the school-house this time of year.  Anxiety amongst our students is commonplace on the first day of school.  As educators, we recognize this fact and do what we can to alleviate what we can from a student’s first week of school. Unfortunately, district administrators, campus administrators, and teachers do not always extend this same courtesy to their peers.  Many times this is because of neglect, selfish thinking, or intentional.

So, as campus professionals, what can we do about dealing with this anxiety when we can’t control many of the external factors on a campus? The answers are simple in idea form, but challenging to execute.

  1.  Seek counsel from the wise and the selfless. My first year of teaching is as vivid a memory today as it was 16 years ago. Plain and simple, my educational career would not exist today if I was not assisted by departmental colleagues who pointed me in the direction of success.  Now, in the middle of my career as a campus leader I have never forgot the lessons they taught me and its impact on my career.  I work to ensure I am the leader my teachers need when they need it in their career.

2.  Listen. Watch. Repeat. The behavior and words of your colleagues and campus leaders will tell you all you need to know. Sometimes the short-term results of your colleagues may be enviable, but the long-term results are not. For example, a campus leader who touts they will hire all brand new teachers in the next three years to ensure they are loyal to them may find short-term success. Ultimately, this is a distorted logic which creates a brutal learning environment for those holdovers not deemed as loyal. This type of anxiety can only be avoided by leaving the situation or the removal of this type of leadership.

3.  Focus on the students. When you can just close your classroom door, provide the learning and direction your students need. If the leadership of your campus provides you heaping amounts of anxiety than shame on them.  If the anxiety you feel is internal because you fear of letting your students and colleagues down, then embrace this challenge.  I have felt this type of anxiety on and off throughout my career and for the most part it has served me well.  I have embraced this anxiety to push me towards my goals.

Anxiety for me and for many others I know is a necessary evil to move our careers forward. This written, there is a fine line where others use this anxiety to propel their own ambitions at the expense of your career.  If you are unlucky as to witness this type of use of anxiety you need to remember the golden rule: Do unto others as you would want done to you. Stand up and speak out against those who don’t follow this rule.

Feedback always welcomed.  No new blog post will occur next week due to the craziness of the first-week school.  Have a great opening week educators.

Passion. The Great Influence of Our Lives.

Passion.  It’s what’s for dinner, lunch, and breakfast.  When you are engaged in the work you care for deeply about you find it colors all facets of your life. This ability for passion to touch all parts of your life is great when it is all going well for you.  Unfortunately, if you work for the right reasons in your career you will encounter times when you are knocked out of your passion zone.

This past year of my life a living testament to the above words.  Long story short.  I worked in an environment for years where I adored the people and treasured the work I had the privilege to engage in on a daily basis. Unfortunately, the environment soured quickly for multiple reasons not important to this week’s blog.  When something you are passionate about is removed from your life, it has an effect on everything you do.

This past year has taught me several life lessons I want to share with you below.

1. Losing work you are passionate for is like a death in the family. When you leave behind professionals you care about you feel a loss in your career.  This sense of loss results in turmoil in your home and the next job you undertake.  If I take one thing from my past years experiences is to ensure my grieving time is finite.  I spent too much time feeling bad for myself instead of learning from past experiences and growing from it.

2. Make the hard decision to leave. Whether you suddenly or gradually find yourself working in an environment where your passion is non-existent or only present in small doses. You need to look at yourself in the mirror and make the tough decision to leave the campus where you are no longer able to engage in passionate work.  The decision will be agonizing and will require time and efforts to come out the other side.  It is not a rewarding short-term decision.

3. You find out who authentically supports you. When you find yourself on the outside looking in of the passionate work you once engaged in you learn who your true friends are. In the weeks after leaving a campus, you will find how out who supports you for the person you are as opposed to what you could do for them in your leadership position.  When you recognize these wonderful people, treasure and value these relationships.  When it is apparent many people you added value to are not what they purport themselves to be you need find a way cope.  The best coping mechanism exists in the relationships wonderful people explained above.  This will be a life changing experience which will impact your life forever.  How you choose to respond to it defines your character.

4.  Beware of fake passion. There are many people working in school districts today who espouse words of support in caring for student learning, but behind closed doors they are only in the game for themselves.  If they can help student learning they will but only after they take care of themselves first. Sadly, many of these selfish people will flourish in the short-term, but are doomed to failure in the long-term.

I am fortunate to now be on the other side and fully engaged in work I am passionate about again.  It is a wonderful feeling to have once again. I am humbled and very appreciate of the opportunity. Your world outlook is full of sunshine when you are engaged in passionate work.  There are few things in life like adding value to students and teachers on a campus.  The work is not for everybody, but it is the only work for me.

Please share your story about your passionate work.  Comments and feedback are desired, please.

Loyalty. You Get What You Give.

Loyalty is craved by most professionals in a school building. This notion, I do not think would be disputed most professionals present in a school house today. Unfortunately, like many things in the work place they exist in murky waters with results not always desirable by one or more stakeholders in the school community.

The guiding leadership principle in my life is to add value to the other people who work alongside me in the school house. As I have learned, painfully at times, encountering success in this endeavor means different things to different professionals.

Whether it be from inexperience, naiveté, or a blind spot in my leadership practices I have discovered the following maxims in regards to loyalty:

  1. People will use for your position. In the long run, it will happen to all leaders. Don’t spend too much time on it as it serves no positive purpose in your work going forward. Think of it as an opportunity cost.
  2. Professionals who ride their leaders to the top. This is primarily a leadership failure because great leaders work alongside the stakeholders who are willing to reach the top. It should be a joint effort on the journey to the top. Loyalty will be realized if this practice is successful because the dead weight of those looking for a free ride will be shed in due time.
  3. “I finished my work, can I help you with anything” This type of loyalty mindset from teammates needs to be cherished and nurtured. I have been blessed to encounter a few of these teammates in my career.
  4. The quality of the relationship you have with your leader will impact your successes and failures. I have been fortunate to work with a handful of loyal individuals who have been a force for good in my leadership. I continue to cherish my relationships with them.
  5. If all else fails for you in regards to loyalty, believe in karma. When turbulent times are encountered in your career have the patience to know most of these things even out in the end. I will leave you with the story below to illustrate my thoughts.

A turkey was chatting with a bull. “I would love to be able to get to the top of that tree,” sighed the turkey, “but I haven’t got the energy.”

“Well,” replied the bull, “why don’t you nibble on some of my droppings? They’re packed with nutrients.”

The turkey pecked at a lump of dung and found it actually gave him enough strength to reach the lowest branch of the tree. The next day, after eating some more dung, he reached the second branch. Finally after a fourth night, there he was proudly perched at the top of the tree. But he was promptly spotted by a hunter who shot him down out of the tree.

The moral of the story: BS might get you to the top, but it won’t keep you there.

I am willing to venture there are a few individuals in your career who come to mind after reading this tale.  As always feedback is encouraged on this post and all other posts.

Thank You for Reading the Front Office Leadership Blog

Colleagues, Friends, and Family,

Thank you for the reading this past month’s blog posts.  I am humbled and appreciative of your support.  I am on vacation this week, so there is no new post today.  If you are new to this blog, please peruse the past postings. There will be new content to read when I return from my sabbatical.

My past blog post titles can be viewed on the main page of the Front Office Leadership blog.  Past blog titles cover the topics listed below:

  1. Blog Introduction
  2. Servant Leadership
  3. The Leadership Journey
  4. Mentors
  5. Adversity

Have a great week.

Surviving Adversity with Class and Dignity

If you are living a life of consequence, adversity is a necessary, albeit, unwanted partner in your journey.  Winston Churchill sums this up best when he says “success consists of going from failure to failure without a loss of enthusiasm.”

Adversity is something unexpected, jarring, or devastating to your life or career.  What makes it so jolting is most of the time we do not choose the adversity in our lives. The adversity itself is not the issue to focus on, instead your response is what matters in the long-term.

A few things to consider when facing adversity in your life or career.

  • Rise above your emotions.  This is where having a trusted colleague, spouse, or mentor becomes essential.  See my previous blog post on the value of mentors.  Your first reaction to adversity is usually not the reaction you want to represent you long-term.  People will be empathetic to your adversity for a short period of time, but their patience for an adverse reaction to your adversity will be handled with less patience.
  • Create a systemized or a routine approach to the adversities you face.  If you create proven mechanisms or routines to deal with adversity your responses will be what is remembered and not the adversity you originally faced.

  • Keep the right perspective.  Often a calamity in your life is just another day in the life of your colleagues and friends.  The right perspective can be maintained if you remain positive throughout the ordeal.  Again, turn your frown upside down. Nobody likes an ogre in the workplace or in life for that matter.  To keep the right perspective follow the advice of noted leadership author John C. Maxwell “mistakes are painful when they happen, but years later a collection of mistakes is what is called experience.”
  • Keep the line moving forward.  Although times may be bleak momentarily don’t despair and give up.  Ultimately, your success depends on making the effort and failure lies in never trying.

Overcoming adversity narratives are lauded throughout industry and in our personal lives.  It will happen to you. It is a guarantee.  We are just awaiting your response to it. Onward and upward.

Spotlight on the Power of Your Mentor

The Gifts of Mentoring

When men and women climb the highest peaks or dive to the deepest depths of our physical world one never does it alone.  Pop culture celebrates the four-star general or captain of industry who did it their way without compromise.  This unfortunately gives a narrowed view of leadership since it only tells part of the story.  The absent part of the story is the journey to get there and more importantly the person or person’s instrumental helping the leader achieve their goals.

Nearly every great leader throughout the ages of time has been blessed with a mentor to assist them in starting their journey, carrying on their journey, or finishing their journey.  The world of public education is no different.  What separates the great leaders from the average ones is their willingness to develop other great leaders.  The selfless assistance could mean the leader means find success earlier, faster or better than yours, but you do it anyway because this is what makes school leaders unforgettable for all the right reasons.

For a public education leader a mentor can be advantageous in three significant ways:

1. Fail safely. Having a mentor alongside for your campus leadership journey allows you to flop constructively. They allow you to make the mistakes, but learn from them quickly so student learning is not disrupted or campus morale depressed.

2. Be heard. Move on. Campus leadership can sometimes be filled with periods of complaining because this rewarding profession has many challenges.  What a campus never wants or needs is the leader complaining to the masses. It is toxic and counterproductive to leadership.  This written, sometimes leaders need to vent and the mentor is your safe harbor to get it out and move on.

3. The nature of public education leadership is fluid for a myriad of reasons.  Rare is the day of the campus leader parking in the front office for two decades and retiring into the sunset.  Your connection to your mentor and other networking connections in this mentor tree branch out to opportunities unbeknownst to you right now.

How to Focus on the Journey, Not the Destination

As a kid coming of age in Lincoln, Nebraska, the leadership icon for an entire state was and is Hall of Fame football coach Dr. Tom Osborne.  Personally, I have learned countless things from afar, as a fan and now as a leadership professional, from Coach Osborne. One item though above all others stands out for me.

First, I will provide some context as to why this resonates with me decades later.  In the early 1990’s there was significant external pressure on Coach Osborne to win a national championship, a title which had eluded in his 20 plus year career to that point. Finally, in the 1994 season it all came together in a glorious night in Miami and he won his championship.  After the game, Coach Osborne was asked the obligatory “how do you feel” question.  It was his response which has stayed with me all these years later.

If there ever was a time for a coach to gloat or crow about his achievements, it would be this time.  Instead, Coach Osborne stated that it was never about winning a championship, it was about the journey to get to this point which was the satisfying and enjoyable part to him.  This statement has never left me and formed the foundation for my own servant leadership throughout my career.

When engaging in a leadership position on a campus it is important to keep this idea in mind so you can serve all campus stakeholders appropriately.  Keeping your focus on a successful journey will help you avoid three common roadblocks campus leaders run into which prevent success.

Roadblock1. Beware of “destination disease.” Don’t be blinded by the achievement of the next goal or a promotion which allows you to forget those you serve and those who depend on your daily leadership. If you serve selflessly and your goals are aligned with your servant leadership you will accomplish all you desire.

2. Keep your distance from the selfish leader. Many leaders can achieve some of their goals when they focus on themselves first, but they are not fooling anybody with their actions in the long-term.  People tolerate the selfish leaders, but few respect them.  Be wary of aligning yourself with the wrong leader.  Chart your own course of servant leadership.

3. Turn your frown upside down. Nobody wants to join you on your journey if you are a grouch. Nobody expects you to be in a glorious mood 24/7 but they will avoid you if you only dump your complaints on them.  So, even when it is going bad, put a smile on your face and never let them see you sweat.

In the end, remember it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey you took to get there and the people’s lives you positively impacted along the way.