Monday, October 31, 2022

3 Key Practices to Build a Leadership Mindset

Leadership is not about a position, it’s about a mindset. 

All true leaders understand that they are in a constant state of becoming as they walk the path of the effective leadership process. Leaders come from different backgrounds and experiences, but they share one thing in common. They are perpetual learners who continue to grow themselves as well as others.

There is too much to learn about leadership for a person to feel as though they have “arrived.” 

A person may have a lot of experience dealing with different situations and people, yet that does not make one incapable of still having something to learn. 

There are two quotes by legendary basketball coach John Wooden that have stuck with me throughout my career as an educational leader. The first quote is this: “If I am through learning, I am through.” The other quote states, “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.” Both of these quotes sum up the mindset that is required for leaders to become exceptional at leading.

Don't make my mistake.

Have you ever thought, “I already know everything there is to know about ______.” Embarrassingly, I did early in my teaching career. After four years of teaching, I left the profession. I was bored. I was jealous that another teacher who had been teaching longer than me but not as effectively as me was getting paid more than me. I thought I had seen every situation and knew how to handle any challenge thrown at me. Dang, was I young and stupid! 

It only took two years for me to realize that education was my calling, and after ending my career in public education of 27 years, I can say that I’ve had a lot of different experiences, but I definitely don’t know everything. 

The mindset that I had as a young teacher was not one of leadership. I was comparing myself to another teacher, which is a limiting mindset. Also, I only thought of my influence with students and not how I could influence other teachers in the building. I feel lucky that the questions I had about "whether or not education was for me" came up relatively early in my career. After the two year break oh so long ago, I was able to eliminate the questions in my mind and change my mindset to that of a leader and learner as I re-entered the education field. Additionally, once I embraced my future as a life-long educator, I began to “learn what I needed to know after I knew it all.” Have you ever had a similar experience?

Just as teachers need to plan lessons to maximize learning for their students, leaders must be intentional about planning their time and “lessons” in order to maximize their own learning and growth. 

Here are 3 key practices that I found worked for me and my hope is that they will work for you, too.  

Key #1: Leaders must build strong support teams

Learning is a social activity. Learning is messy, and it requires vulnerability and persistence.  It is important that leaders build a team of encouragers, disrupters, thinkers and doers. 
Very few people in the world are successful without a team. 

Without a team in place, it’s easy for a person to “tinker” with change, where real growth occurs. Tinkering doesn’t require deep learning or great amounts of courage. Today, we need leaders who are willing to learn deeply and apply their learning.

Key #2: Leaders must be courageous

When new bark grows on a tree, the new growth is generally fragile. Leaders who are willing to change and grow will go through a fragile period, too. 

For example, a school or district administrator may try a new initiative or program and not know on the outset if it will be successful. Risking a period of vulnerability takes courage, but can lead to exponential growth with reflection and learning throughout the process. 

Another example is one that is more difficult for leaders, and that is when the growth is about personal skills and learning about one’s self. Learning not to take the feedback personally is essential for using the feedback constructively as a tool for growth.

Key #3: Leaders must organize their learning cycles

Just as a teacher plans lessons for their students, a leader plans for his or her own learning. Teachers must get clear about what their students are to learn, then they should provide intentional instruction while assessing the students throughout the learning cycle to ensure that students are progressing in their knowledge and skills and determine if there are any gaps in understanding. In the end, it is determined if the students learned what they needed to learn. Reflection about the process as well as collaboration with others assists the teacher in improving effective instruction. 

Leaders should also be intentional about their personal and professional growth. They should get clear about what it is they want to learn, implement their learning to determine if there are any gaps in the learning and/or execution, then they should get feedback, reflect, and collaborate with others to grow from the experience.

Once leaders 1) build a support team, 2) summon up courage, and 3) get organized, the question then becomes, “What is it that I need to learn?” The answer to that question comes from many sources, all of which are valuable and relevant. 

I love the saying, “You don’t know what you don’t know.” What leaders have to get really good at is finding out what they don’t know. 

Identifying blind spots will help to understand and hone in on those things that need to learned. It’s important for leaders to get feedback from others, because there may be a gap in what she perceives about herself. Once a leader gains insights on how her actions are interpreted by others, she can prioritize her learning. 

As part of the learning cycle, a leader will be in a constant feedback loop, always seeking information about their effectiveness and ongoing improvement. Getting authentic feedback from others is a leadership skill itself that must be developed through trust, respect, and authenticity.

Which of the 3 Keys are strengths for you? 
Are any of them an area where you are growing?

I would love to hear what your take-aways are and if any of these thoughts resonate with you. Feel free to reach out on twitter or leave a comment below.

Pin now, Share later >>

Monday, October 3, 2022

The 4 E's for New School Leaders

I'm a huge fan of most reality TV, and I especially love watching singing and talent competitions. The Voice has some incredible talent on it this season, and I was excited to have the return of Gwen Stefani as a coach. (Where are my No Doubt fans?!!?)

There's a line I've heard Gwen say several times that also resonates with me and where I am in my journey as a former high school teacher (12 years) and administrator (15 years), and now current doctoral student, leadership consultant, and facilitator at a non-profit organization. 

Several times, when pitching herself to be someone's coach, Gwen has said (and I paraphrase)

I’ve been around for a long, long time. I would just love to be your coach. I've lived my dream, and this is my time in my life to give back to somebody like you that has a dream. I’m ready to do it.

Todays' post is for the new leaders. The ones who are learning by doing. The ones who may need a boost, some support, a fresh idea, or a clear plan. I share blog posts based on my personal experiences of successes and failures as well as what I've learned through connections with other educators and leaders across the country. 

The list is not all-inclusive, and other seasoned leaders may have a different list. The point is not to determine "who has the perfect list." The point is that we can learn from others who have walked the path before us. My hope is that a new leader will have at least one take-away from this post and be able to use it for their personal and professional growth. 


According to Merriam-Webster, the prefix "en-" means 

1. put into or onto

2. cause to be

3. provide with

"Providing with courage" or "Cause to be courageous" starts with having an encouraging mindset. When we trust others and choose to see the good in them, providing encouraging words and gestures come easily. Handwritten notes of affirmation and gratitude as well as celebrations of success are two ways to provide encouragement to others. Encouragement will go a long way toward building community and a positive culture. As a new leaders, it can be easy to forget to encourage yourself at times. While most people are familiar with a gratitude journal, new leaders may find that an Encouragement Journal is helpful during the first few years of being in a leadership position. Including phrases, quotes, and reflections will add up to a powerful tool in fighting against imposter syndrome or other challenges faced by leaders.

Related post  |  Let's Celebrate Teachers of the Moment



Brene Brown, a leading researcher, says the following about empathy:
Empathy is connecting with people so we know we’re not alone when we’re in struggle. Empathy is a way to connect to the emotion another person is experiencing; it doesn’t require that we have experienced the same situation they are going through.

Leading with empathy requires leaders to be vulnerable and in touch with their own emotions. It is a willingness to say, "I'm sorry you're going through that. I've been there." It's also a willingness to slow down, listen, and extend grace. It's not about fixing another person or feeling sorry FOR them. It is feeling sorry WITH them and showing kindness to them. 

Forbes published an article on the disconnect between leaders' views and employees' views of whether or not their organizations had empathetic cultures. 

They also shared 5 guidelines for building an empathetic culture:

  1. Change your mind
  2. Allow the messy
  3. Use candor productively
  4. Involve others in your decisions
  5. Foster growth, not judgment

Related Post  |  The One Thing We All Need to Be



Do you feel like there are too many things to juggle? 

Are your teachers feeling like they're getting more and more piled on their plates? 

As a new leader, 

-get clear on your personal values as well as your school values. Be sure that everything that you do aligns with your and your school's core values. 

-remember what it was like to be a teacher. Do everything you can to remove "things" that can be eliminated from teachers' plates. 

-consistently ask your staff how you can help them

-create systems for yourself to eliminate distractions 

-spend time with people who lift you up and provide encouragement for you


As a new school leader, you will be pulled in many directions. It will be important for you to connect with students, staff, and stakeholders. Visibility will be key in ensuring that others know that you are interested and desire to connect. Queen Elizabeth II understood the importance of visibility. She often dressed in bright colors in order to be seen. She wanted to make sure that others know that she was present. 

Take time to get to know your staff members and students. A chat in the hallway, lunchroom, playground, or gym can be perfect opportunities for a quick check-in and to ask others about their day. Smiling and showing kindness is not a sign of weakness, and it makes others feel less threatened when having to talk with a school leader. 

There are four basic needs that people must have met or else they will start down the path of disengagement and ultimately quitting their jobs. (As shared in Randy Conley's post at Blanchard Leaderchat)
  1. The need for trust
  2. The need for hope
  3. The need to feel a sense of worth
  4. The need to feel competent
As a new leader, a question for reflection is, "How am I fulfilling the needs of our school staff?"

If I can help you in any way, please reach out via email or Twitter. "I've lived my dream, and this is my time in my life to give back to somebody like you that has a dream."