“It ain’t easy being me.” 5 Keys for New Leaders

Ok so I stole this quote. Well sort of.

Actually this quote is based on an old Cheetos commercial with the ultra cool Chester Cheetah. In the commercial he says, “It ain’t easy being cheesy.” Told all ya’ll I was pretty random! (BTW, “all ya’ll” is plural for “all of you all” which is a southern thing I guess.)

So why isn’t it easy being me? I’m a very driven person. I hate to lose. I ‘dialogue’ to win. It’s who I am.  I’m always on the search for the next right answer. I want other schools to peek over the fence to see what we’re doing. I love talking edu-babble with anyone and everyone. I know we can always get better and I know that I need to dial-it-back sometimes. I don’t know where this all comes from but I do know that this past school year almost killed me.

In August of 2011, we opened a brand new state-of-the-art middle school.  We are a 1:1 learning initiative school with iPads as the tool of choice. Our building is spacious, climate controlled, efficiently designed and elegantly appointed. It is simply an educator’s dream. Or so I thought.

This blog is about the toughest lesson I’ve ever had to learn and it’s been a humbling journey. I won’t go into the particulars but let me simply say, NEVER underestimate the importance of relationships. If you are moving into  your very first administrative or teacher leader position this fall, take a few minutes to truly figure out who are both internally and externally. Sounds so Zen-like doesn’t it?

Internal You v. External You

The internal you is the person you are most of the time, most days and in most situations. The internal you is geared to handle the normal fits and spurts of your work day. You’ve taken master’s level courses in preparation for this day, you’ve participated in hundreds of hours of professional development and you’ve been able to observe some of the best and brightest teachers and principals so you’re feeling pretty good right now. The internal you is your daily moral and ethical compass.

The external you is the persona that sneaks out when you’re in the midst of a crisis. Plain and simple. It’s the behavior you resort to wether you’re aware or unaware of the pressure building around you. But let’s get a few things straight.

1. The term crisis in the context of this blog is whatever keeps you up at night. This is an entirely personal thing. Your crisis may be a minor blip on my radar but it is entirely your crisis. That’s OK. It makes you…you.

2. However the external you is manifested,  it too will come out in a way unique to you. You might be a yeller and a screamer. You might shut down. You might sulk.  You might play mind games. Maybe you’re passive/aggressive. The point is, figure this out now and start building a plan.

This year presented a butt-load of challenges for all of us. For me, the past two years from the passage of the bond issue to when the doors opened this August, was an exhausting and emotionally draining experience. Day after day I spent countless hours trying to figure out how to make everyone happy. Yeah, Admin. 101 says you can’t make everyone happy but that is my Achilles heel. My wife knows it and she has said it will be what kills me in the end.

I truly didn’t see coming what transpired this year and it was because I 1) made the assumption that my teachers would make the transition without pause and 2) I felt THEY knew that I would be overly pre-occupied with all that goes with opening a new building and launching a 1:1 initiative. They’d be fine. They’d get it.  I was wrong on both counts.

Although we had much to celebrate and be appreciative of, I neglected to make sure my teachers were hanging in there. It really is true what they say about ASSumptions. This spring proved to be one of the most humbling experiences in my professional career. I was faced with the reality that I was not my old internal self. The past two years caught up with me and my external persona began to expose itself. My emotional currency was running out.

For me, when a professional crisis hits I tend to get very quiet and very reflective. I begin to analyze and over-think everything. Doubts in my abilities and vision begin to creep into my mind and I become obsessed with trying to make everyone else happy.  However, at 6′ 5″ and two-hundred and #^&*-@!$ pounds with a normal pissed off look on my face even when quite happy, it all came to a head.

Nobody is a harsher critic of me than me. No external voice can be as critical of me than I am of myself. I learned that at UND under Coach Gunther as an athlete but more importantly through my own father. Perhaps someday the whole story is something I’ll share but for now, newbies, let me offer you a few points to remember as you launch into you’re new career.

1. Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither will your vision.

2. Take the time to get to know your teachers. Give them your time. Selflessly and unconditionally.

3. Pace yourself. Even after 17 years I find myself still driven to get it done now. However, it cannot be at the expense of your people.

4. It sounds cliché but spend time reflecting on each day. List one thing you did well and one thing you’d do differently.

5. Character strengths can become character weaknesses. Mine did and it WILL happen to you. It’s not a matter of IF rather than WHEN. The question is, how will you react when it happens?

To all the new teacher leaders and principals preparing for your new roles, God bless you for the responsibility you are about to assume. While you may judge yourself by your best intentions; you are ultimately judged by your last worst act.

It’s Better in the Middle!

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