Effective Leadership: Redefining Success

We all want to be effective–especially as education leaders. We want to “do a good job.” We want to feel successful, like we are “making a difference,” but how do you know you are successful at the end of each day? What does personal achievement look like once you have gotten the leadership job or position you have always wanted? How do you define success? How you answer these questions in your own context is not only important for your self-worth, but also for your success in your position.

As an elementary principal without an assistant, each day’s agenda was often derailed by events beyond my control. My first year, behavior events, impromptu parent meetings or meetings that started with, “do you have a minute?” ruled my day. Even though I spent three years as an assistant principal, I was unprepared for the burden of responsibility that came with being THE principal. As an AP I could set my own agenda with intentionality. Emergencies and impromptu meetings were most-often handled by the principal, not me, so many days were completed as planned.

Once I had the main seat, however, I realized that there were many situations that would arise to alter my plans. When I defined success by the amount I “got done,” I considered most days a failure, or I would spend too much time in the office instead of “out in the building.” Measuring success by the extent to which I achieved my plans or completed my list was neither valuable nor attainable.

After listening to Daniel Bauer on the Better Leaders, Better Schools podcast, my perspective shifted. I learned that how I showed up for my team and my school was the most important definition of success for me. I learned to define a successful day in terms of how I show up as a leader rather than how many items I was able to check off my todo list.

That’s all well and good, right? Everyone knows that how you show up for your students and community is where it’s at, but for many of us, we can’t show up fully present with a mountain of tasks waiting for us in our offices. Or if we are able to be fully present 7:30-4:30, ignoring the emails and the administrative tasks, then our days don’t end until after 8:00 in the evening. That’s not sustainable or healthy. I would be completely remiss if I ignored this reality and did not mention that without an efficient and effective system for dealing with office work, our lives lack balance. But that is a post for another day. Today we are going to focus on three steps for redefining success.

Step One: Begin with the end in mind

This step is a process* that can be done at any time, whether you are in the leadership position of your dreams or not. It’s all about learning, self-awareness, and reflection.

  1. Decide that at the end of the day you will ask yourself this question: How was I _______in the _________? In the first blank you fill in a trait and in the second blank, the situation.
  2. Brainstorm all the situations you find yourself in on a daily basis to fill in the second blank (meetings with parents, conversations with students, observations, administrative tasks, etc.)
  3. Develop a list of “bes,” not “dos.” Think about HOW you want to show up for these situations. These are a list of traits: Compassionate? Present? Calm? Kind? Patient? Decisive? You need to decide what traits, if you exhibit them in your actions will reflect the type of leader you want to be.

Step Two: Prepare yourself daily to be the leader you want to be

  1. Think about the events on your calendar. Predict potential challenges and how you will handle them.
  2. Decide which traits you want to bring into each situation. Visualize yourself as a success for each event.
  3. Assign actions to the traits. Ask yourself, “How can I be __________ in the meeting? classroom? phone call?”

Step Three: Fill out your personal “Scorecard”

  1. At the end of every day review your wins. Look at your calendar and/or notes from the day. Ask yourself, How was I ________ in the _________?
  2. Be compassionate with yourself. Take a non-judgmental assessment of your day, thinking about which actions reflected the traits you wanted to exhibit and which ones did not.
  3. Journal your Wins and Ways. Write down and celebrate when you acted in ways that reflect your intentions and make note of ways you can improve.

Click here to download a free template of the above steps.

I got these ideas from an incredible education leader, Daniel Bauer, of Better Leaders, Better Schools. His podcast inspired me and helped me understand how to show up as the leader I wanted to be.

*Edit on January 9th: I realized that while Daniel Bauer was a huge inspiration for this process, the process itself actually came from the podcast 6 Steps toYour Best Year of Leadership on Craig Groeschel’s Leadership Podcast.

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