Administrator or Leader?

I believe that each of us has a leader within and that educational leadership is not the sole domain of school administrators. I’ve see classroom teachers step up and lead incredible school transformations without the authority of a title or degree. But that’s a topic for another day. Today, I want to examine the not so secret, ‘secret’ among educators:

While every school has at least one administrator, few have leaders.

A recent workshop participant paraphrased Peter Drucker and said it this way,

“Administrators do things right. Leaders do the right things.”

While that simple statement captures some of the gulf between leadership and administration, I think it falls far short.

I have a long list, developed over many educational leadership seminars, that outlines the differences between administrators and leaders; but today I’ll start with the one element that seems to encompass so many others…

Leaders deal from their hearts as well as their minds; administrators work almost exclusively from the mental framework.

We’ve all encountered administrators who kick off the school year with speeches stating the districts goals and objectives, or by reciting well meaning mission statements; but it’s rare to find leaders who articulate a vision and inspire their staffs to embrace that vision.

Administrators are comfortable speaking from and appealing to the cognitive domain, hoping others see the logic of their goals and objectives; while leaders want to stir the hearts, as well as the minds of those they seek to lead.

It’s the power of the heart that injects a special energy into the team. Leaders who use their hearts and minds when they speak have an authenticity that creates trust. Administrators who speak only from their heads may say the right words; they may have perfect scripts; but they appear less authentic, less fully committed, and therefore they create less trust.

Without trust it’s difficult to lead effectively.

I remember the Principal at my son’s eighth grade graduation ceremony speaking to the audience of proud parents and students. His first words were,

“I can’t tell you how excited I am to be here with you tonight.”

Unfortunately, he spoke these words in a monotone with no emotion (heart). Even worse, there was no smile, no crack in his bland and blank façade. He continued this way through the entire speech.

While I have no doubt that deep inside he meant every word he spoke; because he closed off his heart when delivered his words, it destroyed his message. It reeked of an administrator fulfilling his job requirements, when it could have been a leader expressing gratitude to his victorious 8th grade troops and sending them off to the high school full of inspiration and hope.

Not every leader needs to be a charismatic speaker. Even speakers who speak haltingly and uncomfortably, if they speak from the heart, touch the hearts of those around them; their authenticity comes through and with that, trust flows. We feel their commitment.

One of the first steps in the transformation from administrator to leader is to access the power of the heart. Tapping into the heart shows up in every aspect of leadership, not just in speaking. It is a way of tethering ourselves to something deeper than just our ideas and thoughts. It ties us to our purpose, values, and beliefs.

When we work from this place, we’re grounded. We don’t change directions every time the political breezes shift. We are more apt to go the extra mile, even if it seems risky. We walk our own talk. We don’t have hidden agendas, they’re all out there for people to see. When we work from the heart, we don’t make decisions based solely on complicated political calculations; but we factor in our beliefs and values.

Most importantly, when we’re grounded in the heart, we have the courage of a leader. Interestingly, the word courage comes from the French root ‘cour’ or heart. As leaders we don’t avoid difficult conversations, or put off difficult decisions out of fear. We address them because they need to be addressed. The heart gives us the strength and passion to do the difficult things.

The transformation from administrator to leader is largely a journey of the heart.


Beliefs and Change

I used to believe that I had all the answers and that the people around me who weren’t on board with my view of the world were subversive. They “Didn’t Get It” and I believed that they needed to be ‘fixed’ or ‘banished’. Not a great formula for building trust with others; and a great example of a belief that got in the way of being a successful leader.

I used to believe that older teachers were too set in their ways to embrace new technologies. Because of that belief I skewed technology deployments to younger teachers. What a great example of a self-reinforcing belief.

I used to believe that there was no way that the community would support large technology initiatives. A wonderful example of a belief that was limiting my vision and horizons.

Where did these beliefs come from? That’s an exploration for another post. What is important to note is that none of these beliefs were contributing to my success. In fact, they were undermining all my good intentions.

Beliefs are not ‘real’, they are not facts. They’re nothing more than constructs of our minds.

I like the example of two couples walking in the park at night. One couple believes that walking in the park at night is romantic. The other couple believes it is dangerous. Suddenly the wind blows. The bushes shake, the leaves scuttle along the sidewalk. The couple that feels walking in the park at night is dangerous experience fear. The couple that thinks the park is romantic at night experience the beauty of nature.

What we believe shapes our experiences. Our beliefs are like a pair of glasses that influence the way we see the world. Some beliefs are supportive and helpful. Others are limiting and not helpful.

As leaders we need to reflect on our beliefs. This isn’t as easy as it sounds because many of our beliefs our invisible to us. For many years I had no conscious awareness that I believed that logic and sound arguments were the way to get teachers to change their old habits and embrace the new ones I wanted them to adopt. I kept making logical arguments. It didn’t seem to matter whether they were successful in producing the outcome I wanted. I was simply acting the way I believed was ‘proper’.

It took many years for me to become aware of this invisible belief of mine. In fact, it was a leadership coach who helped me identify my belief and then to examine whether it was a useful belief or not. Through this process I developed a new belief, that it takes the heart, the mind, and the body; not logical arguments alone, to shift the behavior of others.

There are beliefs that we hang on to even if they do not serve us because we feel we have evidence that makes them ‘real and factual. For all of human history it was commonly believed that man could not fly. There were thousands of years of evidence for this. If Orville and Wilbur Wright had adopted this view of reality, this belief, they would never have experienced flight.

Unless we believe something is possible, the odds of it happening are slim.

Do you believe that one computer per child is possible? Do you think that teachers will shift their pedagogy to engage and empower students in constructivist learning? Do you believe that all teachers, regardless of age, will adopt technology if it helps them improve teaching and learning. Do you believe that you have the ability to inspire people to adopt difficult changes?

When you believe it, you will see it!

New Tools – Same Leaders

Here are a few topics from an upcoming Ed Tech Leadership Conference:

Teacher Observations with iPod touch

Productivity Tools for Administrators

Internet Awareness, Safety and Ethics for Administrators

Visit to the School of Tomorrow, Today!

Walk the Walk: Using Technology to Lead Others

Podcasting for Administrators: From Storyboarding to Publishing

Leading with Movies: Using Video Clips to Inspire and Motivate

Students, Parents, Teachers and Administrators: Communicating and Collaborating Through Technology

Leading the Charge to 21st Century Skills

Enticing Administrators to Enhance Their Technology Skills

Using Technology to Streamline Administrative Tasks and Enhance Collaboration

I respectfully submit that, by themselves, the breakout topics from the Ed Tech Leadership Conference miss the mark.

If I am an administrator that is a control freak; or a micro-manager, or just the opposite ( I never followup); if I am a an administrator that doesn’t take responsibility when things aren’t going well; but takes all the accolades when things do go well;  if I am afraid to take risks; or if I am a political animal that wants to look good above all;  if I am someone who is super judgmental and negative about the people I work with; if I talk behind people’s backs; if I am not organized;  if I don’t listen well;  if I am motivated only by my own agenda; if I say one thing and do another; if I am easily thrown into overwhelm and panic…(the list goes on)


If the staff distrusts administrators; or there is an “us and them” feeling; if there is a destructive ‘triangulation’ present and people don’t talk candidly with one another, if teachers are overwhelmed, if there is a confusing mix of ‘important’ priorities; if the Teachers’ Association is at odds with any new initiatives; if people are satisfied with the status quo…(the list goes on)

An ineffective leader using the latest tools will remain an ineffective leader.

In my experience developing leaders and transforming organizations requires developing people.

If we are going to transform teaching and learning, we need a new generation of innovative and transformative leaders who can make it happen.

I realize it’s not an either-or issue. We need leaders who understand and use technology AND we need real leadership development. 

But where can an administrator go to develop their own leadership skills? Where are these innovative and transformative leaders that we need going to come from? Is it any wonder that without them major educational change is so slow in coming?

Will we ever transform education if we keep focusing on the ‘bright, shiny things’ and keep ignoring the difficult task of developing leaders? Not managers. Not supervisors. Not administrators; but Leaders.

It’s time for us to get serious.

Effective leadership is very rare. It doesn’t have to be.


Transformative Change

“For public education to benefit from the rapidly evolving development of information and communication technology, leaders at every level–school, district, and state–must not only supervise, but provide informed, creative, and ultimately transformative leadership for systemic change.”
– From the National Educational Technology Plan

There are several elements involved in transformative and systemic change. First, there is the content of the change message; second, is the condition of the audience who will be receiving the message; and third, is the the condition of the person who will be delivering the message and leading the change.

For the purpose of today’s post, let’s pretend we all agree on the content of the message. We believe that technology can be a catalyst to transform teaching and learning so that students are more active and engaged in their learning. Now, let’s explore the environment into which this message, or any message of change, is being delivered.

The Environment- We all know that a school building culture can be complex environment and like any organization one description of the culture does not fit all. However, it is clear that some buildings, over the years, have devolved into an ‘us and them’ atmosphere. The ‘us’ being the teaching staff and the ‘them’ being the administration. In these situations there is a feeling that administrators are nothing but political animals who want to look good; but don’t understand or truly care about how difficult the teacher’s job is, nor are they fully supportive of the staff. There is little trust.


The building may be experiencing destructive levels of triangulation on a daily basis. The Principal holds a faculty meeting, or the technology committee or the curriculum committee holds a meeting and the staff participates; but as soon as the meeting breaks, there are people in the hallways or lavatories complaining about the Principal, the presenter, the committee chair, other members of the team, or the entire committee process. Rather than raising these issues in public where they can be discussed and remedied, they are relegated to private conversations. When people aren’t being candid with one another it erodes trust.


The teachers are open to the leader’s message; but they are overwhelmed. There are multiple initiatives going on and many committees meeting. The teachers feel like they cannot take on another thing. They don’t have the time or the intellectual shelf-space for another ‘high priority item’.


There may be a few staff members who are not meeting the teaching profession’s basic standards. In some cases these folks have been ignored and tolerated for years because engaging them will take an enormous amount of effort and has the potential to generate lots of political controversy.


The pedagogy in many classrooms within the building, especially secondary classrooms, is fairly traditional: teachers have the answers, they follow the curriculum, they talk a lot, while students listen and then take written tests. Also in the realm of pedagogy and transformation falls the ‘personality driven classroom’, where teachers who like to exert control or be the center of attraction find that the personality traits that have made them so successful, do not serve them as well in a more creative, project-based, student-centered classroom.

The point here is that bringing a visionary technology message, or systemic change initiative into these building cultures will be exponentially more difficult than bringing the same message into a building with a healthy, trusting, culture that has shared values and a shared vision.

“When you want to foster more responsible behavior in people, you can’t just legislate more rules and regulations,” says Dov Seidman, the C.E.O. of LRN, which helps companies build ethical cultures, and the author of the book “How.”  “You have to enlist and inspire people in a set of values. People need to be governed both from the outside, through compliance with rules, and from the  inside, inspired by shared values.”

Tthere are many elements of existing building cultures that need to be addressed before we can move ahead with transformative technology initiatives. Think of it as tilling the field before planting a new seed. We need to deal with existing building cultures so that our staffs are open to creating a new shared vision and implementing it.

The Leader – Last, but not least, there is the messenger; the leader. How prepared is the building administrator to lead systemic and transformative change? No doubt a challenge like shifting a building culture and introducing systemic change will be the challenge of a lifetime. Have we trained for this? or are we stepping up to the starting line of a marathon without having done any roadwork ahead of time?

If the building leader is like most of us, he learned on his own, and through his studies as part of his graduate certification program. There were courses in School Administration, School Law, Business Administration, Personnel Management, Supervision of Instruction, and School-Community Relations.  He read, he attended class, he discussed, he wrote, and occasionally he presented; but little of his certification work had to do with leading transformative and systemic change.

Take just one of the scenarios above…If there is even one staff member who everyone in the building knows is not doing their job and the leader ignores them and lets them continue with business as usual, how much credibility will he have when he lays out his vision for the future? The staff will look at him and say to themselves, ‘Sure, he says he wants to make this school ‘world class’, ‘the best it can be’; but he turns his eyes away from the people who aren’t doing their jobs because it’s too much work to confront them. It’s too politically risky. Why should we stick our necks out if he won’t?” They’re right. In order to build trust with the staff the leader has to walk his own talk.

I am not trying to discourage us from moving forward. I have designed my life to help lead the effort; but if  we are serious about transforming teaching and learning, we need to get serious about identifying the enormous challenges we face; and once we have done so, we need to take some serious steps to prepare ourselves, as leaders, to meet them.

It’s my belief that we’ll never get there if we continue to prepare our leaders in same manner as we have in the past. As the National Educational Technology says…”leaders at every level–school, district, and state–must not only supervise, but provide informed, creative, and ultimately transformative leadership for systemic change.”

Where will these leaders come from?


Leadership and the Two Handed Set Shot

I’m a tall person and from my earliest years was drafted into the world of basketball. I had a fair amount of success on the court ranging from high school and college teams to various tournaments and Men’s leagues. I’ve coached at the HS level and when my children were born, I was privileged to coach their tyro teams and as they got older, their AAU clubs.

When kids are young and shooting basketballs in their driveways they have to generate a lot of motion and energy to get the ball up to the hoop which is 10 feet high. After all, they’re little, and that’s pretty far up. They grip the ball with two hands and heave it over and over again, until it starts to rattle in to the basket. After lot’s of this kind of practice they get pretty good at shooting this way. It serves them well when they are playing alone or just shooting around for fun.

old time set shot.0

Then comes the day they want to take themselves to the next level. They want to play the game of basketball. They want to play on a team competitively. It’s here that they run into a coach like me. One of the first things I try to do with these young players is to teach them to shoot more effectively. I let them know that the two handed set shot that they have perfected is not going to serve them as they move up the ladder in the basketball world. It’s too easy for a defender to block the shot. It takes too much time to shoot it. Watch any high school, college or pro game and  you will see is the one handed jumper, not the two handed set shot that rules the game.


So, I take the time to teach them and have them practice this new and more effective method of shooting. For them it feels clumsy and all wrong. They clank shot after shot off the backboard. They can’t seem to get it near the basket. They get discouraged. When I look out of the corner of my eye (when they think I’m not paying attention), I can see them shooting their two handed set shots and swishing them in. It feels good to them. It has brought them success to this point.  I know what their thinking,  “If I can make the shot with two hands, why change?”

Some of them get the message that they need to learn and master this new way of doing things, others don’t. Some work through the discomfort of abandoning something familiar and practice the new and uncomfortable way of doing it. Over time it becomes embedded in their muscle memory. It becomes their new normal. They are prepared to compete at higher level than ever were before. Their commitment and practice pays off.

Others, for whatever reason, stick with the old and familiar ways and are not successful at the more competitive levels and, in time, drop off the team and leave basketball completely.

I believe there is a lesson here for leaders.

Most of us are self-taught. We use what we know and what talents we have to succeed. One day we are promoted, or we run into an difficult individual, dysfunctional organization, or a challenge that requires us to move to a new level. We need to up our game. We need new competencies to succeed. For some of us, it’s just too uncomfortable to change our old behaviors. We like our two handed set shot. The first few times we try some new leadership behaviors they flop, like the kids’ first one handed shots clanking off the backboard. We may decide that the problems aren’t with us, it’s with the folks who are giving us the problems. Their the ones that need to change.

A few of us, stick with it, realizing that the challenges that vex us are calls for us to abandon the behaviors that are not serving us anymore and to learn and practice new behaviors that will allow us to succeed as the game gets more competitive. We may find a leadership coach to help us perfect our ‘one hander’. We may find a friend who can support us as we deal with the discomfort of mastering something new. It can be daunting at times; but one day we find ourselves leading effectively and the one handed shots are raining in from all over the court.

So, are you going to keep shooting the two hander, or move on?


Leadership Presence

At some point in your career you may have experienced a leader who we say has ‘presence’. What is ‘presence’? Are some lucky people born with it? Can it be learned?

We gravitate naturally to leaders with ‘presence’. They seem to have some intangible quality that draws us to them. They engender trust much more quickly than we would expect. We give them the benefit of the doubt. We are willing to follow them; not blindly, but much more readily than with others we know who are in leadership positions.

What is it that creates this attractive ‘presence’ that serves them so well as leaders?

It’s not their intelligence. There are lots of intelligent people who we’d never follow.

It’s not their way with words because there are many glib tongued educators that we would never trust as leaders.

It’s not their sense of humor, or their good looks, or their emotional IQ.

All of these qualities may be found in a leader with ‘presence’; but there is another domain that figures in greatly and that is the domain of the body.

The tag line for my blog and web page is:

‘Learning is a journey of the body, mind. and the heart.”

So is leading.

Leadership books often talk about matters of the mind and heart; but rarely speak of the body, so let’s examine the importance of having the ‘body of a leader’.

A Superintendent of schools addresses his administrative leadership team at the beginning of the school year, his shoulders are tense, his voice high and tight, and his breath short. No matter what words he speaks, his listeners are unconsciously hearing another message…”I am not grounded. I am saying things that are not coming from my heart.” The Superintendent’s body is not building trust. It was working against him.

A leader avoids eye contact and thus communicates that he isn’t fully engaged. It seems like he is hiding something. Unconsciously, I might ask myself, why would I want to trust someone who isn’t fully engaged, someone who seems to be hiding something?

A leader stands with his shoulders rounded and bowed in a concave circle. He sends a message of timidity.


A leader has a body that is stiff and inflexible. Unknowingly he is communicating stiffness and inflexibility to others.

A building principal is full of distracting winks, nods, and pats on the back. He creates a feeling in some that he isn’t really serious and grounded in his beliefs and actions.


A longtime Assistant Superintendent  holds his chin out and high; giving off just a whiff of arrogance.

There are so many leaders who seem totally disconnected from their bodies, as if it were only a vehicle to carry their heads from place to place.

When a leader doesn’t face you straight on when they are talking; the message may be that I’m busy and I’m not really listening to you.

There are many, many other ways that our bodies communicate messages to others. Our bodies are windows to our hearts and minds. If we are truly grounded in our purpose, if we are authentic, present, open, and connected to others; our bodies will communicate this. When our bodies, hearts, and minds are aligned and in sync, then we are living from the ‘sweet spot’. We have leadership presence. We embody what we believe. Unconsciously, others feel it, and it helps to build trust more quickly.

I believe strongly that we can develop and build an effective leadership presence. It takes a deep commitment and quite a bit of practice. Often it takes the help of a leadership coach or a committed friend; but it can be done.

If we want to transform education, we will need leaders who not only know what changes need to be made; but embody their beliefs so that they are able to inspire and motivate others to take action and to make difficult changes.


Leadership Help from the Supernanny


I have to admit that I watch the reality show called “Supernanny”. If you arent’t familiar with the show the concept is pretty simple: the Supernanny (family consultant) is invited into a family by parents that are being driven nuts by their children. I began watching the program as a guilty pleasure; but soon I realized that it was an excellent tutorial on good leadership consulting

“Say again?”

Let me give a simple example. Three pre-adolescents kids are running wild, throwing toys and fighting with each other. Mom is doing her best to maintain order; but the kids are doing as they please. When she tries to discipline them two run away,; and the one who stays behind hauls off and smacks her. Her husband works long hours so she is trapped with her uncontrollable kids all day. To make matters worse, they won’t go to bed. Mom is at her wits end and driven to tears.

It may not be obvious, but many of us in positions of leadership are dealing with very similar issues, although age and professionalism generally damp down the direct defiance and outrageous displays of misbehavior (think slapping). Over the last decade I have worked with many leaders who are trying to manage dysfunctional teams where members are sabotaging each other, or the leader, or the direction of the organization. They generally do this covertly, but the effect is not much different than the effect the disrespectful and misbehaving children have on their mother…the leaders get frustrated, angry, and a feel like they are ineffective.

I’ve felt this feeling of helplessness myself and have to admit that when I called in a consultant to help I was really saying,

“Please, SuperNanny, fix this team! They aren’t acting the way I’d like them to act. They aren’t listening. They aren’t cooperative. They aren’t reasonable. No matter what I try to do, nothing works!

So, in comes SuperNanny!

Interestingly, she rarely begins working with the kids. The kids will come later. She always begins by working with the parents, the leaders. Her first order of business is to help the parents understand that they are accountable for how their children are acting. If the parents don’t like the situation, then they need to change their own behaviors, which will in turn shift the behaviors of the kids.

The clip below shows parents that accept their accountability and are open to change their behavior. Supernanny, the consultant, helps cut through their rationalizations and stories about why things are the way they are, and acts as a mirror so that the young parent leaders can see themselves and their situation more clearly.

Many parents and leaders have difficulty accepting their own accountability.

“Look at how well I treat them. Now look at how bad they treat me. It is not my fault. It’s them. Fix them!” or another common reaction, “How dare you say I’m accountable! You don’t know me, or this situation, that well. You’re a consultant that has only been here a short time. There is no way that you see the whole picture!”

Regardless, of the reaction, until the parent leader is ready to embrace their own accountability, SuperNanny isn’t going to get very far.

One of the best expositions of the concept of leadership accountability took place on a show where the child was an adolescent who engaged in fierce outbursts with her father. Dad would say something and the daughter would respond angrily which got Dad even angrier. His response would throw more fuel on the fire and soon the whole conversation would spiral out of control.

To help him see what is going on the Nanny takes some toy bricks, one color representing Dad and one color representing his daughter. On each brick she tapes a brief snippet of their words; Dad’s on this brick and his daughter’s on the next brick. She continues to line the bricks up, while continuing to alternate colors to represent the back and forth that takes place when they fight. She asks Dad to push the first brick over. One by one each brick falls and knocks over the next successive brick until they are all down.


“That’s how your conversations spiral out of control” she explains to Dad.

“Now to change this pattern we change how you behave. We can’t force your daughter to change. I want you to take the brick with your own reaction on it out of the chain of bricks. Now, push the first brick.” He pushes the first brick with his daughter’s words on it and because he has removed his own ‘reaction brick’ from the sequence, his daughter’s brick falls harmlessly. All the other bricks remain standing.

“Yes, I get that! Changing my reaction and my behavior everything changes!”

Ah! And when the parent leader fully comprehends their accountability…

….Supernanny is ready to go work on improving the dysfunctional situation.


The Mirror


Our local PBS station is having its annual fund drive and recently ran a lecture by Deepak Chopra. The entire show was thought provoking; but one concept stood out for me. The idea went something like this; I paraphrase…

“Your life is a reflection of you.”

Now that seems innocuous enough; but there is more to it than meets the eye. What I believe he is saying is that if your life has lots of drama, conflict, frustration, and anger. It’s a reflection…not of others; but of you.

Wow! Now that hit a nerve!

For the last month or so, I have found myself with a bit of a negative outlook. I’ve been complaining about some of the folks in the consulting engagements I’m leading. I can feel myself getting increasingly frustrated with the dysfunction I am finding in so many schools and school districts. I’m discouraged with the pace of educational change, and I have been more easily drawn into non-productive conversations.

Is this all a reflection of me?

I think it is. I have been out of touch with my daily leadership practices, so I find myself more easily falling back to my old and familiar, automatic behaviors. These old habits of thought and action don’t work for me anymore. In fact, when just a tiny bit of my old self-righteousness or arrogance shows up, it creates a big mess.

In truth, I have been restless with the pace of my own personal change. I keep getting close to breaking through with a book I am writing and then I choose to let myself get distracted with lots of commitments and consulting. Weeks go by and the book slips out of sight, except that my inner voice won’t let it disappear completely. The more I ignore it, the more I am aware of it. Sounds crazy; but that’s the way it is for me.

So, it’s a vicious cycle. If I let it, my mood gets very self-critical.

Which leads me back to ‘life as a mirror’. Is it any wonder that, when I am frustrated with myself, that I would express frustration with others? And, if I feel negative and discouraged with my own pace of change, that my dealings with others would mirror that negativity and discouragement? Yes, I believe the conflicts and the drama I am experiencing in my life right now, are simply expressions of my own inner drama. It is my own inner ‘critic’ wreaking its familiar havoc.

I know better than to let this happen, I guess that is part of my frustration. It’s so easy to blame the folks that seem so dysfunctional, because in some cases, they ARE. It’s easy to blame the bureaucracy of schools because they ARE bureaucratic and slow to change. It’s easy to blame the administrators who manage rather than lead, because there are so many of them.

All these problems and issues are very real. They exist on their own; but how I choose to deal with them is MY choice. I can be critical, angry, negative and discouraged; which creates conflict and closes doors; or I can choose to deal with these issues with an open heart, with understanding, self-confidence, and gratitude… which opens doors.

Fortunately, I can choose to take a different path at any time. Yesterday, I began my leadership practices again. I believe it was the return to those practices that opened the way for me to write this reflection. Each new day, each moment, is an opportunity to make a different choice for myself. I think that that is extremely empowering and filled with hope.

It’s very easy to get lost on our journey. Sometimes all we need to do is look in the mirror, the mirror that Deepak Chopra talked about… the mirror that is our life, for clues to locate ourselves in our travels.


Integrity, Stories, and Deliberateness


“I’m an honest person and have always thought of myself as having integrity. I mean, relatively speaking. I mean I’m not honest all the time and sometimes I veer from my values and beliefs; but compared to some other people I know, I have much more integrity.”

Ah! herein lies the core of today’s post. My quote is a story I tell myself to rationalize my shortcomings in the area of integrity and honesty. The minute I start comparing myself to others, I am abandoning my own accountability for integrity. The minute I say I have integrity “BUT”, I am moving away from integrity.

My definition of integrity is ‘acting in alignment with my beliefs and values’. If I value honesty and then I cheat on my taxes, pad my resume, exaggerate my accomplishments, tell someone I am not upset when I really am…I am out of integrity.

If I say I’ll pay someone on the first of the month and I pay on the 12th and I rationalize it because I have been busy and other people delay their payments until much later than that, I am out of integrity.

It has as much to do with little things as big things.

If I value my health and believe that taking care of my body is an important part of being a leader, and yet after Aikido training on certain mornings I cross the street and go to the little breakfast place for a high calorie Danish and coffee, I am out of integrity. I rationalize my actions by telling myself a nice story… I had a good workout and deserve the reward. Does it hurt anyone? No. Is it a big thing? No. Should I beat myself up about it? No. Would I like to be more deliberate about my breakfast choices? Yes!

I believe in a clean environment but as I rush past a corner trashcan and shoot a balled up paper bag at it and miss, I keep going. I tell myself, that normally I’d pick it up; but today I’m late and there are so many people in the crowd, and it’s just one small piece of garbage, and I’m really pretty religious about being neat with my trash, and there’s plenty of other people’s garbage blowing around the street, and on, and on, and on.

Now, it may seem I am beating myself up about little things. It may seem like this is an exercise in negativity and self-criticism; but it isn’t. It is nothing more than waking up and becoming aware of the constant stream of stories I tell myself from moment to moment throughout the day. It is through the recognition that these stories are rationalizations that I start to breakdown their power.

I am a human being. I am not perfect. On the other hand, I want to continue to grow my integrity.

To be in integrity is to be deliberate about one’s actions.

So, armed with this awareness, every moment is a chance to choose to act in ways that are in integrity with my beliefs and values. I can choose to listen to the person standing in front of me, or I can let my mind slip into thinking about what is next on my schedule and pretend that I am listening by nodding my head and saying “Hmm!”

I can be angry and frustrated with someone’s behavior and make believe nothing is wrong while letting the anger and frustration cloud my behaviors, or I can choose to have the courage to speak with them about it.

The more we are out of integrity the more difficult it is for us to lead others.

If we say we value professional development; but make it the first target for cuts when the budget is under stress…

If we talk about transforming teaching and learning, but continue to spend all of our time and energy in putting out fires and dealing with day-to-day issues…

…when we stand in front of others and ask them to follow us, we may find that people hesitate.

Integrity builds trust, both in ourselves and in others.

It helps if we can wake up to the stories that we tell ourselves to rationalize where we are not in integrity. Once we are aware, we can decide to be more deliberate about the choices we make.

The more often our values and beliefs align with our actions, the more we feel the power of integrity. It is from here that we live a life that is ‘centered’ and ‘grounded’. It is from here that we can effectively lead others. It is from here that we can say…

…I am living life on purpose.


Tone Counts

Wow! Did I ever get a good lesson this week. I posted a reflection on the importance of preparing for the unspoken ‘affective’ components of meetings at the LeaderTalk blog. The premise of the piece was that most of us spend 90%-100% of our energy focusing on the ‘paper agenda’, the items from the cognitive domain that the meeting is ‘about’. Few of us spend time on the part of the meeting ‘iceberg’ that remains below the surface such as the levels of trust that exist, whether the mood of the team is negative, resigned, or ready to move forward, or whether there is a real feeling of purpose and shared accountability on the team. The list of important affective elements is much longer than the few I’m pointing out as examples.

Anyway, my post shares a few ways that I prepare for the affective part of the meeting. I have practices that help me be clarify the affective goals I have for the meeting, to help me shed personal agendas, negative judgments, and that help me get into a mindset of a good listener. In essence, I do practices so that I can be open, present, and connected with the team, rather than scripted and full of judgments about them.

When I checked back to see if there were comments about the post, I was shocked to see the response below which was targeted at a Principal who had left, what they thought was an innocent comment about my post. Something in the tone of the Principal’s comment hit a nerve with a teacher who then ‘let it fly’.

I can’t remember the last time teachers were actually “consulted”. You spend so much of your time telling us what to do, you never have the time to find out if what you’re telling us is worthy. Hey, we just might be able to help!

You all need to come on down off your high horse, get a little humility, and realize that just because you sold your souls to become administrators does not mean you know a damn thing we teachers don’t know.

In my experience, principals are great at ass-kissing, but not so great with kids, and even worse with subordinates.

Maybe your false sense of confidence blinds you to reality. Maybe your self-importance causes you to become deaf to anything but what you tell each other in Principal meetings.

Do you even realize what you sound like when you say these things? At least I realize I come off as an angry, pompous ass; but that doesn’t make me wrong! “

One blogger responded to the irate teacher’s tone:

It’s okay to use a little less invective and be a little more polite. Disagree with the idea but don’t name call, please.

One blogger responded to this angry person with sarcasm:

Sorry you had a bad principal at some point in your illustrious teaching career. I am sure that we principals all are exactly the same as that bad apple, just like all of your students are exactly the same. What names do you call the kids who disagree with you?

Of course, the response of the angry teacher, even more anger:

Sorry to offend your sense of decorum. God forbid you should take a look in the mirror, Dave. Your post is far more accusatory than mine. So much more superior. How is it up there?

Decorum ain’t all it’s cracked up to be.

And spare me the appreciation nonsense.

If you are all so professional, why the terrible problems with education? Oh, that’s right, it’s the teachers and their inability to understand, or their fear of failure, or whatever else that certainly has nothing to do with you. It must be nice to be able to place blame on your subordinates.

Administrators should make sure I have paper, pencils, and the bills are paid.

Leave the teaching to the teachers.

It’s a tough world out there. Get over your need for decorum–on a blog–and hear us teachers. Talk to the substance. Don’t react to the tone. I am not a child, nor am I your student. Hear what I say, not how I say it. That might get us somewhere. When we are not heard, EVER, we tend to get testy. And administrators have some culpability here.

Your inability to hold both your contempt for my tone and understand the meaning of my words is an issue you ought to look at. If your so able, and smart, so professional, you should be able to do both.

I admitted my tone in my post. Did you not notice that? Don’t you see how your responses are non-responses? Is my tone your excuse for ignoring the substance? Why so sensitive?

The conversation in the comments goes back and forth like this with others chiming in on both sides. It’s a great microcosm of the stated and unstated conversations take place in our schools.

So what did I learn from this experience?

On one level it is a microcosm of the kinds of conversations going on in our schools all the time. We talk at each other…both sides…and not with each other.

Also, the conversation is a great example of the power of tone. If you are not speaking or listening from an ‘affective’ place of genuine openness, if you are not present to the other person, both cognitively and affectively…

…then it’s difficult to have a productive conversation.

The point of my post was that we all need to be more open and less judgmental. It’s ironic that a comment to the post was felt to be pompous and judgmental.

I guess it re-enforces my point that, regardless of the stated agenda of the meeting (or the blog post), or the words we speak….

…tone counts.