Sunday, January 29, 2017

Setting the Culture Above the Line

I believe that the defining characteristics of a successful school focus on more than academics. With that said, however, academics is the meter in which the world judges us by. So, before I delve into the culture of a new school, understand this, how we perform academically is the single most important outcome. The system and focus for getting there are far more complicated.

In life and in school, students and teachers must understand that greatness is only achieved through intentional, purposeful actions. No matter what any person’s role is, they must have a clarity of purpose, a focus on leadership, and understand that behavior is the central driver for organizational success.

So, I ask, what drives your organization’s behavior? Ours is simple, it is a line. Yes, a line. And, we believe that everyone always has a choice. They can either choose to be above the line or below. And no matter where they choose, they must take responsibility for it.

As we get ready to take over a new school we have a VERY simple formula, choose to be above the line. First, let me acknowledge that I have different criteria for teachers from students.

For students, our line is focused on the acronym CES (Character, Effort, and Self-Control).

For teachers, the line is slightly different, their focus is on the acronym PRO (Passion, Relentless, and Ownership)

But both represent the behaviors we expect from our students or staff. Since it is our belief that behavior drives performance, we will work relentlessly at to improve students beyond their academic numbers. This focus is on culture or process, not results.

So, my question is to you, are you above the line?

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Leader's Communication: Hear, Feel, Do

As a young leader, I see value in proactively sharing my values and beliefs. I think this builds the culture and unites the team over a common purpose. Or put differently, “If a leader doesn’t create a culture, his team will.”

So, each week, before my team dives into their data, I stand, report on a few announcements then begin to dive into the message. When I was over, I would send the teams into their sub-groups and then back to the classrooms for a week of inspired instruction based on my message.
But was it that easy?

The obvious answer is no. So, how do I ensure everyone hears the same message, or, for that matter, the message I intended them to feel. Well, I would argue two things, 1) consider the hat and 2) the continuum of speaking.

1)      Consider the Hat: In a recent podcast with Craig Groesch, he mentioned that leaders should always find the hat that matches their message. For example, a boss can wear a supervisor, mentor, or friend hat when interacting with any given employee. When a boss wears a supervisor hat, his interaction with the employee would be very direct, “You are not on time today, and if you do it again, you are fired!” A boss, on the other hand, using the mentor hat would react more like, “Jeff, I saw you arriving this morning. Look, if you want to move up and achieve more, try to show initiative. That means being on time.” Lastly, the boss can wear the friend hat, “Jeff, I noticed you were late today, is everything okay? How can I help?”

“As leaders, if we are going to communicate effectively then we must select the best hat.”

In every case, the hat the boss wear affects the emotions the listeners feel. Think about it, as you replay each one of those three scenarios, did you feel differently? As leaders, if we are going to communicate effectively then we must select the best hat. After all, any leader can speak, but the best leaders ensure their people hear and understand them.
Consider this, sometimes picking the right hat is based on the situation. If you are speaking to a large group of individuals, then the friend hat would not be appropriate, and so forth. Personally, my style with my team is far from supervisory. I work hard to deliver positive forward thinking messages as opposed to the reactive nature of a supervisor's message. After all, it is my goal to unite mindsets, not to correct behaviors with these messages.
                After all, it is my goal to unite mindsets, not to correct behaviors with these messages.”

2)      Working up the Continuum: Another area of research that really struck me at my core was from communication expert, Richard Greene’s TED Talk. To be effective, Greene asserts, leaders must move up the continuum of communication from presenters to conversations. From communication “at” or “to” them, to holding a conversation “with” them.

As a young leader, this struck a chord. I can confess, first hand, that I have been a presenter. I’m not proud, but from my earliest experiences as a PD presenter in the district to being elevated to leadership, I just assume speaking is speaking, why change. Sadly, as I drafted my talks I would visualize me presenting the information. But, as Greene displays, the greatest speakers of all time use conversation to relate to their audience. After all, he says, your team must connect with speaker and believe in the message.

                But, as Greene displays, the greatest speakers of all time use conversation to relate to their audience.”

So, as I grow as a leader, I must continue to assert my values and beliefs on the team that I manage. But, what I realize, maybe more than anything, is that my growth as a leader must begin with my growth as a communicator. Moving forward I must put deep thought into how I communicate those messages. After all, every leader is a communicator, but the best leaders will communicate using the proper hat while spreading the message with conversation.

~Work hard, make a difference, and join the crusade. Because those that plug into a higher purpose will always dream higher, see broader, and care deeper.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Success Relieves Urgency

In a recent podcast, the host said this profound quote, “Success is never owned, it is only rented. And, tomorrow, rent is due.”

Let me be totally honest; for whatever reason, every time I mention that quote it gets my juices flowing! It fires me up! And, with a little reflection, I realize how true that quote is. I think as professionals we have to constantly battle complacency.

Complacency relieves urgency.

First and foremost, complacency relieves urgency. Have you ever worked with someone that just seemed to be better than you? I have, and it fueled my urge to get better, quickly. For whatever reason I had to be better, and when that was not the case, my drive for improvement jumped into overdrive.

Similarly, so does an organization. In recent years, the school I am presently at went from a “D” ranking to an “A” ranking. When we became a “D” school, it was almost as if it was life threatening. In other words, we were in constant pursuit of excellence, and for whatever reason, we would not be denied! Our teachers worked after school, during lunch, and before school to tutor struggling students.

Then the new ratings came out this summer. We jumped to an “A.” No, that’s not a mistype, an “A.” Can you imagine the excitement in the air? The staff was rewarded for their hard work. We rolled through first of the year PD. We performed a pep-rally for all district teachers, organized an individualized approach to implementing technology on campus, and met with departments and whole staff about organizational needs. In the words of one new teacher, “This has been most organized and energizing PD I have ever experienced.”

Just to recap, we are now an “A” school, we fired the staff up with celebrations and focused PD, so what’s the issue. The issue is this, now that the emotions of achievement have worn off, what is our new level of urgency? Are we still in overdrive pursuing our mission? Or have we reached a level of complacency?

You see the biggest threat to future success is current success.

And just so you know complacency is scary, it cannot be seen in the mirror and is often not seen until it is too late. Complacency is a mindset, and if it sets in then, we start just GOING through the motions. We go to our J-O-B and go home. We forget that every kid depends on us every day. We lose focus, and start to think that since we are the best, how dare the kids of this year not step up! When this happens, we are in trouble! When we fell to a “D” we took on a new mindset, do we still have it?

“The default mode of any organization is complacency.”

I love Craig Groeschel’s quote, “The default mode of any organization is complacency.” Which make me wonder, what are we doing daily to inspire and motivate our teachers and students to become the “Absolute best high school in the state of Mississippi”? Do we understand that success is only rented and without the urgency of last year, our future success is not guaranteed? You see the biggest threat to future success is current success. So, as an organization we have to start dreaming bigger, seeing broader and caring deeper, because tomorrow… RENT IS DUE!

Because tomorrow… RENT IS DUE!

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Good to Great Assignment - Reflection on Leadership Experience

In education, the public often sees numbers while educators are more prone to see faces. For years now, leaders have stumbled to improve results so that their public report card could display the type numbers that the public could take pride in. However, as I began my leadership career I luckily got introduced to a new way, a new focus, a model of leadership which influenced the organization from the inside out. In reference to Jim Collins’ book Good to Great, The Social Sector (2005), this mentor leader concentrated on the First Who principle to strengthen and build a successful organization.

In my first year as an administrator, I was placed in charge of curriculum, data, and improving instruction. I spent countless hours developing forms, organizing teacher schedules for common planning, and creating massive data walls to display our school results. I created a system of rewards to motivate the teachers to work harder than ever, and I was convinced I was about to flip my school’s data and be their savior, which of course is a terrible example of Collins’ Level 5 Leadership (2005). After about nine weeks, it hit me like a ton of bricks, our teachers were doing no more than they ever did before. They were no more motivated to improve their classroom instruction, use data, or improve the hard to reach students than ever before.

Fast forward to this past year, my second year, but my first year in a new district with a new proven principal. This principal had previously won national middle school and high school principal of the year for SREB (Southeast Regional Educational Board). I could not wait to see what he did differently.

Immediately he began “getting the right people on his bus” (Collins, 2005). First, he filled the thirteen vacancies within two weeks. Of the thirteen, six of them were specifically recruited and chose to come. And in one case, the newly hired teacher left a higher paying job to come work for our award winning principal, I could not believe it. Meanwhile, he met with his leadership team every day. As the leadership team, it became apparent right away that we were his focus, we were the right people, and soon we all spoke the same voice. Next, he began his implementation process for SREB instruction into the classrooms, and it is only mid-June. To do so, he met with all the department chairs and selected list of influential teachers. In these meetings, he set the foundation and groundworks, then expressed his vision for how instruction and delivery should look on our campus. And, to top this off, he charged each one of these teachers as the instructional leaders on our campus.
In using the First Who principle by Collins (2005), our school's culture was flipped before the remaining teachers ever stepped foot on campus. And, in alignment with the First Who principle, our principal understood some very key elements of a successful organization.

First, in alignment with his core values and vision, he understood who the right people are. The right people in our organization are not motivated by incentives or rewards but rather the mission. Even in one case mentioned above, one of our right people gave up money to come work for an organization that had effective leadership and a mission worth dedicating themselves. Further, the principal would often tell us, the leadership team, that the people he wanted are motivated, determined, disciplined, and persistent. And, if that meant using less talented people, then he would.

Second, he knew that when the right people begin to get on the bus, the wrong people would either conform or get off. We often discussed that if eight out of ten are on the bus, then the bad apples will eventually make a choice. If they decide to leave, then we would begin building our organization like Roger Briggs, the suburban physics teacher from Collins’ book. We would simply hire better (2005). Otherwise, if eight out of ten were on board and one of the two of ten was still on the fence, then they would eventually decide to join forces.

Now seeing the First Who principle for myself, I can see how it is done; however, it seems daunting since I am yet to be the top leader of an organization. Moving forward I plan to use this principle to build shared leadership, ownership, and commitment with my future staff members. Not only do I see this as one of the greatest challenges for social sector leaders, but maybe the most important challenge, specifically in school-based leadership.

And remember, in order to improve the organization, you must think higher, see broader, and care deeper...


Collins, J. (2005). Good to great: The social sector. Boulder, CO: HarperCollins Publishing.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Effective Leaders are More Efficient Leaders – How the Leader's Time Management Affects His Influence

Let me let you in on a secret… Leadership is busy, very busy, and times overwhelmingly busy. As leaders we must set the direction, cast our vision (over and over and over again), and complete every task. This can often become overwhelming and very stressful. So, how do the most exceptional leaders do it? And, in many cases, why do they never look as stressed out as I think I do?

Every day I have people come talk to me, some are just trying build relationships, and others are needing something. Whatever the case, I feel like I am always dismissing these conversations on account of “I’m too busy.” Don’t get me wrong, in the body, I am standing there, but there is no listening. And in some cases, okay, maybe one specifically, I literally begin retreating while that person is talking to me (in my mind I’m laughing right now because this particular person evidently does not catch on to ANY social cues).

You see, my problem was that I am constantly obsessing over the completion of my next task. My biggest problem is not my intentions; it is my time management. I was routinely allowing the urgent (the next task) to always take over the important (building relationships and leading intentionally). You see as leaders, we must be able to build relationships; and when we are too busy to connect, then our time management drastically reduces our influence.

“I was routinely allowing the urgent (the next task) to always take over the important (building relationships and leading intentionally).”

What I have learned is that wise time management is not doing more; no, wise time management is doing more of what is important to you. As leaders, we have to set the “P” word, priorities. To accomplish the most important task, build relationships, cast vision, and manage, we have to clearly understand what is most important to us.

“What I have learned is that wise time management is not doing more; no, wise time management is doing more of what is important to you.”

But what about the task we deem non-essential? Do they just not get completed?

Of course not, we must be effective delegators. After all, the job of the leader is not to build more followers but to grow more leaders. If we unite this principle with effective time management, then we, create a more efficient leader that produces more influence.

So as leaders, sit down and reflect. What is most important to you? Once you decide, write it down and do it first. Because to be effective, we must say no to many small things to efficiently accomplish a few big things which will drastically grow our influence.

“Because to be effective, we must say no to many small things to efficiently accomplish a few big things…”

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Be Yourself. As a Matter of Fact Be More of Yourself.

Be yourself. As a matter of fact, be more of yourself. Recently, I began listening to Craig Groeschel’s leadership podcast (go check it out if you have not already). As he typically maneuvers through an array of leadership topics he always ends with the same saying, and I think it unbelievable profound. Each podcast concludes with this, “Be yourself… People would rather follow a leader who is always REAL before they follow a leader who is always RIGHT.” Wow, for whatever reason that hits me at my very souls.

Well, first, let me describe to you my early leadership struggles. As a coach entering the educational field, you tend to bring with you a stigma. And, it’s not a good stigma. The not good stigma, like associated with New Orleans Saints fans in the 90’s; yeah, paper bag over your head kind of OUCH. You see as a coach I was not supposed to be a great teacher. I was expected to be lazy, only focused on my sport. But, for whatever reason, my mind was not made that way. Instead, within four years I became the teacher of the year. Not because I inherited the world best instructional skills, but because, I think, I outworked everyone around me and gained their respect.

My first leadership position came quick, after my second year, the principal approached me. She said we need a new leader in the science department, can I lean on you? In my mind I was thinking, “Hey I’m just a coach, why would these science geniuses listen to me?”

Our first meeting comes around, and let's tell you I was ready! I created a PowerPoint with a built in timer. I created an agenda to pass out. And, stressed all day.

You see, I saw this as an opportunity. I just received my first promotion within the ranks, and I could not let the principal down.

So, as we entered the meeting, the teachers took their places. As for me, I’m just 26 years old, ready to speak and watch them hang on every word. We will conquer the school, change the world, and become legends.

As I begun to speak a silence hit the air, they were all looking at me-and me at them. I delivered instructions for how I wanted our PLC to look then released them to uncover struggling students, figure out how to enrich proficient students, and share classroom instruction that worked. It was beautiful.  Finally, after forty minutes we dismissed.

In the days following, I could not wait to see and hear about the changes.

Instead, however, all that happened was that the teachers returned to their classrooms to do more of the same. Nothing changed! What did I do wrong? Why did I not inspire change?

You see I had stood in front of all of them, pretended to be an expert, then sent them back to their classrooms to perform my task. As a young leader, I thought it was most important to appear as an expert who knows it all. Ha, boy was I wrong. I had big goals, I knew the big plan, but I spent zero time with the team to discuss what they saw, what they wanted, and how they thought they could get there. I wasn’t leading I was criticizing them cloaked in a disguise. I masked myself as a charismatic, scientific prodigy who had all the answers. And, let me tell you, THAT’S NOT ME.

You see leaders HAVE to be themselves, as a matter of fact, more of themselves. My skill set was based on coaching. I needed to be a coach, not a science prodigy. Heck, those guys knew WAY more than me about science, and they knew it. So, while they respected me enough to listen to my face, once they returned to the classroom they didn’t respect my message. I had gone about it the wrong way.

If life had mulligans, then I would definitely have used it on this one. I should have spent my first meeting uniting the team and building a culture of transparency and collaboration, and that’s only after I spent days leading up to the meeting developing relationships. As a 26-year-old with minimum teaching experience, science knowledge was not necessary. I needed to be a coach. I needed to spend twice as much time listening as I did speaking. My team needed to be empowered not bossed around by an inexperienced colleague.

This was a lesson taught best through experience. We have to be ourselves. After all, people will follow leaders that are REAL (use their God-given skills to influence) before the follow people who are RIGHT (whether your right or not-your tactics are empowering the team to action). 

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Bigger, Broader, and Deeper

What is the mindset of a successful organization? And, how does a leader set a standard of excellence that never dissolves? Recently, the answer punched me right in the face. As I listened to my daily podcast, author and pastor Craig Groeschel said, “Leaders must think higher, see broader, and care deeper.” At last, a eureka moment. He was not just describing a leader’s mindset, but he was describing the effects of effective leadership on an organization. This was ABSOLUTELY profound. As leaders of an organization, we must do three things every chance we get. We must inspire our people to

1. Think bigger (higher)
2. See broader
3. And care deeper

Think bigger. I honestly believe that the first step in growth is to have a think bigger mindset. As an educator and professional, I must continually try to think bigger and aspire for better. Thinking bigger is not just a leader issue, it’s an everyone issue. In the best organizations, everyone develops this think bigger and higher mindset. Let’s face it, if I’m the only one thinking higher than that is not leadership, that’s a personal goal. We have to inspire and challenge our people daily. We must communicate where we are and where we want our organization to go. We must incessantly reflect, then continue to chase the finish line.

“Every organization’s default mode is complacency.” (Groeschel, 2016) Now I realize this sounds harsh. And, maybe you're thinking, that’s not us. BUT STOP. There is some truth here. It is really easy just to show up to work, do your job, go home, and then do it again. When this routine sinks deep, then growth stops, and you have fallen into complacency mode. And just for the record, I have operated in the zone many, many times. As leaders, it is our job to live differently, see more, operate with an owner’s mindset, and inspire greatness. We must ask ourselves daily IF DEFAULT MODE IS COMPLACENCY THEN WHAT ARE WE DOING EVERY DAY TO IGNITE PASSIONS AND MAXIMIZE PERFORMANCE?

In short, we must challenge everyone to think bigger.

See Broader. The organization becomes EXPONENTIALLY stronger when our people see what we see. Sometimes as leaders we operate as owners and see the big picture. Our people will never perform this way unless we openly communicate our vision every single day. When staff members begin acting as owners, instead of employees, they see changes that need to be made before the leader does and create channels of upward communication. Let’s face, it is their boots on the ground; and they if effectively communicated, see the changes needed to grow the organization. However, these changes are never recognized unless you instill an owner’s mentality in your people.

One of my favorite stories involves an overflowed sandwich shop during lunch hour. As a guy waited in line to order a sub, he watched as two sandwich makers worked calmly to fix sandwiches (and by calm I mean they were taking way too long) while another employee ran frantically back and forth cleaning tables, pouring drinks, checking out people, and fixing sandwiches when he could. So when the patron got to the front of the line, he asked, “How long have you been the owner?” What he was watching were two different mindsets. The employees were satisfied with producing whatever they did at a slow pace. After all, it is not their store, and they are only getting paid by the hour. On the other hand, the owner showed extreme ownership over the store’s success. He saw key issues and fixed them. So often I think leaders see problems, fix them, then move on; which produces followers. In this system, people overlook issues and wait for the leader to fix it. However, what we must create is a new mindset, an owner mindset, where leaders produce more leaders. When an organization is focused on growing more leaders with owner-like mindsets, then the entire organization gets stronger.

Care deeper. The third truth is simple, where is your heart? Have you ever been around someone that you could just tell their heart was not in it? Of course you have, and no matter the disguise they try to mask it with, it’s obvious. When we care deeper, operate with more passion, purpose, and compassion, people notice; and this is infectious. What I have learned is that deep care of you people trickles down to their treatment of others. For this very reason, caring deeper maybe the single most important element in this formula. People who care, do not see their jobs as work, but rather a passion. One of my favorite quotes is from Simon Sinek, a leadership expert. He said, “Working hard for something we don’t care about is called stress; working hard for something we love is called passion.”

As leaders, we must invigorate our people to treat others with love. We must kindle a passion from within everyone because caring deeper is infectious. In education, this care can be felt by students, parents, and the community; and as educational leaders, we must inspire this type of heart, or as we tell our staff routinely, “You have to burn HOT!”