Tag Archives: leadership

4 Types of Leaders You Shouldn’t Be

First of all, I am going to challenge my own title in this writing as the qualities that I am about to list are not usually people with influence, but people with titles and authority.  Leadership and administration are sometimes not synonymous and if an administrator does not make those around them better, they are not leaders, they are bosses.

Working with many different organizations, I have heard either the frustration from educators within the organization that feel like they are running on the spot, while also working with administrators that are more focused on holding down the fort as opposed leading with vision.

Here are some styles you should avoid being or working for if you want to really move forward.

1.  The “Blame Everyone Else” Leader

Ever tried to do something that is new to an organization only to be stopped by an administrator saying that “others” are holding things back?  Often times, they will say things like, “if it were up to me, I would love for this to happen”, or even act as if they are a martyr and trying to save you from getting in trouble from others.  Whatever the case, if someone is blaming others in the organization for not “allowing” you to move forward, trust will be at a minimum.  Most administrators are part of a team and although they might not always agree with one another, they will never blame others for a lack of opportunities for educators.

If you think about if, if  they are going to throw someone else under the bus, including someone on their own administration team, what do you think that they do when you are not around?

2. The “Driven by Policy” Leader 

Policies are often put into place to ensure that students and teachers are safe, yet the process to create them is often long and arduous.  With education moving so quickly, some policies are simply outdated and they are not in the best interest of organizations, and more importantly, students.  Sometimes policy interferes with doing what is right, but sometimes, doing what is right is hard.  It is easy to hide behind policy in this case.

Sometimes obviously we have to stick with policies to ensure safety and I am not saying that we throw them all out the window, but when policy trumps common sense, there are issues.

3.  The “Dead-End” Leader

You come up with a great idea that is new to an organization that you are willing to put in the work and effort.  You approach your boss and share it with you and they tell you why it probably won’t work.  You wait for suggestions.



There is nothing that can kill enthusiasm for someone at work when they are simply told “no”.  Great leaders want people to take risks, and although they are trying to protect others, a simple “no” can have harsh repercussions on an individual and ultimately school culture.

This does not mean you need to say yes to everything.  But you should ask for further explanations and help people look for ideas, alternatives, or give them the opportunity to take risks.  A yes rarely needs an explanation, but in my opinion, “no” always does.  But even with the explanation, it is still important that we try to create opportunities to keep that creative flame burning in others and getting involved with an idea or project, or at least offering guidance, says much more than “no”.

4.  The “Lack of Knowledge is Power” Leader

With all of the changes in our world, society, and culture, schools need to change.  With many administrators, this change leads to not only differences in the classroom, but in their own practice.  If administrators do not continuously learn and grow, students lose out.

Yet learning and growth take time and effort, and for some, doing what is comfortable is an easy option.  Some of my best administrators were not people that believed they knew everything, but those that actually showed vulnerability and that they actually didn’t know.

Yet when we admit that we don’t know everything, that means we have to trust others and give our “power and authority” away.  This model of distributed leadership is very tough on some and they end up hiring great people only to micromanage them.  A person that pretends that they know something is much more dangerous than those who can fully admit that they don’t.

So instead of showing humility and a willingness to learn, they often pretend they have an understanding of things that they don’t, which often leads to poor decisions that impact many.  The interesting thing is that those that are willing to get into the trenches and admit that they don’t know always have more credibility than those that pretend they do.

Weakness is not knowing, it is not being able to admit it.

I am sure that everyone of us (including myself) that is in a position of authority has done this.  No one is perfect.  But when these things become the norm, any one of them can be highly detrimental to the culture of a school.  It may not impact students directly, but long term, they will lose out the most.


“The world only cares about what you can do with what you know.”

I read a fascinating article from Thomas Friedman on the weekend (read the whole thing) on what Google looks for in hiring employees.  Here is the last paragraph:

Google attracts so much talent it can afford to look beyond traditional metrics, like G.P.A. For most young people, though, going to college and doing well is still the best way to master the tools needed for many careers. But Bock is saying something important to them, too: Beware. Your degree is not a proxy for your ability to do any job. The world only cares about — and pays off on — what you can do with what you know (and it doesn’t care how you learned it). And in an age when innovation is increasingly a group endeavor, it also cares about a lot of soft skills — leadership, humility, collaboration, adaptability and loving to learn and re-learn. This will be true no matter where you go to work.

A couple of thoughts…

First of all, as a principal, I rarely if ever looked at a person’s marks from university when hiring them.  It was not a determining factor especially since I saw that some of the worst teachers from my time in school had the best marks in university.  This is not always true, but when someone has mastered the way school has been done, the notion of school looking different for students is pretty tough to swallow.  The skills that Friedman referenced that Google looks for are similar to what I looked for in hiring a new teacher, and I am guessing, it would be similar to most employers today.

Secondly, if these skills (leadership, humility, collaboration, adaptability and loving to learn and re-learn)  are so important for a company like Google, will this skill-set not become the norm for others? And if they are, how will a system that is so focused on grades and marks deal with developing skills that can’t be easily measured?

Entitled Leadership?

cc licensed ( BY SA ) flickr photo shared by Ed Yourdon

A story from growing up…

After playing football for the high school team for three years (starting in grade 9), in my fourth and final year on the team, I felt, as a grade 12 student in my fourth year that I would be named as one of the captains.  Unfortunately, we were getting a new coach this year and I did not know how he would take to the idea.

As I met him two weeks before school started, I let him know that as one of only three players with four years experience, that I was going to be one of the captains.  He looked at me dumbfounded and said, “Really?”

I looked right back at him, and said, “Really.”

Simply, he replied, “we will see.”

Astonished that a newcomer was going to come into my school and start deciding what my final year was going to look, I was quite upset that I was going to have to prove myself over again.  Every time someone was a four-year veteran on the team, they became the captain.  That’s how it was and that’s how it should be.  With that being said, I knew that we had a bright outlook as a team and I would put all of my effort into proving him wrong (in my mind), and that he would have no choice but to name me as one of the captains.  I busted my butt in every single practice and tried to not only lead with words, but actions.  I was going to make certain that I would do anything to be captain that year as it was more about the prestige than anything at that time.

One of the traditions of the football team was the “rooking” process which had gone on for many years before I started to play.  Seems stupid now but it was part of what we did when we were kids. It was nothing like the “hazing” that we often hear about on television, but it was a “gotchie-pull” here and there.  It was considered initiation onto the team and a rite of passage that the grade 12′s passed on to the new players on the team.  That was until the new coach explicitly told us that this would not happen this year as it did not build a positive culture on the team.  Again, the “new guy” was wrecking everything.

Secretly one day, we decided to go against our coach and go through the process.  Unfortunately, the secret did not last long and at practice the next day, our coach asked us, “Did any rooking happen and if it did, who was responsible?”  Everyone was terrified.  At that point, all I could think of was losing the shot at being captain because I totally screwed up, but I also could not be dishonest.  As we stood in practice, I stepped forward in front of everyone and said that I was responsible and it did happen.  After that, all of the other teammates that took part also stepped forward.  Because of this, our coach made us do drills near to the point of exhaustion and on a hot day, it was not easy.  I remember doing what he asked and not complaining once, knowing that I had done something wrong.

The next day, as he named the five captains, he called my name last.  Even after screwing up, he still named me a captain.  As I talked to him later, he told me that my leading by example in the good times and taking ownership for screwing up showed leadership potential.  I would still have to prove him right throughout the year, but he knew that I had the potential for leadership and it had nothing to do with the number of years that I had played or put in.  It had to do with my actions.

A lesson that sticks with me to this day.

3 Conversation Starters for the School Year

Last year, as I documented some of the crucial things that we needed to discuss to further innovative practices in our school, I feel more prepared to have some crucial conversations in my role this year.  I wrote a few blog posts to help guide my own learning but I wanted to put them on one post as a focus for next year.

Below are some posts that I am hoping others can use as conversation starters with staff as they prepare for the 2013-2014 school year.

1.  Is your digital citizenship practice a pass or fail?

Several schools are looking at improving the opportunities for “digital citizenship” in schools, yet are sometimes missing crucial elements.  Blocked sites that can be beneficial to students take away from the “real world” that students live in outside of our schools.  Ignoring discussing “digital citizenship” in schools is also a disservice.

Hopefully, this rubrics is beneficial to see where your school is at, while also sparking some necessary conversations.

2.  4 Guiding questions for your IT department

I love the following quote from Harriet Rubin:

“Freedom is actually a bigger game than power. Power is about what you can control. Freedom is about what you can unleash.”

As we focus on technology in our schools, the question that we all must consider is “What is best for kids?”  That should guid all conversations.  The other 3 questions that I continue to consider are the following:

How does this improve learning? 

If we were to do _________, what is the balance of risk vs. reward? 

Is this serving the few or the majority? 

The conversations we have with our IT departments, in both directions, should always be focused on serving kids first.

3. Building the Culture of an Empowered Mindset Towards Technology Innovation 

The role of principal is extremely important as it can “make or break” a school culture.  I really believe in the notion that principals should be the “lead learner”, and that it often leads to schools becoming a culture of learning that continuously grow and evolve.  A static school is a school that can be full of dead practices.

In this graphic, I try to show the correlation between administrator and school mindset, and how open minds often open doors for innovative learning opportunities.

Hopefully the three examples above are posts that will help people with some considerations for their upcoming school year.

Want to be successful? Be a sponge.

cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by George Couros

I have worked with some brilliant leaders and educators and I have noticed the same things about all of them.

They listen.

No matter their position, they are successful because they see every opportunity as an opportunity to learn.  Even when they are in a higher position than myself, they see an interaction with myself and others as an opportunity for them to always stay on top of their game.  The other things that I notice is that although they know they do not have all of the answer, they sure have a lot of questions.  

Leaders continue to ask questions.

When I think of thought leaders in my school district, I think of people like Jesse McLean and Travis McNaughton, and the amazing ability they have as well as their insights regarding education.  They are leaders that make a huge difference in their communities and the one word that I think of when I think of either one of them is “sponge”.  They soak in everything they can, but eventually they release they learn and share it with others.  They also do not learn only from people that are “above” them in the organizational hierarchy, but they learn from every person they interact with.  They focus not only on the knowledge of that person, but they soak in the characteristics of that person and learn about them as people, which is imperative in the change process.

“Every change requires effort, and the decision to make that effort is a social process…human interaction is the key force in overcoming resistance and speeding change.” Atul Gawande

Even when they disagree, they don’t jump in and start defending their beliefs, they continue to listen. They think. They absorb. They think of what they are learning, how they can adapt it, and how they can share.

This does not mean that they agree with everything that they hear.  Not at all.  In fact, many people simply regurgitate what they hear from someone else and agree openly although deep down, they don’t agree with what is being said.  Leadership takes a back-bone to stand up for what you believe in, but it also is imperative to focus on what you can do better.  Leaders know that it is not about being right but about doing right.

The next time that you have an interaction with someone, ask them questions, see what you can learn, see what you can take, and see what you can share with others.  That is what a “sponge” does and it is a characteristic that is crucial to effective leadership.

My Bad

cc licensed ( BY SA ) flickr photo shared by Lorenzo

Reffing a few years ago, I was officiating a college game with a three-person crew, I felt that none of the calls were coming my way at all that night. Sometimes that is just the normal ebb and flow of the game, but I didn’t want to seem that I was not doing my job.

As one of the plays was happening, I ended up “reaching” across the floor and made a call that was a) not mine to make and b) terrible.  I knew it the second I made it but in the way the game is played, you have to sometimes stick with your mistakes.  As I walked towards the scorer’s table to report the foul, the coach was YELLING at me and I simply said, “Coach…the next break we have I will come over and talk to you.”

That settled him down for about a few seconds but then he decided to call a time-out to ensure that there was a chance to talk to me.  As I walked over to him, my fellow officials, who knew I made a horrible call, told me NOT to go.  As his face was red, ready to argue with me about my call, I simply looked at him and said, “Coach, there is no need to argue because I agree with you.  It was a terrible call and I am going to work my butt off to make sure I get the rest of them right. My bad.”  He smiled at me, nodded his head, we parted ways, and the game continued. That was it.

In that situation, as in many others, whether it be personal or professional, it would be easy to argue for the mistake that we made, instead of just owning up to it.  As I watched an episode of “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” with Jerry Seinfeld last night, he said something that really stuck out to me:

The truth ends every conversation.

Sometimes when it seems the hardest thing to be honest with others, we obviously are not being honest with ourselves.  People are much more forgiving of what they believe to be a mistake then they are to what they believe to be a lie.  In life and leadership, this is a lesson that we always have to remember.

Survival Mode

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Foxspain Fotografía

As I wait at the airport to head off to #ISTE13, I have been thinking a lot about the year that was (“teacher years” in North America are September to June).  I have been inspired over and over again by so many great people in my own school division that are constantly pushing the edge of learning and really stepping up their leadership.  I have also been fortunate enough to connect with many people around the world that have not only pushed my thinking, but have become good friends.  I am blessed in what I do.

That being said, I feel like I didn’t finish the year off the way I wanted.

I remember when my Dad passed away in March and I sat there stunned for several days.  It was not until I went to the funeral home that it really hit me.

And it hit me.


I remember thinking, “How am I going to make it through the rest of the school year?”  When I returned back to work and speaking, I was able to do what I needed but it was tough.  Spending time with some great people really helped, but at other points I felt lifeless.  I really tried to keep healthy, go to the gym everyday, try to eat better, but I also felt my body starting to shut down.  I have been to the doctor more times in the last three months than I have in the prior three years.

I have always asked the interview question from teacher candidates, “If two kids get in a fight, is the consequence the same?”  If they answer yes, I ask them why, and they will usually say something along the lines of being “fair”.  If they say that, I follow up, “What if one of them just had their dad die.”  They usually rethink their answer as they know that when faced with a situation like this, things change.  I never really understood what my question really meant until I dealt with.  Everything changed that day in March for me.

I went into survival mode.

Tears have been easy.  Sometimes feeling something is tough.  Losing a parent for me made me start to revisit everything in my life. I would lose endless hours of sleep thinking.  Naturally my mind has always raced, but more so lately.

Weirdly enough, my blog has become my therapy.  Just writing about anything has given me an outlet when I needed one most.  Who knew that it would be something that helped me through a grieving process.

So as we come into the end of the year, for the first time in a long time, I am not thinking about next year and all that I want to try and push.  I am just thinking about enjoying my break.  I am thinking about just having some time to catch my breath and go for a run every morning with my dog.  I am thinking about sleeping in.  I am thinking about writing.

I know that by the time August comes around, I will be ready to get back into it, but I also know that I will never be the same after losing my Dad.  Your priorities change, but changing does not mean it will make me worse.  In fact, the more I think about my Dad, the more I think about what he is thinking about what I am doing right now. That thought will drive me to be much better in many aspects of my life.  Just maybe not yet.  It will though.  He did so much for myself and my family so that we could have all of the opportunities in the world. It would be a dishonour to him to not make the most of it.

I know I have written about how excited I was about the accomplishments of staff and students, but this time, I am just happy to have made it.

Sometimes that is enough right?

It’s Possible

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Steve Betts

I heard this story on a motivational mix that I was listening to recently and thought I would share it (paraphrased).

Two young boys were skating on ice when all of a sudden, one of them fell through and got trapped under.  His friend started to punch the ice in hopes of breaking it but could not get through.  In desperation, the friend climbed a tree and broke off a huge branch,  came back down the tree and started smashing the ice, eventually breaking it and miraculously saving his friend.

As emergency services came after the boy was safe, they sat in amazement and wondered how the little boy was able to break off the branch, smash the ice and save his friend.  As they were sharing their amazement, an old man walked up and said, “the boy was able to do it because there was no one here that told him he couldn’t.”

Pretty powerful story for what we do in both administration and teaching.  How many times has a great idea or thought been extinguished by simply telling someone that it wasn’t possible?

Every Adult Needs a Champion Too!

we are the champions, my friend

Maybe it is the jet lag and lack of sleep that I have been getting, or my recent talk with the Techlandia crew that really got me thinking about the work that we do as educators and how sometimes it can be overwhelming.  I remember sharing Rita Pierson’s Ted Talk saying that “Every Kid Needs a Champion”, and being inspired by her message.  One of the quotes that stuck out to me was when she said, “Kids don’t learn from people they don’t like.”

What about adults?  Do they get excited to work with people when they don’t feel valued?

I remember someone saying to me that when someone complains about their lack of pay, the pay is not their biggest concern.  I thought about how accurate that is for many people.  I have many teachers that have confided in me that they are pushing the edge yet they do not feel valued or appreciated for their work.  Especially with so many that are sharing what they do, they have told me that others appreciate them, but their own principals never even walk into their classroom.

Doesn’t every adult need a champion as well?

I guess they don’t need a champion, but wouldn’t it make what we do that much better?  Does it not make a difference when you know that the people you work with value and promote the great work that you do?  This doesn’t have to be a boss (although it always should be), but at least someone you work with.

Two questions:

1. Who is your champion?

2. Who are you a champion for?

I think we would be a lot better off if we could easily answer those two questions.