Educational Leadership

3 Phrases That Will Change How You Lead

Changing how we lead isn’t always easy, in fact changing behavior can be downright difficult.  We have to consciously work to shift behaviors that may have been ingrained over time. We’ve practiced behaviors that may come naturally but we have to ask ourselves is it really working? Our schools desperately need leaders who are willing to change and seek out new opportunities.  

As I spend time with educators, I have become more aware of the ingrained language we collectively use in education.  Language has power. Too often I hear the same words or phrases used by leaders that indicate a culture of powerlessness or that unintentionally supports the status quo.  Here are just a few common responses I hear to new ideas or opportunities: Great idea, but we don’t have the time (or money, or staff). We’ve never done it that way. We have too much on our plate right now. Let’s form a committee to talk more about it.  ALL of these responses have become habitual and actually shut down possibility and opportunity before they even have a fighting chance.  

If you want to start seeing potential where others see problems, try shifting from a language of status quo to a language of possibility.   Practice incorporating the following three phrases to change your pattern of thinking into your daily work and I think you’ll be surprised with how these subtle shifts can open up new opportunities for the team and organization you lead.

  1. Yes, and…  Creativity is fueled by the uplifting words and actions of others. When faced with a new idea it can be tempting to offer a “yes, but..” pointing out reasons why it may not work. Instead try to build on the idea, but adding a “yes, and..”  Focus on taking someone’s idea and making it bigger. “Yes, and….promotes a positive dialogue whereas “yes, but . . . ,” shuts down the conversation.

  2. How might we…?  These three words are  powerful because the “how” implies there is not yet an answer and there is room for discovery, the “might” implies there is a world of possibility, and the “we” implies we are in this together. “How might we . . . ?” becomes an irresistible invitation to the work. Once people accept your invitation, you can continually nudge them further.

  3. What if…?  These two little words are quite possibly my favorite two words when combined, because together they have so much power. The utterance of these two words opens up a world of possibilities and signifies that the person asking them doesn’t have all the answers. They are open to exploring new ideas. One person asking, “What if . . . ?” is intriguing, and a collective group of thought leaders or educators within an organization asking, “What if . . . ?” is powerful.

What are some ways you might incorporate these phrases into your work? What are some habits in your language that maybe blocking what you need to change? I’d love to hear about the new possibilities and opportunities that shifting your language can create.

Podcasts That Push My Thinking

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I love learning about new ideas and am constantly searching for books, articles, and podcasts that will inspire me.  I get even more excited when I find materials that challenge my thinking and cause me to question.  Usually books are my go to, but lately, time has been a big constraint and I am finding it so much easier to fit podcasts into my on-the-go life. Here are just a few of my current favorite podcasts that touch on leadership, creativity, and education:

Revisionist History - Hosted by Malcolm Gladwell, Revisionist History revisits topics from the past.  Sometimes the podcast focuses on an idea, a person or an event.  I love the perspective that everything from the past deserves a second chance.

Modern Learners - Hosted by author and speaker, Will Richardson, Modern Learners examines the changing landscape of education.  I love the informal nature of this podcast, that leaves me thinking about big ideas in education with examples of schools actually making changes, not just talking about them.

Accidental Creative  - Hosted by Todd Henry, this podcast is full of inspiration for anyone who desires to work and live more creatively.  It is a weekly podcast full of tips and interviews from top thinkers, leaders, and artists.  I know Todd is also starting a new podcast called, Herding Tigers that is focused on leading a creative team.  I haven’t listened to them yet, but just subscribed and will be listening soon.

99% Invisible - If you see design everywhere, this is the podcast for you.  Hosted by Roman Mars, the weekly podcast focuses on all the thought that goes into the things we don’t actually think about.  After listening to this podcast, I guarantee you won’t look at many things the same way and may just start to notice new details of design in your own life.

This is Your Life - Michael Hyatt hosts this weekly dose of inspiration that will help you lead more intentionally.  Every episode contains questions, ideas, and actions that will help you discover ways to do more of what matters and less of what doesn’t.

What podcasts push your thinking?  I’d love to hear!

One of These Things is Not Like the Other

3 Ways to Grow Your Tribe

3 Ways to Grow Your Tribe

“I feel stuck at work,” I moaned to my husband, my mom, my sister…. really to anyone who would listen.  I’m not a complainer and yet I found myself complaining about my inability to move forward leading my elementary school staff. I was a young principal, new to the school district and while I had an idea of how I wanted to lead I felt stuck in changing the mold of school leaders in my district. I attended our weekly district “Administrative Council” meeting attended by all senior leadership and every week I heard the song from Sesame Street run through my head (cue music).

“One of these sounds is not like the others, One of these sounds doesn't belong, Can you tell which sound is not like the others by the time I finish my song?”

I can tell you who didn’t feel like they!  As I looked around the table I knew I had a lot to learn from my colleagues and their collective experience, yet I also knew that this was not going to be the peer group that held me to my highest standard.  I had to take responsibility for creating my own peer group. Whether we like it or not, we are greatly influenced by those we spend time with. If Jim Rohn is correct in stating, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with” I had to act quick. I wasn’t spending time with leaders I wanted to emulate.

I tested out a lot of ideas, but here are the three strategies that I found most successful:

  1. Less Like_____More Like____:  Get clear on the type of leader you aspire to become.  One exercise is to create a “Less like________, More Like __________” t-chart.  I knew I wanted to be less like the principal of Rydell High in Grease (a strict, but out completely out of touch leader) and more like the character Po in Kung-Fu Panda (Po is called upon to lead, has a confidence crisis but then realizes the power is in creating a team of committed, excited & powerful pandas), less like leaders who always start with answers and more like leaders who start with possibilities asking “What if?”  You get the idea, try it.

  2. Act Like a Detective - If you know the type of leader you want to become, you can find others leaders like this (whether online or in person) and do your research.  Investigate what they are reading, what conferences they are attending, and how they are keeping current.  I wanted to learn how to lead more creatively, so I ditched my go-to learning conferences for a year and sought out new ones. I hung out more at the d. School, attended SXSWedu and helped create a new conversation/community on Twitter (if you haven’t yet checked out #dtk12chat do yourself a favor and stop by for the weekly twitter chat which happens every Wednesday night at 6 pm PST).

  3. Get Out of Your Lane- Don’t limit yourself to educational leaders.  Learn from artists, scientists, CEOs, designers, futurists, and entrepreneurs.  If you work in public schools, connect with an independent school leader and vice-versa—you have more in common than you think. When we stay “in our lane” we run the risk of stagnation as we aren’t pushed in new directions.  Embrace the notion of radical collaboration and start talking to strangers.

It took time, but I found a tribe of educational leaders who inspire, challenge and support me. My tribe is constantly evolving and changing as I continue to evolve and change. Once I created my peer group, it wasn’t as painful to attend my weekly district meetings.  In fact, I even stopped hearing that song. Who is your peer group that holds you to a higher standard? I’d love to hear how you intentionally create your tribe.