“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 belonged...me! 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:
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.
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).
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.