I had an opportunity to record a podcast with a longtime friend and educator colleague, Dr. Mark Wilson. Mark was named the National Principal of the Year when he was the principal at Morgan County High School in Georgia. He currently provides ongoing training, support and coaching to school leaders. I asked him to share insights from his new book, “What They Didn’t Teach You in Fancy Leadership School.”
Here are some key points from our conversation:
- Mark described that one of the most important things for new leaders to learn is that “their influence is greater than their authority.” People have to give you permission to lead them. Just because the Board of Education has hired you for a position, it doesn’t mean that anyone is going to listen to you. You have to earn that. When you think about whom you listen to, its people that your trust. Often you trust people because they have been in the role long enough to know things. A lot of times it’s hard for new leaders because they haven’t been doing the role for very long and people are naturally skeptical. They’re not sure if you know what you’re doing. A mistake that new leaders frequently make is trying to front and act like they know everything.
- One of the most important things in any new position is following a pathway of connections that lead to relationships which over time produce trust. That trust can give you a little window where you can influence the way someone does their work, what they do and how they do it, and then that can lead to improved performance. Too often new leaders want to jump all those steps and just go straight to performance and start tinkering on pieces. A teacher with a new group of students realizes that before students are going to do the things that you would like them to do consistently, they have to decide that you’re a trustworthy person, that you’re a reliable source. Spending time doing that isn’t fluff, it’s the job. If that notion evades new leaders, they end up further behind in their pursuit of performance.
- As Mark and I discussed the value of a leader’s humility and vulnerability, Mark stated:
“Sometimes I think people misconstrue humility as a leader or as a teacher. It’s not only being willing to be last in line, that’s part of it. It’s not only being willing to serve and to do things, but even more so, I think when we’re working in education, humility is about not always insisting that you’re right, not always being the one talking, but providing a space for people to learn. And I guess the biggest part of humility in that sense is that this isn’t about me. This is about you! And that simple truth, if you can get there, you’re going to do well at this work. If you can’t get there, you’re not.”
In Mark’s book he describes four questions that you can ask to focus your leadership foundation: (page 75-76)
- Who am I? – At the core of leadership is self-awareness. Reflection is key to leadership growth. If you know who you are, you can keep from getting lost.
- What am I here for? – What is your purpose? What is your mission? Establishing your personal vision and mission is a fundamental piece of leadership.
- What do I believe? -A leader is well served by developing a list of beliefs pertinent to leadership. Making your belief statement is a perfect complement to your identity, vision, and mission.
- What will I fight for? – In developing the list of what you will fight for, you identify your deepest beliefs and strongest passions. The sooner you establish this list, the more focused you can be in your work.
Mark suggests that leaders revisit their responses to these questions annually. Some responses will stay with you throughout your career. You may delete and add others with your experiences. As I considered Mark’s questions, I thought a values affirmation activity might be a good starting point. Select two or three values that are highly important to you and identify actions you have taken or will likely take because of those values. I asked ChatGPT for a starter list. What would you add?
Integrity: Acting with honesty and ethics in all situations.
Respect: Treating others with consideration and kindness.
Accountability: Taking responsibility for one’s actions and decisions.
Leadership: Guiding and inspiring others to achieve their best.
Empathy: Understanding and compassionately responding to others’ feelings and needs.
Collaboration: Working together effectively to achieve common goals.
Diversity: Valuing and celebrating differences in individuals and perspectives.
Innovation: Embracing new ideas and creative problem-solving.
Excellence: Striving for the highest standards of quality and performance.
Adaptability: Being open to change and learning from experiences.
Service: Dedication to serving others and making a positive impact.
Community: Building strong connections and a sense of belonging.
Courage: Facing challenges and adversity with bravery.
Equality: Promoting fairness and equal opportunities for all.
Responsibility: Fulfilling obligations and duties effectively.
Learning: Continuously seeking knowledge and personal growth.
Inclusivity: Ensuring that everyone feels valued and included.
Humility: Acknowledging limitations and valuing others’ contributions.
Empowerment: Supporting and enabling others to reach their potential.
Communication: Fostering open and effective communication.
Balance: Maintaining a healthy work-life balance.
Creativity: Encouraging and nurturing creativity in oneself and others.
Justice: Promoting fairness and social equity.
Gratitude: Recognizing and appreciating the good in one’s life.