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Get Your Priorities Straight!

Intentional Leadership Priority CardsDid you know…leaders are great at setting goals, but seldom set priorities.

Another way to put this is that leaders far too frequently bite off more than they, or those they lead, can chew. Lack of priorities can take several forms, such as:

  • Overwhelming their staffs with competing initiatives
  • Leading projects with “scope creep” that end up devouring time and resources way beyond what was anticipated, funded or staffed
  • Asking others to “do more with less” until, inevitably, human capacity is truly overwhelmed.

Goals are often tangible—profits, products, student learning targets, or implementation of strategies. Priorities are things such as professional development, staff relationships, accountability, autonomy, consistency in policy, and so on. And we can only concentrate on so many of them. Not setting priorities is similar to playing poker–you won’t have as much control as you like over the cards you’re dealt.

When I coach for intentional leadership, I start by asking leaders to sort their priorities. We then map those priorities onto essential tasks of leadership and compare the patterns to the leader’s natural strengths and equally natural blind spots. Are they focused on the right priorities for the situation, including their current goals?

Now there are three ways to sort your intentional leadership priorities:

  • Use the exercise provided in the book (included in the first chapter, part of the amazon.com free downoad)
  • Work with an Intentional Leadership Coach
  • Use the Leadership Priority Cards–hot off the press and available through me. When you use these cards, though, you’ll be able to choose your ideal hand–and move toward your goals.

Why the cards? All learning styles benefit from the tactile use of cards. As a coach, you can observe

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Boundaries, Barriers, or Limiting Beliefs?

P1040304Co-active coach Cynthia Loy Darst kicked off the ICF Midwest Coaching Conference, “Breaking Boundaries,” by asking us to think about the differences between boundaries, bariers, and limiting beliefs. Here’s what my table came up with:

Boundaries that we set ourselves can be extremely healthy. For leaders, boundaries can:

  • Help us know when to say yes and when to say no
  • Create healthy workplaces for ourselves and for those we lead
  • Define our goals in purposes in ways that allow us to move forward

In contrast, barriers keep us from doing things. They can be external, whether imposed by others, by society, by circumstances, by prejudices, or by very real factors such as professional standards or our own health concerns or constraints on time or money.

Leaders need to examine barriers by asking questions such as:

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Any Initiatives Not Working?

P6141528Three times this weekend, friends relayed tales of woe regarding initiatives, strategies or decisions that aren’t working. All in casual conversation.

  • An accountability test for science is given to students with disabilities via computer voice. The computer mispronounces words such as “wind” and “lead” so that question meanings are changed. And students can’t adjust volume once it is set, even though portions are so loud that they pull off their headphones
  • Late in the year, teachers are asked to add a specific read-aloud to their curriculum to prepare for a school-wide event. Not only will it keep some teachers from finishing key curriculum units, but as they preview it, several do not believe it is age-appropriate
  • District-wide cuts in school office staff hours are made without consulting office staff workers. Turns out, several key personnel will not be in the office during the traditionally busiest weeks of the year.

All three of these situations are the result of two common leadership imbalances:

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Could You Slow Down For a Bit?

Bruges coffee breakHave you in the past six weeks

A.  Complained about “so much to do, so little time…”
B.  Thought, “We should be spending more time on this…”
C.  Realized you rushed through a book, article, conversation, or ___, and aren’t sure what it was about…
D.  Felt a strong desire to sit still. Very still. Very far from that always-buzzing smart phone…
E.  All of the above?

While you probably don’t have full control of your life, you are constantly making choices. And those choices may be rushing you as well as those you teach or lead. Here are three good resources for slowing down just a little.

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Who Are You Leading?

mudholeI once saw a great leader, a camp counselor, up in the Boundary Waters of Minnesota. Canoe on shoulders, pack on back, she’d just stepped knee-deep in a portage mud hole. No cries of “Yech” or “Why are we doing this?” Nothing but an cheery call to her campers, “Hey, it’s softer on the left side than it looks, so try the right. I’ll be back to help in a minute.”

Optimism, perseverance, trust that the 13-year-olds she led could keep moving through the mud without her at their side, and a spark of enjoyment through it all–she was modeling all of those as a leader.

But to model those kinds of priorities, one has to be intentional. and be aware that others are watching.

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Were You Ever a Child???

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALast time, I posted about the Platinum Rule for leaders:
“Treat others in the way they would like to be treated”

I’d like to suggest a twist on it for those whose decisions affect children in our public schools:
“Would you want your own child in a classroom following these policies? How would you have fared as a student?”

For one thing, this simple data item–our own values around a policy–would halt debates on topics such as “Do students benefit from recess?” “Should a first-grader be asked to sit still for a three-hour test?” I think we could answer these with the question, “Were you ever a child?”

But more important, we need to have students as excited on their first day of their senior year as they are on their first day of kindergarten.Why? Because their learning has only just begun. To really make it in today’s world, no matter what they learned in school, they will have to keep learning their entire lives. Cultivating a love of learning is as, if not more, crucial as any content matter.

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The Platinum Rule for Leaders

Top-Down Leadership? Or Leadership that Meets Needs?
Top-Down Leadership? Or Leadership that Meets Needs?

The Golden Rule, Do unto others as you would have them do unto you, can be a bad leadership move. Not everyone likes the things you like, sees things the way you see things, or approaches change the way you approach change. The Platinum Rule is far more effective, far more difficult for leaders to follow:

Treat others in the way they would like to be treated”

Set aside thoughts like, “People don’t always know what is good for them” or, if you’re in education, “Students would only opt for fun.”

Instead, ponder the findings of my colleagues Linda Kirby and Nancy Barger. Their book The Challenge of Change in Organizations flowed from their research involving over 2,000 people. Their summary:

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