4 Caution Lights For School Leaders

Zig Ziglar’s “wheel of life” is often referred to by leadership coaches, like Chris Locurto, because it represents a good visual of the competing interests in each of our lives.


The thought goes, when the areas of life are held in good balance, the ride is much smoother. When one area of life is off-balance, we experience a flat tire.

Although it is safe to say that none of us has a perfectly balanced life, I almost made a fatal assumption in my early years of school leadership by thinking if I worked harder, I would accomplish more.

I believed managing the needs of students, teachers, staff, parents, etc. required every second of school as well as hours before and after. As a result, I consistently worked through lunches or skipped dinners to keep up with the demands.

Eventually, this pace led to burn-out. And a leader who burns out is a miserable leader…and eventually so are those around him or her.

Do you often feel driven to work harder and harder to reach your goals? Here are some caution-lights I try to keep in mind on my journey:

1. Recognize the The Danger-Signs of Workaholism
As I discovered the havoc over-work was creating in my life, canadian pharmacy viagra generic my wife told me one day, “The kids and I have resigned ourselves to having a canadian pharmacy viagra weekend husband and father. And even then, you are pretty much a shell of the man you were before.”

This was a wake-up call for me to revisit my priorities. Did I want to grow older and find myself with a successful career only to find my wife and children no longer knew me? As I worked harder and harder at my school, I was growing weaker in other areas of my life. I decided to focus my energies on each area of my life, not just work.

2. Pay Attention to the Sign Posts of Good Health
Sometimes we think we don’t have time for healthier habits. But when I committed to using my early mornings hours for exercise, reading and spiritual growth, this became a time to recharge my mental batteries and refill my soul.

During the work day, I started making myself stop for at least thirty minutes to eat lunch away from my desk or other to-do’s, ideally with members of our leadership team just to chat or talk about our day.

With the accountability of a colleague at school, I set a reasonable time to leave school each day. Or if I had to stay for an evening event, I found something to do not related to work in the time between.

I prioritized time with my family, even squeezing in mealtimes between games or activities with no phone or electronic devices allowed to interrupt it.

All of these small steps began to add much more meaning to my day, more time with my family, and a better attitude about working.

3. Personal Growth and Leadership Growth are not Separate Paths
When you begin to prioritize the other important areas of life, ironically, you will find you are more effective in your performance at school.

When I invest in my personal growth as well as family time, I find I am more creative and optimistic at work. I found myself enjoying my colleagues more because of scheduled down-times around lunches.

For instance, when our leadership team meets regularly around lunch, we inevitably talk more deeply or laugh more often. As a result, cooperative goal-setting and action planning became more realistic when we take time to connect, not just react to the needs around us.

4. Rely on the Guidance of Your Personal Compass
For me, my faith encourages me that if my greatest satisfaction is found in God, I also find my greatest satisfaction in life. This reminds me to keep the “hub” of my wheel of life centered correctly.

Keep your personal compass tuned to “true north” and the journey is much easier to navigate.

I still have days that wipe me out and seasons where life feels very unbalanced. But I have found my satisfaction with my work is intricately tied to my satisfaction in the other important areas of my life.

If like me, you find yourself overwhelmed, take time to focus on the more meaningful parts of your life. You will be surprised how it encourages a more satisfying life as well as a more satisfying leadership journey.

Now It’s Your Turn: What are some ways you have learned to balance work and down-time? What practical steps can you take immediately to keep from burning out in your current position? Share with the rest of us!

P.S. Hat tip to Dan Kerr and his awesome video he shared from his TedX Talk on finding meaning in life. His personal story is so inspiring and a lesson so many school school leaders need to hear.

Copyright 2013 by William D. Parker, Connect through Twitter with handle @williamdp or at www.williamdparker.com

13 comments for “4 Caution Lights For School Leaders

  1. October 30, 2013 at 10:50 am

    Hi William
    Thanks for these insightful comments. As you’ve mentioned, it’s a fine balance we do, particularly the home piece to ensure we’ve got something left for them that has quality. Your post has given me a thought for the day!

  2. October 30, 2013 at 11:41 am

    Thanks Ron. This post came home to me very personally this week after I had written it. My eight year old son ended up hospitlized and undergoing some very difficult days and treatments. He is much better now and recovering. But it certainly became very clear to me how much the other areas of my life affect me during crisis. So thankful for faith, family, and friends during times like this.

  3. October 30, 2013 at 3:07 pm

    I appreciated your comments on the wheel of life. For educational leaders I think that what you refer to as “workaholism” is actually an over-identification with our work so that who we are, our sense of self, becomes fused with what we do. We need to pay more attention to the lines between the sections in the graph!

  4. October 30, 2013 at 4:15 pm

    That’s a great point, Elaine. I hadn’t thought of it that way, but you are right. Our jobs are so public, sometimes the lines between publlic and privae get blurred. I have to admit it has taken me longer to feel like my authentic self as a principal than it did as a teacher (if that makes any sense)…trying to keep my priorities, personality and sense of humor while leading can be a challenge but much easier when I take time for those other areas of my llife than just “work”.

  5. DDJones
    October 31, 2013 at 2:04 am

    Thanks you for your insight. As educational leaders, we often feel that if we are not in control of everything that goes on in our campus, we are not being effective. Because of this, we neglect our spiritual,physical and emotional health.I am still learning to trust and realize that things are going to get accomplished whether I have direct control of them or not. Our former superintendent would always remind us that in life the three things that should have the most value to us should be God, family,and work.

  6. November 2, 2013 at 5:28 pm

    Thank you Thank you Thank you!!! As I take a brisk walk on my treadmill… realized this week that I’m very imbalanced right now. And my colleagues were noticing and trying to help. A healthier me is what my family and school needs.
    First step: finish my hour of brisk, inclined walking.
    Next step: find someone to help me stay motivated to spend quality time with my treadmill (again)

    And continue to heed the kind reminders from my colleagues to step away from my work and keep a balance.

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