Would You Follow You?

There comes a time in the life of every leader when we have to take a hard, honest look in the mirror and ask a fundamental question: “If I weren’t me, would I want to follow the example I set?” You know you better than anybody else in your classroom, school, or your home. You know your strengths and weaknesses as a person and a leader. And with this knowledge of who you are, what you think, how you live, you have the ability to make an honest assessment of your life- as a leader.

When I became a high school principal, I wanted to implement some of the ideas that Todd Whitaker shares in his book, What Great Principals Do Differently. In chapter fifteen he recommends that the leader communicate expectations at the beginning of each year. Following is a list of expectations I shared with my staff:

1. Respect-Respect your students, yourself, others, and the profession.
2. Communication-make contact with parents on a regular basis.
3. Manage Your Classroom-Be proactive by having clear expectations and be consistent.
4. Presence-Being present makes a difference so be here. Greet students at the door.
5. Punctual- Punctuality is a sign of respect.
6. Prepared- Prior planning prevents poor performance.
7. Professional Development- continue to grow; try new things.
8. Celebrate progress and achievement of your students.

As I think about what I expect from my staff, I’ve had to ask if I am meeting these same expectations. Some of the key questions I ask myself often, especially during tough times or times of transition are as follows:

1. “Are you punctual like you expect from others?”
My pastor has always said that punctuality is a sign of respect: respect for others time, talents, and responsibilities. This not only includes arriving on time, but ending on time as well. As of late, I have found myself arriving late to a meeting that I called! This is disrespectful and also has given permission for others to arrive late. This is not good and something that has to be corrected right now.

2. “Do you establish and honor the relationships you have with your staff, students, and parents?”
Dr. James Comer once said, “No significant learning takes place without a significant relationship.” Positive relationships are foundational for true learning and upon reflection; I have some solid relationships with some of my staff while others need work on my part. I need to be “slow to speak, quick to hear, and slow to anger” James 1: 19 (KJV). At times, I have gotten in the way of establishing a positive relationship with some of my staff because I was either quick to speak, slow to hear, or quick to anger. In other words, I didn’t make time to “be there.” I had to ask myself, “Would you follow you?”

I always feel that I need to interact with my students and parents more. Principals like George Cuoros ( @gcouros), Eric Sheninger ( @nmhs_principal), David Truss ( @datruss), Lyn Hilt ( @L_Hilt), Steve Bollar ( @StandtallSteve), and Patrick Larkin ( @bhsprincipal ), are people I look to for ways to positively interact with students and parents. In addition to leaders in my virtual Professional Learning Network, I rely heavily on my strong administrative team. Each of them brings a wealth of experience and individual strengths that I tap into on a regular basis. Each leader in my PLN uses blogs and Twitter to highlight teachers, special events, and accomplishments of students in their schools. The more they recognize the achievements accomplishments of students, the better parents feel about the communication that comes from the school. This, in turn, along with personal interactions, builds and maintains positive relationships with parents. Establishing positive relationships takes time, yet the benefit of creating meaningful and engaging relationships is critical to a leader’s success in seeing the mission and vision of the school come to fruition.

3. “Are you open to new ideas?”
This is critical to ask because of the current state of significant transition and transformation that’s occurring in education. Many of my teachers and students have innovative ideas that can make a huge impact on teaching, learning, and the school climate. It’s difficult to follow someone if the only response you hear is, “No.” A good leader understands the need to create a collaborative environment. Todd Whitaker, in What Great Principals Do Differently says it this way:

One critical difference was the effective principals viewed themselves as responsible for all aspects of their school. Though these principals regularly involved staff, parents, and others in the decision making, they believed it was their responsibility to make their school the best it could be.” –p.15

Yes, it’s the leader’s responsibility, but no one person can do it alone. New, fresh ideas are alive in many schools from other members of the school community. It should be a primary goal of the leader to help these ideas become a reality.

These are just a few of the questions I ask myself on a regular basis. Leadership is extremely hard, but it’s also very rewarding. We demand much of others and must also hold ourselves to the same expectations we have of others. So I ask you, “Would you follow you?”

Be Great,

Dwight

11 Comments

  1. Steve said:

    Dwight,
    First, thank you for the mention. Secondly, you have truly given me something to think about. Stepping away from yourself and looking at how you lead is amazingly humble. The one thing that followers do is look at the faults of the leader, weigh them on the standard scale they have, then determine if he/she is worthy to follow. Can I do that to myself? Am I strong enough to take my own critique? Is my standard scale off balance because of my leadership background? The final question is, what will I do differently?

    Again, than you for posting this. As leaders, we all have work to do.

    April 5, 2011
    • Dwight Carter said:

      Steve,

      Thank you for taking the time to reply to this post. Honest reflection is always necessary and I agree with you that it should move us to action.

      Be Great,

      Dwight

      April 17, 2011
  2. Dave said:

    Dwight,

    I too like Whitaker’s book. I find the ideas he presented to be quite simple, but important. Sometimes the simple things are the items we forget about or put off. I wish I had this book when I became a principal. It may have helped me at a time when I needed it most.

    I think your point about following yourself is bang on. Again, fairly simple but can be so powerful in critical reflection. Self-reflection is so important in teaching and administration. Those who take the time to reflect critically are often the practitioners who are the most successful

    Dave

    April 5, 2011
    • Dwight Carter said:

      Dave,

      Thanks for responding. I heard Todd Whittaker speak at the Jostens Renaissance National Conference several years ago and was moved by his passion about greatness in action. His book was spot on for me and it’s something I refer to often.

      The hardest part of leadership is leading oneself! Thanks again for you comment.

      Be Great,

      Dwight

      April 17, 2011
  3. David Truss said:

    Great points Dwight,

    After reading this I thought of a favourite quote from one of my favourite books, The Tao of Leadership:

    “Good leadership consists of motivating people to their highest levels by offering them opportunities, not obligations.”

    I think those 8 points are ones that provide yourself and your staff with opportunities to be better, more effective teachers… and leaders in the school. I would (and do) follow you!

    April 5, 2011
    • Dwight Carter said:

      Hi Dave!

      Thanks for your positive response. I love the quote about leadership: “…offer them opportunities, not obligations.” I’m going to have to use that one!

      Be Great,

      Dwight

      April 17, 2011
  4. What an intriguing question! Would you follow you? I’ve been recently asking many similar questions, but never quite this eloquent articulation.

    We’ve been in a process of implementing a distributed leadership model in our school, with many opportunities for faculty to lead. My role as a principal is changing dramatically in the process; I believe for the better. As I ask faculty to collaborate and enter a culture of “we”; it’s so important to continue to consider whether I would follow the example I am trying to set. Thank you!

    April 5, 2011
    • Dwight Carter said:

      Hello Shira,

      Thanks for taking the time to read and comment on this post. I really appreciate it. Good luck as you transform your school using the distributive leadership model. I can’t wait to read about the process!

      Be Great,

      Dwight

      April 17, 2011
  5. Mark Linton said:

    Dwight,

    Thank you for the reminder to take a look in the mirror. Reading this piece came at just theright time for me. You candor and humility are refreshing. I, too, have been falling into the trap of quick to speak, slow to hear, and quick to anger. Your reminder to do the opposite is helpful advice. Thank you!

    April 17, 2011
    • Dwight Carter said:

      Hi Mark,

      Thanks so much for your response. I’m glad to hear it was a help to you. It’s easy to get caught up in the minutiae of the days, weeks, and months, but we can’t forget that we are always “on”. Leadership is hard and many do what we do well before they do what we say.

      Be Great,

      Dwight

      April 17, 2011
  6. Tara Brown said:

    Hi there,
    When I was still teaching, I sometimes would ask a student ‘If you worked for you…would you fire you?’ So often the answer was…’Yes!’ Thank you for the post. Self reflection and honest personal assessment is truly a cornerstone of powerful leadership. I’ve found with many veteran educators, there is a level of comfortability and unwillingness to continue to push ourselves, have those hard ‘come to jesus’ meetings with ourselves to truly be on the cutting edge of our profession. We all are hopefully continual works in progress. Keep up the great work!
    Tara

    May 2, 2011

Comments are closed.