Leadership and Capacity

“I’ve come to realize that I’m not the only one that wishes
I had more capacity to do the things I really want to do as a leader.”

I said that on a post about Leadership and Management back in October. Two weeks ago, as my school year for the Inquiry Hub was coming to a close, report cards for Coquitlam Open Learning were going out, students were scrambling to get last minute marks to universities for their online courses, and summer school prep was under way, not to mention an onslaught of emails… I’d have to say that I had one of the busiest weeks of my life. There simply wasn’t enough time in the day!

This reminded me of a conversation that I had a while back with a friend and mentor, where he spoke about, “Stuff, not people.”
What's falling off the back of your truck? ~ By David Truss

“Stuff, not people.”


“Stuff, not people. When things get really busy, and you can’t do everything, things will ‘fall off the back of your truck’. When that happens, make sure that it’s stuff, and not people.”

After a meeting a couple weeks later, I shared this thought with another friend. Her response was, “The problem is, all I’ve got left on the back of my truck is people.”

I totally understood where she was coming from, but I do think that it is actually the ‘stuff’ that makes us feel like we can’t get to ‘people’… if organizational demands were not so high, maybe our ‘wish list of priorities’ could actually feel like and be priorities.

I’m not sure if it is just my personal capacity, or if it is the role of an administrator in this day and age, but I’m really struggling with how much of my job is not about educational leadership, and how much of it is more managerial and even secretarial in nature. It is interesting to me that although I love my job, and there is nowhere I’d rather be an administrator right now, (I’ve actually requested not to be moved for at least 3 more years), I’ve still had a few times this year where I’ve seriously considered going back to be a teacher.

One of the things that has fallen off the back of my truck is my social media presence. I have read, tweeted, blogged and shared less in the last year and a half than I have since I started blogging. Part of me thinks this is ok, after all, this is ‘stuff and not people’, but another part of me recognizes that this actually makes me less of an educational leader. When I’m engaging in meaningful conversations online; when I’m reading and then synthesizing ideas on my blog; these are the times that I’m excited about being an educational leader. These are the times when I’m asking compelling questions, engaging in learning conversations, challenging myself into action, and loving my role as an educator and as a leader.

So how do I fit it all in? The reality is that I don’t want anything falling off the back of my truck. I want to have the capacity to effectively meet the managerial aspects of my leadership position AND also provide effective educational leadership. So how do I build capacity here? What are people doing to help them make their role as a leader more about what they want it to be? What strategies work? And how do people ‘find the time’ to do the things they really want to do?

[Cross-posted on David Truss :: Pair-a-Dimes for Your Thoughts]


  1. Joshua said:

    I have reflected over the last six months and realised that people had been well and truly falling off the back as more innovative, exciting, important ‘stuff’ took hold. The problem is, that when other people don’t do stuff that is delegated to them to a sufficient standard that I get trapped with “if you want a job done correctly, you better do it yourself”

    I’ve tried hard to fight against this instinct to try to train those I deal with, so that they can deal with more of the stuff that is probably in their job description rather than mine. This should give me more people time.

    July 8, 2013
  2. David Truss said:

    Hi Joshua,
    In reading your comment, I was reminded of reading this recently:

    To a disciple who was forever complaining about others the Master said, “If it is peace you want, seek to change yourself, not other people. It is easier to protect your feet with slippers than to carpet the whole of the earth.” — Anthony DeMello, SJ (From: http://donaldwatkins.tumblr.com/post/45183393368/to-a-disciple-who-was-forever-complaining-about )

    That said, I think I am in a different situation than you are… I am actually surrounded by very competent people, not perfect, but neither am I. So, in writing my post above, I’m not seeking to delegate tasks to already busy teachers, but rather to find a way to spend more time with these great educators, and less time on the more managerial demands of my job. I’m sure there are efficiencies to be found, I’m just not sure where to look to find them, or what successful strategies others use to make these tasks less needy of their time.

    Essentially, I’m looking at ways to improve ‘me’, so that I can foster relationships and more time for a collective ‘we’ to spend on the “more innovative, exciting, important ‘stuff’” that you mention.


    July 8, 2013
  3. Chris Wejr said:

    Hey Dave – in the past year, I have significantly changed how I use social media – my use has evolved so it better meets my needs (and that is the best part about social media!).

    When I first started using it, it was bit of an addiction as I was wanting to meet more and more people and read more tweets and blogs- reminded me of my first year at university.

    In the past year, I have realized that I have a solid network of people that I can go to for a variety of needs and wants. I do not need to scan the twitter feed as I can go directly to a few people that I know I can get a respectable answer or challenge. I still check out the feed but much less than before. I talk a lot through DM’s as that works for me. If I want a variety of opinions, I will post a question or thought and see what kind of organic dialogue comes from it. I respond to almost every tweet directed to me and engage in some pretty meaningful conversations that way too. Basically, for Twitter, I have created a network that works for me… it is still evolving as I continue to connect with people that inspire and challenge me. The amount of time I spend actually on Twitter is less.

    For blogging, this year, I decided in my mind that I was going to blog more on things we are actually doing at our school. Asking for feedback and sharing were the main goals but I wanted my focus to be less on dialogue and more on actually doing what we were talking about. I blogged significantly less but it worked for me.

    I think what I get from your post – and this may not be what you intended – is that I connect in a way that works for ME. I have formed deeper connections to people within BC (like yourself) as well as within my own school and district. Social media has lead to more face to face connections and I am Skyping, phoning, emailing, DMing with people whom I have a bit of a more trusting relationship than when I first started using SM.

    So what falls off my truck? Many things… but hopefully as rare as possible my family, my students and staff, and my deeper learning/growth. Sometimes things like quantity of blogs and tweets fall off but my learning never does as it takes on a different form for that time.

    I also close my door at work for about an hour a day to get the tasks done. I have a “Before I Leave Today” folder that has to be completed (which does get done most of the time – stole this idea from Justin Baeder). I find that more focused time without interruptions (which is not always possible) helps me to be able to be in classrooms and out of my office more often.

    Lastly – I took the notifications off my phone and computer so I could focus and be in the moment – whether that be at school or at home. I can still check the apps if I want to but there is no buzz or noise to draw me away from the people that are most important at the time – those right in front of me. I still have a long way to go but so far this has helped me.

    A lot of rambling by me… but people in my network home,(school and SM) have helped me to be a more focused leader so the people are prioritized and most of the tasks still get done.

    July 9, 2013
  4. Without at all meaning to sound patronizing, it sounds like you’ve come to one of those maturational points in your career. These are marked not by an increase in raw capacity to do things but by an increased capacity to say “No” to things. Bluntly put, it’s about actively throwing things off the truck. More softly put, it’s about discernment. I know I used to think my job was to know everything about everything–not that I ever came close, but that was the goal. Now I think, my job is to know what to ignore (most things) and what to focus on (a very few things, but people principle among them.)



    July 10, 2013
  5. David Truss said:

    I find it interesting that we have both shifted at similar times, although you seem more comfortable with the shift than I do. I still miss the interaction(s) I had when I spent more time reading, writing, bookmarking, tweeting and responding to blogs. But I too really value the quality of the connections I’ve now made, and know that I can be disconnected and offline and still DM you and others with a request and it will be met with unconditional support… and friendship.

    You reminded me that I used to have a B.I.G. folder, which stood for “Before I Go”… it went to the wayside as it lost purpose with me putting things into it that were unrealistic to get done before leaving for the day. I think I might re-instate it and use it more discerningly.

    You’ve also made me realize something. I have gotten really really good at ignoring my notifications until an appropriate time, but they are still distractions that I’m aware of. With my current job, I need to keep them on for my work emails (I have many team members in other buildings and that’s their primary connection to me), but I think I’m going to remove all other notifications from my phone for a while and see if that helps me focus.

    You are so good at distilling ideas and getting to the point.

    “…my job is to know what to ignore (most things) and what to focus on (a very few things, but people principle among them.)”

    I’m going to keep that quote in a visible place for a while as a reminder… thank you!

    July 10, 2013
  6. Vicki Sullivan said:

    How refreshing to recognize a common problem of practice in your blog! Your situation is one I can relate to strongly. At the cusp of entering my 8th year as a principal and 31st year in education I would offer the perspective that you are right where you need to be, asking the right questions and having the support of a wise group of educator friends. While I’m more apt to go with the spinning plates analogy, the problem is the same. It’s been helpful for me to take Brad Ovenall-Carter’s approach – make a conscious decision to let some plates crash/throw things off the truck. Perhaps it works because making a decision about what goes builds a sense of efficacy. Most of the time, I let go of the right stuff. And when I don’t, it’s a powerful learning experience to reflect on how the mis-step happened. Thanks for your thoughtful sharing!

    July 21, 2013
  7. David Truss said:

    Thanks for your contribution to the conversation Vicki,
    I like the plate-spinning analogy. I’ve seen this in performances and know the sound of that crash… You tense up waiting for it, but the performer must ‘let go’ and move on! You model great leadership in your comment:
    “Most of the time, I let go of the right stuff. And when I don’t, it’s a powerful learning experience to reflect on how the mis-step happened.”
    We want our teachers and students doing the same and we know that this kind of behavior needs to be modelled. Thank you for being my teacher tonight! 🙂

    July 22, 2013
  8. […] “I’ve come to realize that I’m not the only one that wishes I had more capacity to do the things I really want to do as a leader.” I said that on a post about Leadership and Management back in October.  […]

    August 7, 2013

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