November 1, 2018

So you want to be an Admin...The Director's Perspective


Just as I promised, thoughts on becoming an admin from someone else other than me. This one is coming from Tullahoma City School's former Director, now Professor Dan Lawson. Enjoy!
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Ironic, but Mick asked for my thoughts with a due date of 11/1...my first day out of office! And I clearly understood why he asked me...like a cockroach, I am first and foremost a survivor...Surely no Zombie apocalypse, and no nuclear blast, but thirty years as a superintendent with great leadership teams around me that accomplished great things is a legacy that I'll gladly accept.

I think Bennis and Nanus were on point as they advised that most leaders are (my words) just a little smarter than the average person that they lead.  NO that's not heresy, in fact in my case it may be charitable. You will all punch that Yogi Bear ticket because you are willing to read and thoughtfully consider your path.  I can tell already, you're a little bit smarter than the average bear... 


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I also, however, believe that those effective leaders work to develop a level of emotional intelligence that will allow them tremendous portability. Or as I'm inclined to share with others, "...sufficient EQ to go from the pulpit to the pool hall."  You get my drift.  An effective 2019 model leader can't and won't know all she needs to succeed.  But she can certainly surround herself with skilled practitioners to accomplish the variety of tasks required.  

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So much for philosophy, how did I serve as a superintendent that long and what can others learn from the scars and bruises I earned?

1) One can study swimming, watch swimmers, and visit with swimmers about how they decided to jump into the pool.  All of that is great, but at some point in time, you have to commit to jumping in. Here's the rub, most are successful at the present level and hesitate to risk stability to access that first position.  No easy way around this one, If you are going to lead you are placing yourself in "harms way." I tell prospective superintendents that nearly all are ready to move that first time, but as a superintendent, you have to know that you may move the first time on your terms and the second on others terms.

2) Focus on the mission at hand not the happiness of the team. Too many are inclined to have an idea that the team effect is enhanced by their happiness and underestimate the value of success in completion of a task or responsibility.  If your focus is on team happiness instead of effect and mission you then negotiate all decisions around that as your priority.  Don't. 

3) Know yourself.  Yeah, it would be easy to go with a "to thine own self..." but I've got a better one. When I started thinking about leading schools and districts, I studied a great educator named John Goodlad.  This quote truly has been my guiding star for decades. "If the experience of "doing school" destroys children's spirit to learn, their sense of wonder, their curiosity about the world, and their willingness to care for the human condition have we succeeded as educators, no matter how well our students do on standardized tests?" Goodlad in that quote captured the essence of priority and JOY in the educational experience.  Truly NOT counter to the point above ...JOY matters to me and JOY is under my control as a leader. 

4) Develop thick skin while keeping a soft heart. If you can keep business, business and glean ideas and solutions from the most detestable sources, that's a win.  But too often if we don't like one thing about someone we turn off everything.  You are giving away too much when you can't accept ideas from those that you find generally disagreeable. If your heart is focused on a rubric, the letter on the report card or some "heat map" on a data dashboard, try to find some position where you are managing things instead of leading people.  No disrespect, but both you and your team are in for a miserable existence if your heart is not focused on SERVING the people you are blessed to lead.

5) Embrace and learn from your errors.  You will make them...and the more you try to accomplish and the harder you push, the more inclined you are to err. The first error is a learning experience and the second becomes a choice.  NO one expects perfection. But they do expect character, competence, and chemistry as you lead with joy. So if you're ready, lose those floaties and jump in the pool.    


Dr. Dan Lawson
Lee University
twitter: 1danlawson
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