Success Takes Time and Hard Work: Lessons from “Hamilton”

Lin-Manuel Miranda brought history and hip-hop together in the masterpiece Broadway musical, “Hamilton,” the story of Alexander Hamilton and his under-appreciated contributions to our nation.

The production’s diverse cast reflects who we are as a nation today, while telling the story of Hamilton, Burr, Jefferson, Hamilton and Washington.  The show resonates with many people, but particularly students, connecting history in a way that makes the struggles of the Founding Fathers understandable and real.

…I create works of art that take years and years to finish.  So, it’s an enormous act of faith to start a project.

In addition to the relevance to young people, Miranda’s masterpiece is something to behold in its own right. By any estimate, it has been an unprecedented success.

  • The show has been sold-out since it’s debut on Broadway last August with no end in sight to the demand for tickets for the New York home of the franchise;
  • A permanent show is scheduled to open in Chicago in September, with traveling performances scheduled in Atlanta, Los Angeles, and other cities;
  • Miranda won a Grammy for the Best Musical and the show earned a record number of Tony nominations, winning eleven.
  • Financially (A. Hamilton would have been proud) the associated revenues from recordings, books, and other revenue producers make Hamilton: The Musical a billion dollar entity.
  • How about this for influence?  The current Treasury Department retracted at 2015 announcement that it would be removing A. Hamilton from the ten-dollar bill due to the enormous public interest in our nation’s first Treasury Secretary.

SO, here’s the lesson.  Lin-Manuel Miranda, who not only wrote the musical but played Alexander Hamilton (last night was his final performance in this production) reached great success that to some people seemed overnight.  It wasn’t.

Miranda worked on the musical for over six years before it went into production. 

Success doesn’t just happen.  It follows hard work, inspiration, and struggles.  Miranda recently spoke about the commitment it takes to work on a project like this.  “I’m very well aware that an asteroid could kill us all tomorrow.  But I create works of art that take years and years to finish.  So, it’s an enormous act of faith to start a project.”

Such is the work of the principal.  Whether you would like it to be this way or not, you are creating something that takes years and years to finish.  Often, school leaders try to make a five-year “piece of art” in a year or less.  It doesn’t turn out to be a masterpiece.

Building a strong school is a creation.  There is science in it’s creation, but there is at least as much art.  Both take time.  Success takes time.  Do the right things with intent for an extended time and you are on the road to success.



What is the one thing you want your teachers thinking about after their first day?

You’ve been planning all summer for the next school year.  Developing duty rosters, setting instructional schedules, getting everything ready.

The most important thing as the principal you will do for the new year is set the tone.  You’ll do that even before the teachers return.   The communications you send them will either get them excited about the work ahead or drop them into a pre-year rut even before things begin.  The most effective principals are always building an air of excitement about the work of teaching students.  Your summer communications are a big part of that.

Once the summer is over and the teachers return, how do you want to receive them back at the school?  What will you do on your first day?  Will it make them want to come back for the second day?!?

On the first day for students, each teacher sets the tone for the year.  This day has much to do with the attitude that students will have about that teacher and that class.  You can’t overstate the importance of a good start.

The same is true for principals.  You can get your teachers off to a positive, focused, and purposeful beginning with a great first day for teachers.  That first day for teachers is, without question, your most important day of the year in setting the attitude and focus for the school.  I share with new principals with whom I work that you should “capture their imagination, establish a focus, and set a positive feeling” on the first day teachers are there.

What does that look like?  It isn’t  reading through the faculty handbook, going over test scores, or doing logistics.  Your time with the faculty should be brief, positive, upbeat, full of conversations, stories, and ending with one thing you want them to think about for the day, and perhaps for the year.  If it is in the form of a question, it is even more powerful.

That “one thing” differs from school to school, but as we put the Fourth of July (and summer) in our rearview, your focus as the principal should be, what is the one thing I want my teachers thinking about after their first day?

If you can get to that, then it will be easy to plan your first day with the teachers.  Make it a great one!



The Secret to Success

The Secret to Success:

It’s not what people think.

secret to success
“Success is sweet and sweeter if long delayed and gotten through many struggles and defeats.”

Amos Bronson Alcot


As you complete your planning for the upcoming school year, you know that there are many challenges as we continue to undergo fundamental transformation in the world of education.  In leading the people of your school and community to success, it’s good to remember that it will most likely look like the map (above).

Regardless of the circuitous path you may take as “life” happens and things don’t follow the exact track you’d expected, if you can keep your focus, and the focus of the people on your team on where you’re going,  you can get there successfully, regardless of detours.

Focus is a difference maker.  It begins with your clarity in the vision, your ability to get people on board for the mission, and finally, your skill in maintaining focus.

During this time of year, you’re planning, and that’s what you should be doing.  You should also remember to take time to fortify yourself for the journey… resting, refreshing, refocusing.  The leader is the one that will get the team through the tough times when the path isn’t so clear.  Make sure you are rested and ready to lead the journey to success for your teachers, students, and school!




What Successful People Do Before Breakfast

For years, my wife has gotten up around 5 or 5:30 AM even though she doesn’t leave for work until 7:30 each day. I’ve always wondered why she was getting up so early every day until Laura Vanderkam cleared it up in the recent release, What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast.
This work, by the author of 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think, will inspire those of you who are self-avowed night owls to change your ways, while validating the habits of all of the early birds. What is her compelling evidence? She cites, as the title describes, the dedication that very successful people have to their morning habits. Vanderkam suggests that the time in the early morning hours is more valuable than other times of the day (and night).

If you are getting up early just to check your email, get ready for Vanderkam to give you pause to reflect on that practice, as she not only suggests being up early, but in engaging in the right sorts of activities in the morning. The book is available on Kindle as an audio book (everyone who has a phone, computer, or iPad has access to a free Kindle app) and takes about an hour for a listen in its entirety. It’s practical, easy to read (and listen to), and if you’re someone who takes good advice to heart, you’ll most certainly find value in this book.


Author: Laura Vanderkam

Release Date: June, 2012

Cost: $2.99 on Kindle; $2.95 Audible Audio Version


Relevance to School Principals: Time Management


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