Lessons for Principals: What Two Weeks Away From Social Media Taught Me

Well, I failed.

I set out 2017 with a goal of #Leadership365, my aspirational quest to write something of value for school leaders every single day of the year.

“They” say that if you can make something a habit, it becomes a part of your life and you’re able to more readily do it.  Many research studies have reached that conclusion with varying numbers of days necessary to be able to make a goal into a habit.

Through this vehicle, I made 114 consecutive days before I didn’t.  From January 1 until April 24, I was able to write a column intended to support principals, assistant principals, aspiring leaders, and others interested in leadership musings with a decided school-level leadership spin.

And then, I didn’t make it on April 25.  Or April 26.  It was much easier to develop this new habit, the one where I didn’t write a column for school leaders.

Failure-is-simply-the-opportunity-to-begin-again-this-time-more-intelligently.-Henry-Ford

Now it’s May 7, and I am rejoining the online world and reconnecting with the many offline friends that read this column.  To reenter this universe, this column is dedicated to sharing with you lessons learned from two weeks away and how they relate to the work of school leaders. Said a different way, these are the things that I learned from failing; failing to meet my goal, failing to create and deliver content to those who had been used to it being there, and failing to maintain the discipline from 114 days for the entire 365.  As always, these failures will be reported through the lens of school leadership.  Here goes!

1.  It’s More Difficult To Accomplish Goals On Your Own Than When Working With Others  As the leader of the school, you have lots of goals.  Just as was my experience, sometimes you aren’t able to keep them going.  Why?  What I found to be true is what I’ve read numerous times from leadership books and research.  Self-discipline is expendable.  (The work of Dan and Chip Heath in their book Made to Stick comes to mind.)  We are so much more likely to stick to a task when our work is connected to someone else.  That’s worth considering in your work with your faculty and staff;  not only are we better together, we’re more likely to get things done together than alone, especially over time (which is what every school year is, an extended period of time).  If I’d been paired up with someone to do this blog, we’d not have missed a day, I’m convinced of it.  

2.  Getting Away is Essential for Effectiveness and Excellence.   There hasn’t been a time that I was just “mailing it in” this year in the 114 columns that have preceded this one, but I am feeling better about the next two weeks and the things that I have to share than I do a couple of weeks ago.  You don’t really have the luxury to take two weeks off during the school year while serving a principal, but as has been mentioned here many times, balance really is the key.  A big part of that balance is finding space; space to breathe, space to regain momentum, space to be inspired from unexpected sources.  The last two weeks have given me space that has made me come back to you renewed and ready again.  Don’t lose sight of that not only for yourself but for your faculty and staff.  Some of the most powerful notes in songs are “rests.”  Same for us in leading.

3.  Failure is an important part of success.  You know this as well as I do.  There is much to learn through our failures.  I’ve learned that if I want to get a column out every day no matter rain, sleet, snow or hail, I better develop another plan because this one isn’t sustainable.  What are you trying to do on your own that meets that same description? As the school leader, we often take on things that are less a function of our own discipline and more related to the design.  Now that I look at how this has played out here, I realize that I should have planned breaks throughout the year and asked for help.  Just like you, I have a bounty of friends and colleagues that I know would be willing to write a column for this blog.  I just need to ask them.  Thinking back on my fifteen years as school administrator, there are a lot of things that I can say that about.  We really are better together, and I believe this column and this effort to support school leaders will actually be stronger if I solicit other’s voices to join.  Plus, I can take the time off to get recharged and come back with more meaningful words to support your work.

So, I’m glad that I failed at #Leadership365.  It has been a valuable lesson to me, and hopefully through your lens can be insightful for your work.  I’m not going to change the name of this year’s effort, and you can look for me to be taking a few days off from time to time with some experts preparing columns in advance to share on those occasions.  Please let me know if you’d like to be a part of this effort!

Thanks for your patience during this learnable moment.  I’ll see you back here tomorrow.

#Leadership365

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