How You See Is How You Lead

The life of the leader is one of choices. What qualifies as an emergency? Where do we devote financial resources? What events do I attend?

Those choices aren’t only big-ticket items. The leader reveals her priorities through the daily choices… the ones that may seem small but speak volumes. For example, where do you go during the day? Are you in your office? At the school at all? During drop-off and pick-up, are you exclusively with the car-riders or do you split time with the bus drivers?

Choices=priorities. When you recognize teachers, is it the same ones all the time? Do you show recognition to the inclusion special education teacher whose efforts don’t directly translate the same as a content teacher? What do you spend your time talking about? Where do you go all day?

Perhaps you make those day-to-day choices after thoughtful planning, but many of us incorporate planning with our preconceived notions of what we ought to do as principal, AP, or other leader. We decide what to do based on what we’ve been told to do by our supervisors; what we’ve seen others in our positions do, but also by a set of factors that have been developing their shape all of your life.

Your actions often mirror how you see the world, and you see the world through a finely-filtered set of eyes. The filter you see things through has been in development since you’ve been around and continues to be refined throughout your life. How you see things is a product of your experiences, your exposures, your environment, and your core values. And, how you see is how you lead.

For example, if you grew up in a single-parent home with limited financial resources, it may be easier for you to understand that disposable income (fundraisers, book fairs, field trips) may be date specific. In other words, you KNOW not to make the deadline for field trip money on the 12th of the month because you remember that your mom can’t spend money until the next payday. If you HAVEN’T experienced, or at least been exposed, to the nuances of lives other than your own, you may miss out on some important facts.

Just as you and me see the world through our filter (EEEV), SO does everyone else. The more you understand where others are coming from and how they are viewing the world around them the more effective you will be in serving them as leader. A fast-pass way to understand other people’s filters on the world is to seek clarity in an ongoing manner about your own.

When you make decisions out of “instinct”, most of that instinctual behavior can be traced, at some level, to the path that led you to that point, your breadth of exposure, and the environments in which you’ve lived. Chip Conley, in his book Wisdom @ Work says this about wisdom: it’s the ability to reach understandings more quickly through recognizing patterns that are familiar to you from previous encounters. In other words, the wisdom we all seek comes from having seen things before and knowing what they mean now.

Knowing that your filter on the world is contingent on your previous experiences can help you understand how to better relate to your job, to the people around you, and to becoming a better listener and “understander” of others. Nobody can ever truly understand another… similar experiences are just that… similar, but not identical. What we can seek is to grow in understanding others by listening to them, valuing their experience as much as we do our own (even without having traveled in their shoes), and respecting them without conditions. (gulp.) That’s how to interact with the others around you… simple to say, hard to consistently do. But… there’s hope. The more you do it, the better you get at it. And, as the Greek philosopher Seneca said, every day is a new lifetime. Start new every day with the goal of serving others well in the role you’ve been given.

The exercise of working on yourself and gaining a better understanding of why you do what you do (I’m the youngest of five children, much older siblings, so I developed a strong value on adult approval, which has an impact on the way you interact with the world) and what matters most to you (my father and mother sacrificed for their five children to be educated to have access to more opportunities so I VALUE the importance of education from my experience) helps you begin to LOOK for those explanations in others. That often leads to deeper conversations, more trust, and you better prepared to lead your people.

I do multiple series of workshops to help my participants examine “how they got here,” why they value what they do, and what that means to them as a leader. I’m always happy to share resources… just ask! (

In the meantime, you can spend time in your regular (daily? weekly? hopefully!) journaling to reflect on the things that made you, you. You, the key to success at your school individually and our systems of schools collectively!

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