Source pxhere.com

 

In New Zealand, school leaders are allowed to accumulate unused sick days. I’ve got zillions as have plenty of school leaders who have been lucky enough to have avoided a major illness or need for extended leave. Back in the ‘good old days’, it was considered perfectly acceptable to be ‘sick’ for the same length of time as your accumulated leave at the end of your career. A sort of “thanks for showing up to work every day” type of reward.

Of course, in the more pressured world we live in, it would be very naughty indeed to do a similar thing. The reality is that those of us who have been lucky in the health stakes will simply have all that accumulated evidence of turning up to work evaporate on the day we clock out. Pooft – gone.

.   .   .

But I don’t think that’s the whole story. It’s not all about luck and health.

I’d suggest that many of us have unused leave because we are almost pathologically adverse to calling in sick. It’s not what we believe a principal should do and certainly not what we do.

But why?

The other day I watched a cool wee video from a fellow principal, Michael Fletcher, where he encouraged us to stay home if unwell. His bottom-line message of “stay home” also exposed reasons school leaders often don’t.

Things like:

“I’m snowed under already and taking a day off will just make it worse.”

“It’s the only time when we can all make the meeting – I have to go.”

“What will the staff think? It’s Friday and it’ll look like I’m making it a long weekend.”

“I was sick last week so I just can’t be sick again now.”

“They need me there in case . . . (add your own reason).”

An all too common default position is that we simply have to be onsite. There’s some sort of slightly vague but powerful ‘gut’ feeling that it’s not good if we are at home when school is open. It’s somehow mixed up with our beliefs about leadership and duty and  . . . the job.

From a principal who indeed took a sick day this week –

“I’ve been sick all Easter on and off to be honest … but today was the worst. Funnily I checked my calendar to see what sort of “havoc” this would wreak! Saw my calendar was pretty clear and so sent the messages out that I wouldn’t be coming in. The feeling that I had 5 days off already, and was still going to have a 6th one was undeniable. My partner suggested I go for a Covid test – but that would be another 48 hours off school, so I said no. That’s actually wrong.”

So, maybe you have lots of accumulated sick days partly because you’ve been amazingly healthy, but also partly because on the many days you have felt unwell over time, you have “soldiered on”.

And here’s the rub – I bet you can’t remember even one time when you were away sick, where your predicted worst-case scenario happened. Those little voices in your head told you lies.

There’s actually a term for this type of thinking –presenteeism.

Presenteeism is when a worker (e.g. you or me) show up to work unwell. We’re a warm body that people can see, but actually anything but effective. The reason this term has been invented is that being at work in a diminished capacity costs companies big bucks and they are starting to take the problem seriously. The research is new, but early indications are that it’s even more costly than the well studied problem of absenteeism. (Link to presenteeism research in nursing.)

.  .  .

The truth is that when you are feeling unwell, you are unwell – you are not the best version of the leader that you want to be and pretending otherwise is, to be frank, silly.

The science says:

  • that when people are sick they need to rest to recover,
  • that knowingly staying at work during this time makes others sick too,
  • that decision making, creativity, and general cognitive functioning are sub-par.

It’s called being sick.

Refusing to stay home can also be a subtle disrespect of your team, because being unwilling to take a sick day on the grounds that you are irreplaceable, implies that your team is not quite up to the mark. (U1 principals are an exception – you are very nearly irreplaceable!)

Of course, there are practicalities involved too. Another principal recently commented that with all the disruption of COVID – delayed work streams, cancelled meetings, rehashed schedules – it could seem even more important not to be absent. (This is a common theme of principalship, that personal sacrifice is a core part of doing the job.)

On the flip side, I’d actually been thinking the opposite, that the health messages around the pandemic were making it more acceptable for people to stay home if unwell – it’s what we demand of others in our schools so surely we need to model this behaviour too?

So what do you think? Is it OK to come to work even when you know you are sick?

Dave

 

(And to those of you who have, through no fault of your own, had to use every last sick day possible, that sucks. It means unpleasant things have happened and I fully acknowledge that you didn’t choose them. Life is complicated and humans are, well human. Stuff happens.)

 

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Photo by Christin Hume

So you’ve got a fitness device that tells you how many steps you’ve done today. Awesome.

But have you got a sitting widget that tells you how long you’ve spent on your principal butt? In fact, have you ever counted? Well maybe it’s time to start.

There’s a lot of scientific data that links your future personal misery to the amount of time that you spend enjoying the seductive embrace of the swivelly chair.

But just how long is too long?

In a large study of Australians, Kansas State University researcher, Richard Rosenkranz, (summarisedhereon ScienceDaily.com) has reviewed data from over 60 000 Australian men that shows those sitting for  more than 4 hours were significantly more likely to report having a chronic disease such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease, or high blood pressure.  The risk periods were categorized as less than four hours, four to six hours, six to eight hours, or more than eight hours. Perhaps unsurprisingly, there was a direct link between the length of time spent sitting and ill health.

(There are multiple other studies (including ones that also study women!) and the conclusion is fairly simple – the longer you sit on average, the less healthy you become over time.)

.   .   .

4 hours . . . pause for a moment and add up your usual tally. Don’t forget to add; breakfast, driving to work, lunchtime, driving home, work at home, watching a bit of Shorters . . . 4 hours doesn’t actually seem that much to me.

Perhaps a more interesting question is; have your average sitting hours increased over time?

My subjective, gut feeling is that mine have. As time and career progresses, there seems to be more and more work that is linked to a computer and by default, a desk.

Even if your own reality is different, a slight increase will build up over time. We wrote a post about this before and used the compounding power of time to give a real look at what was happening to our future selves. Using time to gain clarity is part of a tactic that Tim Ferris calls  “fear setting” – you can read about it here.

So what to do?

My solution was to firstly become conscious of what was happening. Once I started to notice my usual default habits, that alone helped me make change.

Secondly, I made a couple of deliberate decisions:

  • whenever someone came into my office I stood up and if it was a short conversation, stayed standing.
  • I organised an easy standing desk option.

I confess that the standing desk idea didn’t really work the first time. I got one of those units that sit on your desk and which can be raised up or left down.

The problem was that whenever I came into the office it was usually down and so of course I just sat down in front of it. Net gain – zero.

The game changer for me was getting a second (actually third!) screen that was always up. That way when I walked into the office I just stopped at the standing screen. So easy I actually do it.

Here’s my current setup –

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When working on docs I sit down and use the two screens because it’s usually much more efficient. When I am mainly reading, I stand.

These simple tactics are making a tangible difference to me. If you have some of your own tips to share, we’d love you to add them below or over on the 40HP Facebook page.

Dave

 

 

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“You can’t please all the people all the time”.

These words are often quoted after a particularly drawn out or stressful event. They are a figurative shrug of the shoulders that signals an end point.

But the truth is that for many of us there is a lot of angst that comes before this point. And a lot of it comes because we don’t want to upset people, in fact we don’t want to upset anyone.

Early on in my educational adventure, I often found myself in that camp.

 

 

By trying to please everyone, or at least to avoid upsetting anyone, we unwittingly make ourselves  ineffective because the only way to attempt this impossibility is to consign ourselves to maintaining the status quo.

And maintaining the status quo is simply not OK in a world where we need change.

So, what are some signs that you are operating in this trap? Here are some  common ones.

  1. You pretend to agree with everyone

When people are discussing a topic, it is not your job to agree with everything they are saying. That’s a low trust position. Professionals can (and should) disagree at times.

  1. You apologise often

This is sometimes a default habit. If your opinion, or leadership call, is made thoughtfully, you have zero to be sorry for. This doesn’t mean it’s OK not to care, but your best decision is your best and that’s nothing to apologise for.

  1. You often feel burdened by the things you have to do

Despite the reality that you are in charge of your own schedule, it’s possible that you are doing some things merely to please others. As an example, if you ever stay onsite later than you need to, because of what people might think if you left earlier, then that’s a red flag.

  1. You struggle to say “no”

This is a common one – your calendar is already full of things but when that keen sounding person asks if you will do something, you feel bad saying “no” – regardless of whether the new thing meets the definition of important work.

  1. You feel uncomfortable if someone is angry at you

Anger is a complex emotion and often has very little to do with the person it’s projected onto (you are probably innocent!). It’s also true that many leaders find it very uncomfortable if others are annoyed at them – fairly or unfairly.

  1. You frequently need praise to feel good

Praise makes everyone feel good. However, some of us like that external affirmation so much that we change our behaviours to get it. Not necessarily a good thing.

  1. You avoid conflict at all costs

Conflict at some level is a part of making change and if you aren’t willing to offend anyone, you may easily become ineffective in pursuing the important work.

 

 

Can you see aspects of yourself in this list? I certainly could, and at some level still can!

For myself, I have made significant change in how much (or not) energy that I put into trying to please people. It’s taken time, and at certain points in my career some deliberate effort to get a better balance. The key for me has been around being clear about  what’s important because once I did that, many of the negative emotions or feelings I would once have tried to avoid became so much easier to manage. Clarity gives purpose.

And of course, none of this is meant to say you should aim to be “tough” or unkind. The complete opposite really – a school leader’s important work is always to do with people, and seeking better outcomes for them comes with the strong possibility of disapproval from others.

The real question isn’t, “how can I keep everyone happy?” but, “who am I willing to offend?” 

Dave

 

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Photo by timJ 

The 40 Hour Project is all about making positive change, but often it seems really hard for people to do this. There are factors at play that leave people doing the same old/same old despite the reality that they have many options.

There’s definitely the drag of the status quo at play, but there’s also the very personal thing we call ‘belief’.

Belief is more than facts and logic, it’s a complicated mix of experiences, values, personality and emotion.

This post from one of our favourite thought leaders, Seth Godin, sums it up perfectly –


Belief and knowledge

They’re different.

Knowledge changes all the time. When we engage with the world, when we encounter data or new experiences, our knowledge changes.

But belief is what we call the things that stick around, particularly and especially in the face of changes in knowledge.

While more knowledge can change belief, it usually doesn’t. Belief is a cultural phenomenon, created in conjunction with the people around us.

The easy way to discern the two: “What would you need to see or learn to change your mind about that?”


Yesterday, you rolled up to school having chosen the time, what you wore, and any number of other small things that collectively make up who you are as a leader.

You chose what the important work was, whether you let people interrupt you, what you ate (or didn’t) for lunch, where in the school you were present, which meetings you attended, and when you went home. Once home you decided whether or not to continue working and for how long.

In essence, your day unfolded in a way that you created. It reflected the beliefs that you held as a leader.

And maybe it was awesome in many respects – but – what about the bits that were potentially ineffective or came with negative consequences for you? Things like skipping exercise because you were too busy, or being so accessible that your day was a blur of other people’s needs, or missing your own children’s sports in the weekend because you were busy supporting your school teams . . .

And it’s hard to change because what you believe a school leader is/does/should do, shapes your actions and choices.


A belief is not a fact, it is a mental picture constructed by you.

If you can apply that truth to something that needs to change, it will help you reframe your thinking.

A real-world example for me involves my own change from spinning the figurative hamster wheel most days, to taking control of some parts of every day. I used to believe it was vital to be super accessible to everyone, but over time I realised that by doing so, I often neglected the important work (or at least did it later when I should have been resting/re-energising). Once I finally realised that I wasn’t doing anyone a favour by working like that, my belief changed and I changed. (I’m a big fan of a technique called ‘batching’.)

Seth’s closing question sums up our challenge –

What would you need to see or learn to change your mind about that?”

One way to see something differently, comes from using a longer lenses to sharpen up the reasons for making change. You can read  more about this in another post – Asking The Uncomfortable Question.

If there’s a bit (or a lot!) of your job that just isn’t working well for you, it’s time to consider whether what you believe about the role needs to be challenged.

Dave

 

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Right now, there are a whole lot of people just beginning the adventure we call principalship.

Maybe you are one of them.

When most people start a new job, the thing ‘on top’ is often, “what do I need to do?” This is completely understandable, but ignores the real choices that can be made about how this work is done.

There is the what you do and the how you do it – they’re complementary, but completely different. (Apologies to Simon Sinek fans – we’re ignoring the ‘why’ to keep this discussion short and sweet.)

.   .   .

It is much easier to know what you have to do as a school leader. You have your job description, the Education Act, all the relevant legislation, and probably a growing list of work to do. People will add to your ‘what’ as much as you let them. In fact, today’s email inbox alone will contain enough ‘what’ to keep you occupied for all of next week. I can promise you that your first Board meeting will also add content as will nearly ever interaction with your team. Business as usual.

But at the exact same time, as you do the work, or think about doing it, you are shaping what I call your “how”. The ‘how’ reflects the time you commit to a task, the energy you give and the stress that you either accept or reject. It is the difference between Principal A spending all weekend working on their Strategic Plan, and Principal B achieving the same outcome with their team during the week. Both get the same ‘what’ done, but how they do this is completely different – this is where possibility lies.

.   .   .

Here’s a few questions to illustrate:

  • How many hours are reasonable to work daily/weekly?
  • Should your office door be open?
  • Is it OK to work off-site?
  • How quickly should you respond to a message from a teacher?
  • When should you arrive each morning?
  • Is it important to have a staff meeting every week?
  • Should you go on camp with your students?
  • How often should you be onsite during a holiday break?
  • And the list goes on . . .

 

These slightly nebulous (but still very real) decisions are all about the how.

And you have complete control over them – there are no official guidelines.

If you are an experienced leader, you already have established habits in how you do  your job, but are these habits good for you and the people you lead? Maybe other experienced leaders in schools around you mirror the same habits – but – that doesn’t mean they are healthy/efficient/desirable. Once upon a time nearly everyone smoked.

When was the last time you paused, off site in a peaceful place, with a piece of blank paper and considered the how?

If you are new to this role, you have the perfect opportunity to draw some lines in the sand from the very beginning.

If you are a seasoned pro, you can use some of your hard won skills to review where you’re at.

Either way, for the benefit of your future self, this is well worth considering.

Dave

 

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The Forty Hour Principal

Photo by pan xiaozhen

The Forty Hour team are officially declaring 2020 over. 

We won’t waste your time reflecting on what has happened since this time in 2019 – suffice to say it was unexpected, unique and life changing.

As you go to perhaps the most well-earned Christmas break ever, make sure you give yourself some credit for the Olympian effort that leading a school in a pandemic is.

Those of us in New Zealand are further down the track towards a predictable world than some of you are. For what it’s worth, if you are still working inside of an uncontrolled virus district, you are in our thoughts – hang in there, but also put yourself first at least for the Christmas season. Your school needs you, and you need to be well – take a real break no matter what.

Steve and I will be back next year to keep pushing the project. There are some encouraging signs in corners of our game – PLD providers are offering ever more wellness based courses, the Ministry of Education is making the right sounds at times, and an increasing number of leaders are reporting taking deliberate steps towards leading sustainably. The Christmas break is a perfect time to progress your own plans in this area.

This blog has become pretty big now and we know that we need to start organising the content so that people can find the information they want.  In the meantime, below are the top 10 posts from 2020, in order based on the total number of views – just in case you need some interesting holiday reading.

Take it easy.

Dave and Steve

  1. Flattening The Curve   (dealing with change) 
  2. Who’s Sitting in the Principal’s Chair? (imposter syndrome) 
  3. The Four ‘P’s of Principalship (what matters most) 
  4. Post-it Notes and Why They Matter (perception matters) 
  5. Not All That Glitters is Gold (seeing what is good around you) 
  6. Add the Big Rocks First (how to fit everything in) 
  7. Connection (building connections as a source of value) 
  8. Being Seen as a Person First (getting your team onside) 
  9. Alice in Wonderland (starting each day well) 
  10. Being Slacker Better (learning how to be sustainable) 

 

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Photo by Nathália Rosa

I like Post-it notes. I like the way they let me capture a task then park it until I’m ready to take action.

Way back at the beginning, I had a principal who carried a small notebook in their top jacket pocket. Anytime you started talking to them they took it out, ready to make a note if needed.

This principal prided themselves on following up, not forgetting, doing what they promised, and in their pocket was a system to make all these things happen.

Post-it notes are my version.

Sadly, while they are an awesome fluro coloured tool, the reason they are in my thinking right now is that they’re multiplying – very quickly! And lots of notes means lots of things to remember and do.

Welcome to the end of Term 4!

This is the time each year where a myriad of tasks and looming deadlines make it very possible that your waking hours are consumed entirely by knocking off task after task. Those of you who have followed the 40 Hour Project for a while, know that this is the time when the ‘busy’ can obscure the ‘important’.

Even the students seem to unwittingly contribute. There are more plasters given out and more social interactions to manage than at any other time through the year – people are getting a bit frazzed.

I spent precious time this morning helping 3 great young boys resolve an issue that started with someone holding a door handle and ended in tears. None of them planned the debacle, and all regretted it, but it does sum up the vibe of late Term 4 – stuff  happens.

In amongst this end of year race is your opportunity to be a leader. To focus on people first, spread the calm, and to deliberately aim to finish the year with energy left over and feeling well. We have talked about this before – Madvember Doesn’t Have To Be – but this time I want to focus on the power of calm.

To impact your team positively a key is to manage perception. I like the duck analogy where they are paddling like hell under the water but up on top all looks serene. It’s the bit on top that your people will notice.

A personal strategy I use to try and spread a sense of calm, is to deliberately move slower the busier I feel. This may sound simplistic but it absolutely helps – body language is the language that people notice most and if you are moving around your site in a rush, it sends a message. So slow down and breathe. Stop to talk with kids and adults, volunteer to cover someone’s duty,  and at all times move slowly. And it’s not all acting – research shows slowing down and breathing properly changes your mental state. A win/win for you and your school.

.   .   .

Which brings me to where I started with the Post-it notes.

I realized that when they’re plastered all over my desk/laptop/office, they tell a story to all who see them. They visually create a similar effect to walking quickly everywhere with no time to pause. They create the impression that I am busy.

 

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So here is my cunning plan –  I’m not going to stop using them, I’m going to hide them.

At the very least I get great pleasure from screwing them up and chucking them in the bin when actioned. I’m not willing to forgo that goodness. All I am going to do is stick them inside a plain manila folder. The folder will sit on my desk closed. The notes live on but the story my desk tells will be different. A small, but deliberate action in the face of the run to the finish. Dare you to try it.

David

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Last week someone stole my mailbox.

I was driving out the gate on my way to work last Friday and a part of my brain slowly registered something was wrong – my mailbox was gone! It’s the weirdest feeling to suddenly realise a familiar feature of your world has inexplicitly changed. And right behind that confusion came a rush of anger – how dare someone do this! I was smoking hot angry. I sat in my car and said short inappropriate words – loudly.

At this point I need to explain that the mailbox in question was a bit special. I’d shifted house a couple of years earlier and the existing mailbox was a sad and rusty version of what it must have been 30 years earlier. It was junk.

In a moment of new house enthusiasm, I told the kids that we were going to do better, that we could build something fun and creative. (A rookie mistake that casual promise.) 

The ideas team let their imaginations run wild unsullied by any concern for practical realities, and after plenty of discussion, settled on making a Star Wars star – R2D2 to be exact. My weak suggestions  that a minion or a cat might be better, were brushed aside, and without a plan, the project started.

If you follow the Star Wars films you will know that an R2 is a lovable but complicated little robot/droid thing and that making it ready for the local postie to stuff mail into it, took some work. 

To cut a long story short, the droid was created. This was a team effort by the family and  a lot of fun. He was duly installed at the end of our driveway to carry out his mission which he did faithfully for over two years. The neighbourhood walkers all knew him and hundreds of  little fingers pressed the various buttons to see what would happen.

But this morning, he was gone and the evidence was that he had been brutally abducted. We’d considered the possibility that someone might think it funny to move him and had gone medieval on his attachments. He was anchor bolted into the concrete path and the bolts had been welded on. Bulletproof. Unless someone brings power tools in the middle of the night and hacks his feet off.

.  .  .

As leaders, we all have situations like this – life intruding into the plan for the day – sometimes a little better, sometimes a lot worse, and they take our thinking away from school. This is OK – it’s what makes us human and this particular Friday morning I was not focused on school!

After I’d made the police report I spent the next two hours pushing out an SOS on social and local media. And it went viral. It got shared so widely that people I’ve never met in countries far away, contacted me to express their sympathy and to offer suggestions for retrieval. There was a collective feeling of outrage that someone had thought it OK to take him and when the local paper did a short article showing the kids looking sadly at the empty space, it just ramped up.

Eventually, a few cryptic messages started floating in. People connected to the thieves wanted to help, but they also deeply didn’t want to be directly involved. No one wanted to be seen as a “nark”.

Over a couple of days the pieces of the puzzle starting fitting together and when it was clear who had been involved, we got our R2 back. 

He’s currently waiting for me to fire up the welder and get some paint to repair him, and when finished (probably in the holidays now), he’s going back to the end of the drive. Which brings me to the point of this post – why did the four young guys who took him do it? How could they think it was OK to vandalise and steal someone else’s property?

I’ll probably never know the real answers to those questions. These 19 year olds are all either in jobs or training courses (yes, I know where they live!). They come from middle class families and as best I can determine went through both primary and secondary schools in reasonable shape. But they’re missing some things. And their missing bits are really important.

As things calmed down, I began to wonder if there was something to think about or learn from a school perspective. In the many school reports that these young men shared with their parents over the years, did any of them mention a lack of conscience? A sense of entitlement or arrogance? A willingness to ignore others’ rights? They would definitely have talked about maths and reading, about taking part in sports or cultural events, what their next steps in writing were . . . 

I can’t help thinking that it is very easy for major flaws to slip through our schools unchallenged. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not blaming a school or a teacher for what these people chose to do, rather their actions highlight huge personal gaps in the key competency of being a decent human.  

Our system demands that we focus on academic progress, that we teach, measure, and report on a fairly narrow range of skills. Considering what these young men are doing in their day jobs now, after their 13 years of schooling, it’s reasonable to imagine that they are competent at the things that schools traditionally focus on.

But the things that mattered greatly to my family and neighbours last Friday night were sadly absent.

With a whiff of change in the New Zealand education system, in our unsure  new pandemic world, now is the perfect time to refocus on what matters most in our schools, and that, in my view, is all about people.

Dave

 

PS1 An unexpected upside of this week’s drama has been that I now know more Star Wars jokes and wise saying than I had any idea existed. 

PS2 There are a lot of comedians in the world of social media, but after the 10th person messaged their version of, “I know who took your droid and I’ve mailed you their description”, I started to get a little bit jaded.

PS3 I usually knock social media for being a force for bad, but in this case it was brilliant.  Power to the people!

 

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Leading with fulfilment

“Fulfilment is a feeling of satisfaction that you get from doing or achieving something, especially something useful.” – Collins Dictionary

This week Steve and I are talking with a group of school leaders in Rolleston (just south of Christchurch). The theme for the discussion is “leading with fulfilment” and I have been floating the topic around in my head in preparation.

What does it mean to lead with fulfilment?

Fulfilment can be a pretty broad term when applied to a group of people. Each of us have things that we value more or less and these things often change as life changes around us. A beginning leader might gain fulfilment from arriving at the end of their first Term in a role without major drama. Someone with a few years under their belt might feel this when a 3-4 year plan comes to fruition. Someone else may feel fulfilment from an excellent external review– there is variation!

As what constitutes fulfilment is so individual, perhaps one way to progress the conversation is to focus on a key message of the Forty Hour Project – balance.

You are a leader and a person. Neither fact is mutually exclusive and if done deliberately, both sides can complement and strengthen each other. A leader who puts all their finite time and energy into their work will, sooner or later, be impacted negatively by this imbalance. Your body doesn’t care that you’ve decided exercise and sleep aren’t a priority, it will simply stop working properly over time. If you are lucky it will take a few years, but not everyone is lucky.

Likewise, a person who neglects important parts of their role will cease to be effective. In a perfect world you could spend as much time as you like ensuring your human needs are met, but we don’t live in a perfect world. As leaders, we are responsible to and for others, have important work to progress, and sometimes that has to take priority.

If you can find a healthy balance between these competing needs, you have a much better chance of feeling fulfilment in your role. The opposite, to operate with imbalance, opens the door to resentment and frustration.

So, balance is key. It’s about acknowledging and respecting a healthy mix of the need to fulfil your leader’s role and your needs as a human.

.   .   .

Of course, good intentions without a little deliberate strategy will likely stay just that.

One way to start rearranging your reality is to make a couple of lists. I’ve added examples that people have shared over time, but you are the one who knows yourself best and your lists may be quite different.

Stuff I need to stop doing:

Accepting poor sleep

Saying “yes” to everyone

 

Doing everything yourself

 

Treating all work as equal

 

Working on multiple things at the same time

Being the last to leave site daily

 

Saying you are “busy”

Setting an unbalanced example

Working to full capacity all the time

Stuff I need to start doing:

Use the science to sleep better

Saying “no” (particularly to “busy work”)

Delegating and empowering others

Doing the important work most of the time

Batching

 

Leaving when you’ve done enough

Saying you are “productive”

Modelling a healthy balance

Being smarter about energy use  

 

If you look at any of the items in the lists above and feel yourself mentally saying, “I can’t do that”, my response would be “why not?” Your mode of operating as a leader right now was not mandated by anyone. The Ministry of Education hasn’t told you how to do your job – you made (and make) those decisions yourself. Which means you can choose better.

If you lead in a balanced and hence sustainable way, you give yourself so much more chance of feeling the deep satisfaction – fulfilment – that comes from making an impact as a leader. With the traditional school “Madvember” about to start, now is a perfect time to make change.

Dave

 

 

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Photo by Lê Tâ

Here in New Zealand we have just launched into Term 4 – traditionally a time of high intensity and looming deadlines. A time when things can get a little bit crazy more often than we would like. So right now is a time when you need to manage your energy.

We’ve all probably heard the story of famous comedians who, once the stage lights are off, are “flat“, even depressed. They light up for the performance then crash afterwards.

How many of us do the same?

This scenario raises an interesting question about energy – where does yours come from?

.   .   .

There are plenty of things that feed into whether you are feeling ready for the push towards Christmas. Sleep, food, exercise, workflow management . . . they all play a part, but today I want to consider this question through the lens of personality – specifically, are you an “introvert” or an “extrovert”?

There are whole psychological theories dedicated to explaining these two terms, and anyone wanting to take a deep dive in the subject will have plenty of reading to do for many years to come.

Happily, in this short post there’s only one simple part that I am dwelling on – the different ways introverts and extroverts maintain energy. Of course, no healthy person is completely one or the other. It’s not a binary condition, rather each of us have portions of both.

But we’re also very likely to tend more towards one end of the spectrum than the other and that’s useful to acknowledge, (or work out), because the research shows that each personality type recovers differently. In our energy hungry profession, knowing this could both help us recover when we have been stretched a little too far for a little too long, and then help us stay energised for longer periods of time.

“Fun fact: approximately 52 – 60% of people are considered introverted.”

So slightly more of us will be on the introverted side of the continuum. The reason why knowing where you sit is important is that each type needs different energy building strategies. In simple terms:

Extroverts gain energy from being around and interacting with other people.

Introverts are the opposite, they recover by spending time alone or quietly with well-known familiar people.

So, which are you?

Quiz – If you are serious about this question, you are going to have to invest in something like the Myers Briggs Personality Type Indicator assessment or you could take a fairly lightweight short quiz like this one here just for fun .

Given that we are all somewhere on the continuum between the two extremes, it’s likely that most of us need some peace and quiet and some social recharge to find our balance, but when you’ve had a tough week, are you more likely to crave an evening in with a good book or a catch up with friends?

As the run towards the end of the year picks up pace, it will pay to deliberately schedule opportunities that you know are effective energisers for you. 

Being a sustainable leader requires smart energy management and knowing yourself can definitely help with this.

Dave

PS: If you are mainly an introvert, but you need to (or believe you need to) regularly act in an extroverted way, could this be a reason why you are often tired? 

 

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Photo by Natalie Daley

It’s great that we are in a Term break at last (at least for those of us in NZ). This year is proving to be anything but business as usual and the challenges just keep coming. We’re been operating in a “hoping for the best, but ready for anything” type mode. This is a tough way to live long term!

Something that has helped me stay energised and well through the ongoing adventure of 2020, has been to get very clear about what matters most. I’m coming from the perspective of a statement we often use in the 40 Hour Project –

“being a school leader is part of who we are, not all of who we are”.

From a work perspective, there will always be things that are more or less important. There will be periods when more time and energy need to be committed to particular tasks. Bearing in mind the statement above though, alongside the work requirements will be other things.  A  misalignment between these two competing needs is a common problem. And misalignment happens easily unless you have clarity.

A statement to describe this idea could be:

“People are more resilient when they are clear about what matters most.”

 

 

One of the gifts of having space to think clearly (time for a sabbatical!), is that you can really consider what matters most to you. The absolutely fundamental items will almost certainly be personal – things to do with family, health, relationships, finances . . .

As school leaders, it’s very easy to let the urgent parts of each day take priority, and maybe that’s OK short term – but if you apply a longer term lenses to what it means to work/live as you are, priorities will change.

I’d like to suggest that until you do this exercise, you will often feel tension between what you need personally and what your work requires.

For example, if you haven’t done any exercise in a month, yet you woke up this morning worrying about school data targets, you are probably confused (about what matters most) and need to create space to get things straight.

.   .   .

And it’s not rocket science! Here is what I strongly recommend you do:

  1. Find some uninterrupted space. Ideally this will be somewhere you don’t usually go and will be away from the people who you usually interact with. In duration it needs to be long enough to allow you to sense the approach of boredom. No devices at all. Zero. Zip. Nada. Somewhere naturally beautiful is ideal but a quiet corner in the back of a Library you don’t visit often will work too. Find your space.
  2. A blank piece of paper and a pen (I actually use a notebook, but start on a blank page).
  3. Now just make a list. A list of the things that really, really matter. Don’t be shy or driven at all by what others might think – this list is for you and you alone.
  4. This is the perfect time to use some “fear setting” so that you build your list past the immediate.
  5. Sort the list so that the very most important thing is at the top.

Job nearly done.

The final, crucial remaining step, is to accept that you have to work in a way that allows you to address the items at the top of your list. If you can do this consistently, you will be aligning your needs with your work and when the pressure comes on, you are now positioned to make choices that are sustainable and energising.  Just do it.

Dave

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Photo by David Holifield

 

You probably know the metaphor of “the carrot and the stick” where a stubborn donkey needs to be encouraged to move. There are two basic options (as donkeys are hard to push around). You can dangle a carrot just in front of its nose and, if hungry, the donkey will move forward. The other option is to whack it on its hind quarters with a stick (no donkeys were harmed in the creation of this metaphor). If the “stick” hurts enough, the donkey again moves forward.

However, the ultimate donkey moving tactic involves both the threat of the stick and the promise of the carrot used at the same time. It’s more likely to work than either option individually.

 

 

In the 40 Hour Project we usually focus on the good things that you can expect by making healthy leadership/lifestyle choices – the carrots.

The problem is that human nature seems to predispose us to take a short term view of any possible rewards. If the reward is immediate, we are more likely to buy in than if the reward is several months or years away.

For example, if we buy a lottery ticket each week we get the immediate thrill of possibility, but we could save the $20 and at years end have a guaranteed $1040. Not many people take option two (even though it is almost certain to be a better reward).

It’s the timeframe that stops us being smarter.

 

 

So today, I want to mention a motivation technique that’s all about the stick rather than the carrot.

This tactic is one that Tim Ferriss uses regularly to help make uncomfortable changes (he calls it fear setting).  Tim argues that if a change needs to be made, staying with the status quo is not a neutral position – it comes with a cost.

He starts by asking the tough question, “if I don’t make a change, what will it cost myself, those I’m responsible for (e.g. my school) and those who care about me?”

Some examples are health costs, financial costs, family costs, and happiness costs.

To expose the costs more, you put a timeframe on them. What will the status quo cost me in 6 months, 12 months, 3 years, 10 years?

Here’s  a simple example using a health cost:

Let’s pretend you love donuts and you regularly buy them from the awesome bakery conveniently located just down the road from your school. When you’re feeling generous (or guilty!), you buy them for your team as well. This is fun, until you visit your doctor and she  points out (annoyingly) that you’ve gained 3 kilos since she saw you last year.

We can plot the future pain using Tim’s method:

Weight change in:
6 months + 1.5kgs
12 months + 3kgs
3 years + 9kgs
10 years + 30kgs

You can see that the timeframe magnifies the reality of not making a change. 1.5kgs worth of “stick” might not be enough to move you at all, but somewhere between that and 30kgs it becomes a lot more compelling!

You can apply this method to a whole range of other areas. The only initial self-discipline needed is to ask the uncomfortable question of yourself and to plot out the “costs” so you can clearly see the situation evolving in your future.

A work example that I have used is around time spent sitting. It seems the longer I’m a school leader, the more time I spend on my butt. I’ve seen the media reports about what this means to the future me and I don’t like it!

I used this “fear” idea and worked out that I was sitting approximately 30 minutes longer each day than I did a couple of years ago. This was of course just a guess, but I then plotted it on a timeframe. You can do  the maths but it looked bad to me!

.

.

 

The bit of this process that stirs some worry (the stick) is the way a negative thing amplifies over time. This little exercise has meant I’m way more conscious of how much sitting I do – I now try to stand up if someone comes in when I’m sitting down, I have an easy to use standing option on my desk, and I make sure I go for regular walks around our site ‘just because’ (which is easy to do in a school!)

Have a go, pick something that in your gut, you know is holding you back as a person (and of course as a school leader) and ask yourself that uncomfortable question – “what will it cost me/my family/my school if I don’t make a change?”

I’ve found it even more compelling when I write it down.

Dave

 

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Photo by Markus Spiske

 

Humanity 

When people are giving their all, when the pressures on and they are stretched too thinly, that is when it is very easy to be hurt by others. 

And there seems to be a lot of educational leaders feeling that hurt at the moment. 

These are good people doing their very best to lead in difficult circumstances – maybe because of  COVID, maybe because they are new to a role or new to a school, maybe they’re not getting the support they need from those with the purse strings . . . What they have in common is a deep feeling of hurt – betrayal almost by the very people they are trying to serve. 

Why is that? 

My gut feeling is that it is to do with being human, or more accurately, not being seen as human. 

.   .   . 

Steve and I often write about the leader’s role not defining us. It is part of who we are but not all of who we are, but does your team believe that too? 

It can be very easy to unwittingly contribute to this misconception (that you are one dimensional). It’s a tough gig at the top and one way to mitigate risk is to metaphorically pull on your armour and present a “professional” face to your school 

There are many ways to do this – you can separate yourself by the way you dress, you can create a culture where you are always in charge, you can subtly discourage disagreement, you can pretend you know what to do in all situations . . . the list is long. 

Meanwhile, your team are facing their own challenges. They too are struggling inside a pandemic, they too may also feel overwhelmed by workload or difficult situations. Their challenges are real too. 

Then one day you hold a staff meeting and seemingly from out of left field, despite the huge effort you have clearly put into the situation, there is a total lack of kindness or understanding towards you. Churlish questions are asked, people’s faces show disapproval, you can almost taste the disdain in some corners of the room . . .  

What!? Don’t they see how much of yourself you’ve put into this? How can they seemingly completely “forget” all the slack you have cut them – the leave granted, the thoughtful messages about achievements, the support of their initiatives . . .  

.   .   . 

Maybe, just maybe, it’s because they have stopped seeing you as a person and now see you as “The principal” or “The Assistant Principal”. And when you are reduced to merely your official role, your feelings and emotions are easily discounted.  

As a person, you are invisible. 

.   .   . 

I believe at least part of the answer is to lead from a position of humanity. You need to let your team see you as a person who happens to be their leader, rather than just a leader, fullstop. 

And the way to do this is to be brave enough to be vulnerable. 

Vulnerable” – “capable of being physically or emotionally wounded.” The critical word here is capable – it’s the possibility that shows you as being human.

Brene Brown describes this beautifully.  

 

There are simple actions that you can start (or do more often) tomorrow  –

Admit when you don’t know 

Apologise  

Ask for help 

Talk about your life outside work  

Share your aspirations 

These things can help others see you as a person and when the going gets tough, that is a very good thing. 

 

David 

 

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Photo by Raul Varzar

Those of you back in the land of Level 3 lockdown (NZ context) have my utmost sympathy. There’s no easy way to run a school under these conditions and you have a massive task on your hands. Kia kaha – you are in my Level 2 thoughts!

This week I’m “piggy backing” off Steve’s suggestion that right now, amongst the uncertainty, is when we need to take half a step back from the action and reflect.

For those of you in Level 3 the status quo of school is gone. For those of us (a little nervously) sitting in Level 2, we know we might join you at any time.

Now is the time to seriously consider change.

A while ago we discussed the idea of making small, incremental changes to arrive at a new “normal” – 1% better as James Clear would say.

But I believe right now is the perfect time to by-pass that timeline and jump to a new position. To metaphorically advance around the Monopoly board and choose where you land.

Now equals opportunity.

.   .   .

So here’s my challenge – 

Find one aspect of the usual way of working at your school that through the lens of this pandemic, is no longer fit for purpose.

I’m talking about things like:

the number of physical meetings each week.

aspects of your school’s reporting

expectations around teachers being onsite

the shape of your lunch rosters

the amount of extra-curricular activities

the values you say are most important

This list is as long as your imagination!

A fundamental test you can apply is to ask people “why” something is done. If the answer comes back with some variation of, “because that’s how we’ve always done it”, you know you have a likely candidate.

I’m not suggesting that you go nuts and change lots of things, or even much at all – just one.

One thing that is now redundant because the world is shifting, and to be relevant, your school needs to shift too. One thing that might just start the change process that our students need.

When you pause for a moment, with the pandemic shining a light over your shoulder, what do you see?

 

David

 

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Photo by Selin Şahin

 

You probably know the classic “conscience” model of decision making where you have a small Angel on one shoulder and a small Devil on the other. A decision needs to be made and they compete with each other to convince you which path to take. Each takes turns to whisper in your ear either promising or threatening depending on the choice.

In this post I’m going to ask you to imagine a similar pair of “advisers “positioned ready for action, but in this case, one is a small (but alert and tough looking) lizard, and the other is a mini version of yourself 10 years in the future.

Both are exactly what they seem.

.   .   .

Let’s pretend it’s a typical week at school. Over the weekend you were at a community fundraiser – both days. On Monday at a PLD course. On Tuesday you went with your senior students to a leadership development day. That evening, you worked your way through the email pile left after two days out of the office. You were still well behind (and tired) by 10:30pm that night when you finally stopped.

Now let’s fast forward to Wednesday. It’s 11:00am – a break time at your school and a teacher pops into your office (where you’d just done your best to resolve an ongoing issue with the PTA fundraising committee). Looking a bit pale they volunteer, “I know this is late notice, but I can feel a migraine coming on and I can’t go to the maths quiz tonight. We need someone with the team . . .”

Boom. You now have a choice to make.

Your lizard starts talking first. She was wide awake and ready for this very moment.

“Say you’ll go. Say it quickly. If you hesitate they’ll think you’re annoyed with them. You’re the principal, everyone knows you’ll fix this . . . unless you don’t! Then they’ll think you’re lazy!”

Over on the other shoulder a less confident, quieter voice, hesitantly says, “you shouldn’t offer to help this time. You know you need to rest. You could ask someone else – maybe one of the parents . . .”

The lizard interrupts, “that’s a terrible thought. Don’t you care? The parents will know you couldn’t be bothered!”

And back and forward go the opposing thoughts.

In this tiny vignette of school leadership, the lizard represents your ancient brain. The bit hardwired to see danger and threats everywhere. The bit that used to keep your ancestors alive in a past world with saber-tooth tigers and no “best before” labels. It did a great job for millennia as proven by your existence today.

But it’s not helping you this Wednesday.

On your other shoulder is the thoughtful, rational you. The bit that intellectually knows that you’re overworked already and that you can choose not to go to the quiz (with all the attached upside of that decision).

This interplay of your reactive, threat seeking brain, with your rational mind, is rerun hundreds of times over a week – in fact every time you make a conscious choice!

Let’s look at some more choices versus voices.

You need to prepare a board report by tomorrow.

Rational voice: “Shut your office door, turn off your phone and email. Get the job done.”

Lizard voice: “A good principal is accessible. Shutting the door ruins this. Leave the door open and do the report tonight.”

You feel unwell but there is a staff meeting scheduled after school.

Rational voice: “Tell your Leadership Team. Ask them to run the meeting. If they can’t, cancel it. Go home either way.”

Lizard voice: “You have to be at the meeting. You’re the leader, you can’t ask others to go if you won’t yourself. What say they make bad decisions? You have to stay.”

A teacher calls in sick at 8:00 AM and you can’t get a reliever.

Rational voice: “You’ve got important work planned. Split the class across the school.”

Lizard voice: “Take the class. The other teachers don’t want extra kids. If they know you’re in the Office they’ll judge you. Better to do your other work in the weekend.”

You had 2 evening meetings in a row.

Rational voice: “Tell your team you are coming in late . Use the extra hour to go for the walk you missed due to the meetings.”

Lizard voice: “Turn up at 7:00 AM as usual. It’s just part of your job to be short of time. What will people think if they see you exercising in school time!”

This interplay of rational choices being sabotaged by your lizard brain is exactly what often stops smart people making better long-term choices.

.   .   .

The lizard brain is a physical lump near your brain stem. It’s actually a metaphor for a part of your amygdala and it reacts to threats, real or imagined, instantly and automatically.

Steven Pressfield calls this “The Resistance” in his book, “Do The Work” (which I highly recommend you read sometime).

.   .   .

It seems that the world (and our leader’s roles) have changed more quickly than our ancient survival systems .

If nature had kept up with reality, your lizard would be whispering things like:

“You have to exercise regularly or you’ll get sick. Go for a walk now.”

“Go home. It’s your daughter’s birthday. She’s more important than completing that plan right now.”

“Ask someone to cover your lunch duty – that unexpected meeting earlier shouldn’t mean you don’t eat.”

Sadly, our lizard will probably say exactly the opposite because our ancient brain is not forward thinking. It’s impulsive, reactive and looking for immediate threats. If if can’t find a real one, it’ll invent something – just to keep you cautious.

I’m as vulnerable to these insidious voices as most people, but am trying a plan to lessen their power.

My strategy is to deliberately build different habits. I want to quieten the negative voices by taking them out of the decision making. A habit can do this because a habit is a largely unconscious behaviour. It’s a default position. Critically, a habit (once formed) doesn’t take conscious thought so removes the opportunity for internal debate.

One that I am currently working on, is not saying “yes” to extra work when I am already too busy. This goes against my natural urge to help people, so is often not easy. I’d give myself a success rating of 7/10 at this stage. I suspect I’ve spent far too many years listening to the “voices” so it’s going to take time to quieten them.

.   .   .

How’s your lizard treating you? Is it whispering nonsense when you rationally know better? If so, it’s time to stop listening and time to be more professional, for you, the people who care about you, and the school that you serve.

 

Dave

 

Note 1:  Thanks to Michael Fletcher, a fellow New Zealand principal, for the title of this post. Michael puts up really sensible short YouTube videos for us all from time to time (like this one).

Note 2:  “Professional” = working in a way that is both effective and sustainable.

 

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