Be CLEAR, not CLEVER.
Do you ever get the feeling someone or something is trying to tell you something?
Last week as I did my normal reading in the mornings and listening to podcast/audiobooks on my commute, I sensed a distinct theme in them although it was accidental. Someone or something was trying to tell me something and it became pretty "CLEAR" what it was...be intentional and stay focused.
This message is as old as time, but it is also one that takes constant reminding for many, including myself. As a school leader, especially at the campus level where the unpredictability of a day is simply par for the course, it is easy to get distracted and sometimes lose focus on your goals. In Robert Glazer's Elevate podcast (https://www.robertglazer.com/elevate-podcast/rory-vaden-on-building-your-brand-and-the-perfect-book-title/ ) he and Rory Vaden discussed the concept of being clear with your messaging and your brand. Two distinct phrases stuck out to me. First, Be known for ONE thing and do it well. That might work in the business world, but how can a school leader simply focus on one thing? I pondered this for a couple of days and it brought me back to an author that was very influential to me in my formative administrative years and still produces some of the best work of anyone, Jim Knight.
While much of Knight's work centers on instructional coaching, he is very clear in most of his work that by being intentional with what you are trying to improve you are much more likely to hit your target. I pulled out my copy of Unmistakable Impact over the weekend and flipped through the sticky notes and highlights. While I love the smell of new books, there is a comforting feeling of going back to one that influenced you the way this one did to me. It didn't take me long to find what I was looking for, page 57, The Target. In the section, Knight discusses the uselessness of so many of our educational improvement plans. They often lack focus, are too long, and in the end, do not really impact learning and teaching in our classrooms. No doubt lots of work goes into such plans and the meaning is well intended, but as many educators will admit, the plans we create are cumbersome at times and lack focus. We need to put the majority of our efforts into the thing that will have the biggest impact on achieving the goals to which we aspire. Knight advocates one page at most!
This brings me to the second piece of advice in Glazer's Elevate Podcast: Diluted Focus = Diluted Results. It does not matter how hard we work or study, if we run around chasing the "next big idea" or lose focus because the process is too long, we will never be as effective as we could be if we would put our tremendous talent and skills into a singular goal. As a school leader, it can be tempting to try new ideas and many of them may seem appealing, but it does take its toll on both you and your staff. Be clear about the focus of the school and what is important to you as a leader. Being CLEAR is better than being CLEVER.
My reading this week also included John Maxwell's Leadershift. In it, he outlines eleven shifts every leader needs to make as they improve their own personal leadership journey. As a coincidence, the chapter I went through this week was Leadershift #7: Directing to Connecting. Maxwell stresses the need for constant and clear communication and asks the question, "Is your intention to correct them or connect with them?" I believe this idea aligns perfectly with a single focus of a school's goals. When you communicate with your staff, are you connecting with them and helping them understand the target or does it come across as a deficit mindset that they did something wrong? Can all the stakeholders in your school articulate the target(s) for the year? As the leader, that may be your number one job. Make sure we are clear about what we are trying to do. Remember, CLEAR beats CLEVER.
As the school year moves into the second quarter of the year (yes, it's that time already) take a look around at your own targets and those given to your staff. Are they clear and in focus or are there so many that it's hard to determine which one to aim for? The best advice I can give you is to try doing ONE thing really well and don't dilute the results.
"People who jump from project to project are always dividing their effort, and producing high quality work becomes difficult without intense effort.
Meanwhile, your average work day can be leisurely, yet also productive, if you return to the same project each day.
Do one thing well and watch it compound."