When we think of the concept of a leader, we picture someone who has found success, things come easily for them and they are respected by everyone. While some of this may be true, in reality many leaders would share with you their journey as a leader has been anything but smooth, has consisted of many challenges and long hours of work. Furthermore, many leaders would share with you they have had more failures than successes. As we think about this further, why do some people stop growing when they have setbacks while others push forward and continue to strive for excellence. How do failures refine leadership? Here are some perspectives and what I have learned from my own failures. This awareness helped me to recognize that “Failure is not the opposite of success. It is part of success.”
- Importance of reflection – Trying new strategies is important for growth and most of these resulted in failed attempts. This has caused frustration and setbacks but over time I have come to recognize that growth doesn’t happen just by trying a new approach but by the reflection of the experience. When we reflect it is natural to think of our setback but we must refocus our mindset on our efforts to improve by recognizing how to be more strategic, consistent in our work and intentional with our purpose. In any moment, we have 2 options: we can step forward into growth and lean into our experiences or step back to where we do what we have always done. Fear is what holds most people back from trying something new. However, the amount of fear is the same in people who are reluctant to try something new and for those that take the steps of change. I encourage you to reflect upon your last opportunity where you tried something new and why it worked or why not and most importantly – what will you do differently next time?
- Be the Leader you would follow – Early in my leadership career I was mis-guided about what I thought a leader should be. This included how to behave with others, my approach to situations and my day to day focus. After honest conversations with the staff I served, which was not easy, I recognized I needed to focus on being ME. I strived to be the leader that I would follow if I was a classroom teacher. I focused on my character and how I treat others by being sincere, authentic, admitting my mistakes and leading with positivity. I should always help the other person feel as if they are the most important person in the schoolhouse. I now believe that Modeling is the tipping point and is supported by our listening and communication. Leaders know lots of information but who we are matters more. How we treat others will be more impactful than any PD or well crafted email that we can send.
- Make it about others – Having a title is irrelevant in today’s society as any person can be a leader. Leadership is not about your title but how you empower others and influence their actions and behaviors that lead to growth. This anonymous quote resonates with me: “If serving others is below you, then leadership is beyond you”. There are many long hours of a leader’s job involving deadlines, reports, hours of supervision and endless emails and phone calls. All of these are important parts of the job. But when we struggle to remember our purpose it may be helpful to remember this scenario: during your first interview for a teaching position remember what you said you were going to do for students as you sat in the interview chair. You can probably remember that emotion, nerves and excitement that focused on helping others. Those same emotions are what we need to remember about leading others – it comes back to the heart and focuses on others. There is a quote that John Maxwell has shared many times that inspires me about my work with others: “Humility is not thinking less of yourself but rather it’s thinking of yourself less. If we focus our attention, time and energy by pouring ourselves into others then our influence increases”.
- Mindset is most important – Leading others causes many hard conversations. At times, we can get sidetracked on procedures, policies and traditions – these are not bad things but they are not the most significant part of helping lead others. It is our mindset. There will be tough moments but I try to remind myself to never have a bad day but recognize the opportunities we each have in a day to make it special. This phrase by George Corous reminds me of the importance of being optimistic:“Being positive doesn’t mean ignoring the negative. Being positive means overcoming the negative”. One way to be positive is to show gratitude towards others and build others up. This can be done by handwritten notes, sharing genuine praise and simply listening to someone when they need it. There are many challenges and some will result in setbacks. This could be angry patrons, staff sharing negative vibes behind your back or others wanting “what we have always done”. Leaders must remember, when you cannot control what is happening, we must challenge ourselves to control the way you respond to what is happening. This is where you will get your power and motivation from to press forward.
- Connect to other leaders – Leadership and Learning are indispensable to each other. Results happen over time, not overnight. You must work hard, stay consistent and be patient. Yes, you can do this alone by reading, podcasting and writing. However, you can go much further if you invest time to connect to other leaders through developing your PLN. Connecting with others allows you to grow in your vulnerability to share failures and experiences, listen to others as they share feedback and apply it to your setting. As leaders continue to grow, they will strive to reinvent themselves and find new ways to stretch their thinking. This results in innovative practices and growth and can be most effectively done by a connected network. This can also positively impact those you serve as when a leader takes risks, then teachers will be much more likely to take risks; resulting in students taking more academic risks too.
Everyone has the same opportunities in life. However, some people are content with the status quo, don’t take the time to reflect and are not willing to continually learn. When you analyze your failures, it helps you to remember the things you have accomplished, your setbacks and what you need to do to continue to grow as a leader. It helps to make you humble and stay hungry for growth. True leadership occurs by intentional efforts when you work extremely hard to improve your own learning and that leads to growth. I encourage all leaders to reflect upon your failures as that is part of the growth process in leadership. When you can self-analyze your past and what you learned from those experiences, it allows you to focus on spending the right efforts towards building excellence. It is never too late to change or adapt to create something better. We owe that to our students and staff that we serve. Comment below or reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org