This blog is co-written with my husband, Mike Stacy. Mike is currently the superintendent at Beechwood Independent Schools in Ft. Mitchell, KY.
What does great leadership look like? The answer to this question, in some ways, has many answers. As many endless variations of personalities as we humans have, there are just as many ways we approach our leadership. For every great leader who is charismatic and extroverted, there is another who is reserved and contemplative. However, if the layers of individuality are peeled away, two common characteristics of great leaders arise. The continuum of ownership and humility, when transposed over one another, reveal 3 leadership pitfalls along with one leverage that all great leaders share.
Pitfall #1: To be a great leader and get results, you must be ego-driven.
Mike’s Story: I once had a peer who was a very strong principal with a strong desire to be one of the best but burned out everyone around her. She pink-slipped without mercy and always had to be the strongest voice in the room. She could never get past a certain point and I’ve become convinced that this ceiling was hers. She never could onboard her people to raise the bar past the point of her own potential. None of us are good enough to do it alone and our people are our strength.
Melody’s Take & Tip: Along the path greatness, there is no room for personal egos. Leaders who seek greatness for themselves and the community they serve check their egos at the door. This is not a once-and-done event but rather a mindset that must be regularly nurtured. When you rely too heavily on the personal in personal accountability, it can be all too easy to fall into the “it’s all about me” trap. To avoid letting your ego get the best of you and your leadership mission, have a daily mantra that centers around serving those around you. Mine is “Love is at the center of what I do. I am here to seek out & inspire the greatness in others,” and I say this every morning as a part of my daily affirmations. (How Morning Affirmations Help You Take on the Impossible) Remind yourself, even in the most stressful moments, that the impact you create is not about you but rather about helping others along their path to greatness.
Pitfall #2: Being nice is all it takes to be a successful leader.
Mike’s Story: One time I was tasked with mentoring a new principal that had one of the best personalities I’d ever been around. She was fun and cheerful and had a natural love of kids. I was so excited to talk with her and be a peer mentor for her new leadership experience. The summer was great. She was a hard worker and had no problems working with her front office staff to get prepared for the school to start. The first day rolled around and I received a few calls with questions that are typical of a new principal including bus routes, paperwork, enrollment, etc. The calls didn’t stop after the first day, weeks, or even months. They continued and most weren’t very difficult. Eventually, I went to meet with her and asked, “Why do you keep calling me with so many questions? It’s your school and you have to make it your own.” I can still remember her answer, “It’s easier just to call you. You’re an experienced principal and the district likes you. If you tell me to do it then I won’t get in trouble.” I walked out of the building that day knowing that she would struggle to survive. She had the humility, but she didn’t want to own her impact and direction. She wanted someone else to create her to-do list and vision for the school. Unfortunately, that’s not what it takes to be a great leader.
Melody’s Take & Tip: This type of leadership that falls prey to this pitfall knows and values relationships, but the lack of a compelling vision or sense of urgency leaves their organization, best-case scenario, in a plateau. Short-term, these leaders can be a breath of fresh air, especially if they’re following an oppressive leader. Before long, though, these well-intending leaders leave people upset with their flimsy beliefs and lack of willingness to make the difficult decisions that will move the school forward. To avoid this, have an inspiring vision, write it down and then communicate it. Use your WHY (What Is Your Why?) to filter your decisions and help make the tough calls.
Pitfall #3: Blaming your circumstances and outside influences will make you an impactful leader.
Mike’s Story: My biggest pet peeve is a leader that blames everyone and/or makes excuses for every failure while laying claims to every success. These leaders are truly the pit of leadership. Several times in my career I’ve seen this type of person ascend to a leadership position and they never thrive, even if they survive for a short time. Their actions are simple psychology – fight vs. flight. The “fighter” judges in a relentless fashion but never self-reflects. They complain and create conspiracy theories instead of producing results. They throw others under the bus to save themselves and are not trustworthy, never admitting their own failures. The “flighter” has meltdowns about what others are doing to them. They lock themselves away and have inflexible procedures that must be followed to do even small things, like schedule a meeting. Their assistants are either strong and don’t last long or really weak and shower continued praises toward the leader to help cover weaknesses.
Melody’s Take & Tip: When a leader focuses their energy and diverts the group’s attention towards circumstances outside of their control, they are giving away their ability to impact those around them as well as adding a toxic victim attitude. To avoid falling into this leadership death trap, keep your energy, words and actions centered with a laser-like focus on all that you can control. Stop the blame game, be the first to own up to your mistakes, and unite your team around the incredible opportunity we have to influence lives. Speak belief into the gifts you offer those you serve while honoring the great impact of those around you.
LEADERSHIP LEVERAGE: Great leaders hold themselves accountable to everything while leading with great humility.
Mike’s Story: When I was a young principal in a large district, a peer of mine led a top-performing elementary school. I watched her closely and couldn’t figure out why she didn’t push a little harder for a bump in state test scores. She was always fourth or fifth in the state and I knew with a little pressure she could have surely been number one! Now that I’m a little wiser, I understand that she had her school positioned really well and being number one didn’t really do anything for her kids or her staff. She focused her time and energy on culture and student growth and let the rankings take care of themselves. So many times as leaders we allow ownership to turn into a personal competition. We like to win and show our peers that our work has translated into a tangible product. Unfortunately, that product is self-serving and has no impact on the kids we are truly wanting to serve. Our jobs, as public school leaders, should be centered around student growth, student ownership, and producing a culture that demands a quality product with a strong dose of humility for the adults involved.
Melody’s Take & Tip: Leadership can seem like a tangled labyrinth worthy only for the likes of Indiana Jones. Staying focused on the two important attributes of ownership and humility can help us simplify and navigate the complexities that come our way. Holding ourselves accountable to creating a culture that shakes off the status quo and requires a commitment to excellence while staying humble is a powerful combination.
While great leaders come with an infinite combination of backgrounds and personalities, the very best focus on and own their impact. As a leader, how do you keep your ego in check while seeking greatness?
Together we are brilliant, so we’d love to connect! Share your thoughts, leadership experiences or reflections. Tweet and tag us (@beechwoodsup or @me1odystacy) or feel free to start a conversation by commenting below.
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