Sunday, April 20, 2014

Removing our 'Buts' from Leadership

I read Dan Rockwell's post this morning and it slapped me in the face. Leaders are constantly pressing forward knowing that they must keep the organization moving in order to reach the goal. They acknowledge success, BUT the organization has a long way to go. They praise improvement, BUT we're not there yet. Leaders make praise statements followed by a BUT that lists what hasn't been accomplished. How deflating is that?

I understand the need for constant improvement, BUT our teams and teachers need to know that they are making progress without a descriptor of what is still missing. I must admit, I am prone to make celebration statements with the deflating BUT in them.

Healthy cultures thrive on frequent communication and a critical component is celebration. In DuFour, DuFour, Eaker & Many's book 'Learning by Doing', celebration is a huge part of communication. Here are some tips from their research that leaders must consider if they want to celebrate without BUTS.

Be Specific in the Purpose of Celebration

What gets praised gets repeated. If leaders don't specify the actions that caused the celebration, people will think you are random. Praise a specific action and this will remove the BUT because specific praise shows others the behavior that the leaders wants in all facets of the team. Leaders that add the BUT to this recognition take value away from the behavior being celebrated.

Understand that Celebration is Everyone's Job

The way to start a wildfire of progress is to provide avenues for all staff to celebrate each other's work. Distributing and sharing this responsibility makes the celebration more meaningful because everyone joins the leader in picking and choosing what to celebrate. Also, if the leader is the only one who selects who and what gets celebrated, mistrust and skepticism about celebration takes root. Everyone must own and take part in identifying who and what gets celebrated.

Tie Recognition to your MVVG

Celebration is worthless if it is random or haphazard. When this occurs, people become confused about what is important. If you want to grow, you need motivation, and if you want your mission, vision, values and goals to be realized, individuals, groups and the campus as a whole must be recognized for the behaviors that are aligned with these targets. What gets praised gets repeated by others.

Small Tokens are Most Valuable

Leaders add more BUTS when they recognize a few or limit who can be recognized. Failure to recognize the right work throughout the organization creates pockets of frustration or confusion which Anthony Muhammad says leads to complaining, a precursor to a toxic culture. Small and frequent tokens of appreciation to many people for doing work that is aligned with the mission, vision, values and goals conveys significance in the employee and the work that they do. The more frequent and authentic the recognition, the more empowered your staff will become.

If you notice, these strategies didn't have a single BUT in them. That is because when you have a living mission, vision, values and goals, your organization automatically knows they have more work to do. Taking the acknowledgment of the BUT out of your leadership doesn't mean your team is going to stop improving. Celebrating the right work in a targeted and meaningful way will inspire your team to work even harder because the work that they do is being noticed, praised and shared with others. Isn't that what most people want, acknowledgement for a job well done?

Celebration is the fuel of a healthy culture. The more specific and focused it is, the greater your odds are for reaching your goals and the greater your collective capacity will expand, and there are no ifs ands or BUTS about that.


  1. Great bit, Pal...

    There are so few opportunities to feel good about the work that we're doing in schools today simply because EVERYONE seems to have another finger to point at us for another failure that we may -- or may not -- be responsible for.


    Your reminders here are clear -- and would make a difference to me if I saw them happening in my school.


    Rock on,

  2. Thanks Bill. I cringe to think how many times I've done this to my staff. Gotta change and follow these thoughts. Have a great day & thanks for the feedback.