Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Keeping your Leadership Sharp

A frustrating point in a chef's life is when he doesn't have a knife sharp enough to cut the food before him. The dullness of the blade frustrates because the utensil has been over-used and has lost it's edge of effectiveness. The chef has 2 choices. Sharpen the old familiar blade or discard it for a sharper, newer blade.

How often does this happen in schools across America? A leader, the proverbial knife, has become dull and ineffective so what typically happens to him? He is replaced with a newer, younger, or more innovative leader. Sometimes the leader is sharp enough to cut through the meat of the campus culture that is inherited, and other times he is just as dull as the leader he replaced. The problem is that leaders, like knives, must be sharpened regularly or they will lose their effectiveness. If the dull blade is replaced with a newer blade but is not provided systems to keep the new blade sharp, the school will eventually have to replace that leader too. Systems of sustainability are critical to help leaders maintain their edge of effectiveness.

So how can school districts help leaders stay sharp and effective? I find there are 3 things that all leaders must do to keep their edge.

1. Keep your Knife to the Grindstone

Sharpening the blade requires friction against an abrasive rock. This rock is conflict. Leaders will never stay sharp unless they identify, embrace and learn from conflict with parents, teachers, students and central office. Districts must recognize that in order for progress to be constant, confronting tough issues is required. In the absence of conflict, the knife becomes dull and the food will take longer to cut.  Leaders need support from district leaders when conflict arises so the organization can benefit.  Progress is the result of processing discomfort in a productive manner.

2. Knowledge means Intellectual Stimulation

Asking difficult questions and entertaining difficult questions helps new synapses form. Failure to address challenges causes the leader's wits to fade little by little. Staying current and constantly learning builds mental sharpness.  The leader that is constantly searching for a new way of thinking and learning sets the tone for learning throughout the organization; for, the search for knowledge is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

3. Keep Focused

Leaders on the cutting edge stay focused on no more than 3 things, and they go to great lengths to communicate their focus to the organization. They do whatever it takes to prevent interruptions and distractions from turning them away from their focus. In short, they focus on their focus, and by keeping their focus secure, they stay sharp.

Staying sharp is holy grail of leadership. 

 Leaders have their moments when everything is clicking and other times when nothing seems to go their way.  What separates effective from ineffective leaders is not their ability to acknowledge their short-comings, but their efforts to do something about it.  After all, chefs know when they have a dull knife, and they know what it takes to return the blade to its original edge of effectiveness.

1 comment:

  1. Hey Pal,

    Great metaphor. I think that's what I like the best about your blog -- it's full of these kinds of metaphors.

    They're approachable and easy to remember. Thanks for sharing them.

    Rock on,