A Full Day

A Full Day

Started the day with a fantastic Middle School Admin Team Retreat, followed by an incredible Maker session where I learned about the Studio(i) experience, designed and printed using the laser cutter, and earned a badge! It was a fantastic turn out and professional learning event considering it is summer time. Next, I went to training session for this week’s Fuse conference with the fantastic Red Team followed by a fun team dinner at Village Burger. Finally, I ended the day by reading to each of my children and going for a night walk and swim. Blessed.monday retreat


Leadership Badge Series

Leadership Badge Series

Here is a badge design I am experimenting with as a way to show appreciation and recognition for leadership. This badge does not have a ‘submit evidence’ but it is awarded by me or it has the ‘nominate a peer’ option.

This is the first in a series of leadership badges I will design and issue.

What do you think?

Leadership Badge Series

Great by Choice

Great by Choice

Great by Choice

In preparation for an upcoming executive team meeting, our team read chapter 2 of Jim Collins’ book ‘Great by Choice.’ The introduction was particularly fun to read as it compared two expedition team leaders – Roald Amundsen and Robert Falcon, in their preparation and pursuit of being the first to reach the South Pole. ‘One leader led his team to victory and safety. The other led is team to defeat and death. What separated these two men?

Some favorite quotes:

‘You don’t wait until you’re in an unexpected storm to discover that you need more strength and endurance.’

‘You prepare with intensity, all the time, so that when conditions turn against you, you can draw from a deep reservoir of strength.’

‘And equally, you prepare so that when conditions turn in your favor, you can strike hard.’

‘Amundsen systematically built enormous buffers for unforeseen events. He designed the entire journey to systematically reduce the role of big forces and chance events by vigorously embracing the possibility of those very same big forces.’

In Collins’ research, he identifies what he calls “10Xers” (pronounced “ten-EX-ers”) – a term for people who built 10X companies (enterprises that beat their industry averages by at least 10 times.) 10Xers share a set of behavioral traits that set them apart from other leaders. They are not necessarily ‘more creative, visionary, charismatic, ambitious, blessed by luck, or prone to making big, bold moves.’

10Xers embrace a paradox of control and non-control. On one hand, they face continuous uncertainty and cannot predict significant aspects of the world around them. On the other hand, they reject the idea that forces outside of their control will determine their results, accepting full responsibility for their own fate.’

Fanatic Discipline – They display extreme consistency in action – consistency with values, goals, performance standards, and methods. They are utterly relentless, monomaniacal, unbending in their focus on their quests. They have the inner will to do whatever it takes to create a great outcome, no matter how difficult.

Productive Paranoia – maintaining hyper-vigilance in good times as well as bad. Even in calm, clear, positive conditions, they constantly consider the possibility that events could turn against them at any moment, without warning. And they’d better be prepared. They are not distinguished by paranoia per se, but by how they take effective action as a result.

Empirical Creativity – At times of uncertainty, while most people look to other people for their primary cues about how to proceed, 10Xers look primarily to empirical evidence (meaning direct observation, conducting practical experiments, engaging directly with evidence rather than relying on opinion, whim, conventional wisdom, authority, or untested ideas.

Rank order the core behaviors from your strongest to weakest. What can you do to turn your weakest into your strongest?

4 Levels of Delegation

4 Levels of Delegation
by Andy Stanley with Gavin Adams

Notes from the Podcast

“I just want you to go find out some things. Research. Gather info. Bring it back to me or our team. Don’t do anything about it yet.

Informed Progress
I have a project/task for you. I want to give you something to own, but we’re going to have regular conversations about it, so that I can stay updated and be available to help you through the process. Not to micro-manage, but understand your needs and how to help.

Informed Results
Fantastic opportunity to own, do it the way they feel and tell me when it’s over. I just want to know when it’s accomplished. I may ask how you did it later. Was it successful? What did we learn? This is not going to make or break our organization, but because of the scheduling, we’re going to do it this way. It depends on the nature of the project, whether/how you ‘hand it off.’ Scheduling and Scope – is this something I can hand off. This isn’t going to sink the ship. Super important to make those distinctions as the leader. Ditch 1 – abdicate all or Ditch 2 – driving folks crazy with micro-managing.

“The art of delegating well is leadership development.” – Andy

My favorite level. I want you to own everything about the project/task. We’re not going to schedule times. I don’t need to know how you did it or when it’s done. I just want it done. Ex: safety/security in childcare.

Leadership dilemma: It is so out of sight/out of mind. But if something goes wrong, everybody knows. It is extremely important. More than getting a building built, etc. How do you circle back around to make sure your leaders know you’re grateful? How do you keep them motivated and appreciated?

Requires me to be more intentional about paying attention to what’s happening. I can encourage them as much as possible. I don’t even know everything you’re doing to make this place fantastic, but thank you for doing it. Make a list of 5-6 things I take for granted. Those are the things you need to notice and write a thank you note about. The intentionality of gratitude is more important than ever.

Common Language
Involve them early. Gotta have clarity. Different projects require different kinds of follow up.

What has been the biggest win for you in using this system?

It has created clarity on both sides of the delegation. Allows me to focus on where I add the most value. Creates a lens to see what I should and should not be doing and delegating those things appropriately.

What do you do when you delegate something and you realize it’s not working? What do you do? Take responsibility back? Take somebody off the task?

The problem is usually not the person, but that I gave it too early or I didn’t prepare enough, delegate to the right person.

I never want people to feel they’re only as successful as their last project. If we fail at something, it doesn’t mean we’ve failed at our job.

Other Resources

4 Levels of Delegationdelegate2 4 Levels of Delegation 4 Levels of Delegation 4 Levels of Delegation 4 Levels of Delegation

Clutter Comes From Indecisiveness

al gore desk

Recently, I signed up for a series of webinars through The Principal Center. In the constant pursuit of greater organization and more effective workflow, I’m excited to learn more about how to improve some of my work habits. So excited, in fact, I want to share…

The 5 key benchmarks that can dramatically increase your capacity to manage the work of leadership:

  • Keep your desk clear
  • Keep your inbox empty
  • Work from your leadership agenda
  • Keep your to-do list up to date
  • Follow your calendar

Scaling Up Excellence – Notes from Chapter 1

It’s a ground war, not just an air war. (Going slower to scale faster – and better – later.)

The Problem of More = Executives can point to pockets in their organization where people are doing a great job of uncovering and meeting customer needs. There was always some excellence – there just wasn’t enough of it. How do you spread that excellence to more people and more places?

We’ve identified 7 reliable signs that scaling is going well or badly…

1. Spread a mindset, not just a footprint. Distributing your banner and logo far and wide vs. having a deep and enduring influence on how employees and customers think, act, feel, and filter info. Effective scaling depends on believing and living a shared mindset throughout your group, division, or organization.

2. Engage all the senses. Mindsets are spread and sustained by subtle cues that activate all the senses. Bolster the mindset you want to spread with supportive sounds, sights, smells, and other subtle cues that people may barely notice, if at all.

3. Link short-term realities to long-term dreams. The rare ability to make sure that the short-term stuff gets done and done well, while simultaneously never losing sight of the big picture. Scaling requires the wherewithal to hound yourself and others with questions about what it takes to link the never-ending now (the perpetual present tense that every person is trapped in) to the sweet dreams you hope to realize later.

4. Accelerate Accountability. It means an organization is packed with people who embody and protect excellence (even when they are tired, overburdened, distracted), who work vigorously to spread it to others, and who spot, help, critique, and (when necessary) push aside the colleagues who fail to live and spread it. There are many ways to create this brand of urgent, all-hands-on-deck accountability, but the goal is always the same – to bake in that constant pressure to do the right thing.

5. Fear the Clusterfug. The terrible trio of illusion, impatience, and incompetence are ever-present risks. Healthy doses of worry and self-doubt are antidotes to these three hallmarks of scaling and clusterfugs.

* Illusion: Decision makers believe that what they are scaling up is far better and easier to spread than the facts warrant.
* Impatience: Decision makers believe that what they are scaling is so good and easy to spread that they rush to roll it out before it is ready, they are ready, and the organization is ready.”
* Incompetence: Decision makers lack the requisite knowledge and skill about what they are spreading and how to spread it, which in turn transforms otherwise competent people into incompetent ones.

6. Scaling requires both addition and subtraction. The problem of more is also a problem of less.

7. Slow down to scale faster – and better – down the road. Learn when and how to shift gears from automatic, mindless, and fast modes of thinking (“System1”) to slow, taxing, logical, deliberative, and conscious modes (“System 2”); sometimes the best advice is, “Don’t just do something, stand there.”


#20 Bringing My Heart

One of the best books I’ve read this summer is Boundaries for Leaders by Dr. Henry Cloud. In fact, it’s so good, I’m not finished yet.

I’m fascinated by the ideas Dr. Cloud writes about leading so brains can work.

“In brain terminology, executive functions are needed to achieve any kind of purposeful activity – such as reaching a goal, driving a vision forward, conquering an objective. Whether driving a car or making and selling cars, the brain relies on three essential processes:

Attend to important data: the ability to focus on relevant stimuli. Know your speed, what lane you are in, which turn is next, etc.

Inhibit what is irrelevant or destructive (ie – you cannot text and drive)

Use working memory: You have to remember where you are in the flow. What was the last turn you made? What have you passed already?”

“If leadership is operating in a way that makes any of those brain functions unable to perform, or creates a team or culture in which they cannot work, results will be weakened and the vision damaged.”

“When a leader’s executive functioning as an executive mirrors and ignites the executive functions of his people’s brains, things get better – sometimes really fast.” 

“Leadership is not dog training. It is the creation of the kinds of conditions in which people can bring their brains, gifts, hearts, talents, and energy to the realization of a vision.”

boundaries for leaders

What Swimming Taught Me About Leadership

What Swimming Taught Me About LeadershipWhat Swimming Taught Me About Leadership

Be the first one off the blocks
“Swimmers take your mark. Bang!” Any swimmer will tell you that in a race, every detail matters. The start, the turn, the position of your body are all critical to keeping the edge you need to win a close one. Swimmers are fanatics. We shave our arms, legs, and heads just to shave one second of our fastest time. Your first and best chance to win a race is to be the first one off the blocks and into the water. It takes a lot of practice, planning, and preparation to be ready for this moment. It lasts less than one second. If you false start, you get disqualified. If you hesitate, you’ve lost. You must be ready to seize the earliest opportunity to win.

What Swimming Taught Me About Leadership
Freshman swimmer at Marymount

Your goggles will come off. Don’t panic
After my embarrassing failure in the 100 IM, I learned how to dive in so that my goggles were less likely to come off upon entry. In subsequent races, I became adept at pulling the goggles down around my neck, ripping them up off my head, and even breathing with my mouth half obstructed. Despite vigilant preparation, unexpected moments still occur. You must be able to remain calm and adapt quickly.

At MU, Coach Clark had a bucket of goggles that were painted with opaque, black paint. We learned how to count our strokes and swim without sight. He had us practice on Sunday nights. With the lights out. I knew precisely how many strokes it took to get across 25 yards of water with my eyes closed. Eleven.

What Swimming Taught Me About Leadership

Finish strong
As a coach, I hammered this into the hearts and minds of my swimmers. The end of the race is when we are most tired. I trained myself and others to push hardest at precisely this moment. Get there first. Put your head down and don’t even think about turning your head to take a breath. Leave it in the pool. Picture swimming beyond the wall 10 yards through the concrete. Coach Clark used to say, “Swim past the pain.”

What Swimming Taught Me About Leadership
Finishing strong in my last home meet as a Leafmore Dolphin.

Be coachable
After winning county, I couldn’t fathom that I had more to learn about swimming. Coach Clark showed me I was wrong. As cliche as it sounds, I truly learned that hard work pays off. I adopted the belief that growth beyond what you can imagine is possible. You have to be open to what others can teach you from their wisdom and experience if you want to be the best. Seek wisdom. Seek mentors.

Be a Coach
The scales are balanced between my fulfillment as a swimmer vs. swim coach. I wouldn’t be good at one without the other. I learned as much in my role as coach as I did swimming. Sharing your unique knowledge and skills is a gift. Teach others. Celebrate when they surpass you.

What Swimming Taught Me About Leadership
Giving a swim lesson in 2001 in the same spot where I learned in 1983 at Leafmore.

Late bloomers should not be underestimated or counted out
Sometimes they go the farthest.

Since the summer of 1983, swimming has been a huge part of my life. The pool was located beyond the woods at the end of our neighborhood cul-de-sac. My first official lessons were at Leafmore Creek Park.

What Swimming Taught Me About Leadership
With my Dad and sister in 1982

Two summers later I joined the swim team as a wide-eyed newcomer. Most kids my age joined the swim several years earlier. I had some natural ability and a lot of fun at the pool, but I cried when the coach put me in the 100 IM (Individual Medley – one lap of each stroke) because I was not confident about swimming butterfly or the distance of four laps.

What Swimming Taught Me About Leadership
Showing off our ribbons the morning after a swim meet.

The coach and my parents gave me a pep talk and convinced me to get in the race. They saw potential in me that I did not yet see. I choked on my goggles and they had to pull me out midway through the first lap. It was embarrassing, but I didn’t quit.

In 1993, I was hired as an assistant coach. I joined Dynamo and committed to life as a ‘year round’ swimmer. In 1994, I was the fastest 15 & over in Dekalb County in 50 yard freestyle and 50 yard breaststroke at the championship meet. I was a late bloomer.

I continued swimming in college at Marymount University my freshman year. Coach Clark completely changed my stroke technique and I became much faster. I broke 3 individual school records and 4 relay records. After one year, I transferred to UGA and my career as a swimmer was over. My career as a swim coach was just beginning.

I coached the Leafmore Dolphins from 1993 to 1999. Our team was undefeated 5-0 in 1999, a feat that had not been accomplished at Leafmore in 30 years. The last time the Leafmore Dolphins were undefeated was in 1969. They were coached by another UGA graduate, Phil Houston, my Dad.

What Swimming Taught Me About Leadership
Coach Houston (my Dad) in red shorts on right 1969.
What Swimming Taught Me About Leadership
Coach Houston (me) on left in blue shorts 2009.

I returned to coach the Dolphins from 2006 to 2009. Once again, the team was undefeated 5-0. Leading the swim team at Leafmore was my favorite job.

Swimming led to many great opportunities including the chance to volunteer at the 1996 Olympics where I had full access to the pool deck and met some incredible athletes and people.

What Swimming Taught Me About Leadership
Meeting President Jimmy Carter at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. Swimming gave me countless opportunities.



The Team You’re On vs. The Team You Lead

The Team You’re On vs. The Team You Lead

Last summer our leadership team read The Advantage by Patrick Lencioni and the quote below has stuck with me ever since. I will confess, I have not been as strongly committed to this ideal as I feel I should be.

“The team you belong to must come ahead of the team you lead: this is putting team results (e.g., organizational needs) ahead of individual agendas (e.g., the team or division you lead).” – Patrick Lencioni 

I love the people I work with. I love my team and my teammates. I feel a close connection with the team I lead because that is where I spend most of my time and energy in a typical week. I want to see this continue. We have big plans ahead. Yet at the same time…

I would like to demonstrate and develop a greater commitment to the team of division heads and the leadership council to which I belong. I would like to break down silos. I want to be a unit rather than a collection of individuals. I would like to see the potential of a group of incredibly committed and high-performing people fully unleashed.

To quote Michael Jackson, I’m starting with the man in the mirror. Yes, I just said that.

Here are 3 ways I plan to move in the direction of being a better teammate…

* Be more disciplined and effective in managing my time – so I have more time to…

* Be selfless and willing to help others – and simply be available and engaging to…

* Foster relationships by taking a greater personal interest – Life in a school is very busy. Life at my school is extremely busy. Weeks go by and though I may meet with the team I lead daily, I often do not see other teammates until the next leadership council meeting. Even when I see them, I feel that I don’t have a clear sense of what they are struggling with/working on and how I could help them. We are each doing our own thing, even though we are each working towards a common mission. We can improve our alignment, communication, commitment, and thus our impact.

Organizational_Health the-advantage-lencioni

Characteristics of Great Teammates by Brad Lomenick

#2 Introducing Your Newest Team Member: Gandalf


Organizing and improving all of the goals, events, reflections, feedback, ideas, touch points, and priorities that occur in the life of a school from year to year is like drinking from a fire hose. I am constantly seeking out new ways to be more effective and efficient at managing and leading. This Spring I had a breakthrough.

In the summer of 2005, I took a week long course at Oglethorpe University through the College Board for certification to teach AP World History. The instructor was Larry Treadwell. I will never forget him. In one week, my approach to teaching was reshaped. It was a defining moment in my career as an educator.

Mr. Treadwell unchained me from the textbook and empowered me to rely primarily on primary sources. “A document a day makes the DQB okay.” He gave me permission to have ridiculously high standards for my students. I took an entire legal pad worth of notes. I retyped them the next week and shared them with my teammate Elliott Rountree (a master AP teacher, Academic Team coach, entrepreneur (ACE Quiz Bowl Camps), and Jeopardy contestant.

There were countless ideas and strategies that I experimented with and adopted that year (my first year as an AP teacher will make for a good future post – it was a year of tremendous professional and personal growth). And then there was one simple idea: George.

Mr. Treadwell suggested that we get an empty box and label it George. As we created new material and handed out copies (this was pre-Google Docs/paperless classrooms), we were to give a handout to George, too. Thus, at the end of the semester, we would have a copy of our entire work in order, in one place. Simple and genius.

I followed Mr. Treadwell’s instructions and was pleased at the end of the semester to have all of my work for the course in one mostly organized pile. I was then able to develop it, improve it, add to it, delete from it, etc.

This Spring, I adapted and welcomed George to the 21st century. He is now a Google Doc named Gandalf. He is not longer a student in my AP World History classroom who receives handouts. He is now a member of my leadership team who serves as a calendar, curator, and administrative assistant for the rest of our team. Gandalf solves problems.

Interested in having your own Gandalf? Here’s what you do…

1. Create a blank Google Doc and paste all key dates for 2013-2014

2. Go through your endless list of Google Docs (if you’re like me, you receive 2-3 new ones each day from creative team members)

3. Link every single Google Doc to a specific date on the calendar. (ie – Orientation, 1st Pep Rally, Faculty Meetings, etc.)

4. Share the document with your leadership team. Ask them to add their documents by linking them to specific dates.

5. Sit down and review/revise the document with your team to make sure all is included and accurate. 

6. As new documents arrive, you must link them into Gandalf or delete them. No stray documents.

Presto! You have just organized your entire upcoming school year in a collaborative way. 

* It is a living, organic document whose maintenance is never complete.

Gandalf Screen Shot