Sunday, August 24, 2014

Starting a new school year: lifeless statue or visionary leader

There are so many beautiful works of art that sit in so many museums throughout the world. Some in particular that come to mind are magnificent statuary on display and presented at the Museo Archeologica Nazionale in Naples, Italy. My wife and I visited there two years ago, and were awe struck looking at the lifeless, yet remarkably oversized statues of the Caesars and their compatriots, as well as their enemies, standing or sitting erect looking out into the distance. These statues are a testament of time, history, and the closest images we will ever have of who and what they were without the convenience of photography. But, they are still just statues taking a revered pedestal in a museum.

            Interesting enough the white marble and granite statues seem pretty much all the same. Research from various sources have now determined that at the point of their creation some thousands of years ago, they were actually painted and colorized with pigments to make them look much more lifelike as a memorial testament to who they were and what they did for the civilization of their times. [1]
As the picture of Octavius Caesar can testify, colorizing the statue makes him look different. The bust on the right looks regal, resilient, and visionary. The bust on the left looks made-up to be more human. It’s hard to imagine following such a leader like the one on the left, compared to the commanding presence of the figure on the right.

     But, that is how it appears as we look for leadership today. We want the resilient and fearless leaders of marble and stone to pave the way. But, instead, we have these people of human qualities, with flesh and blood. And when you come down to it, leadership is nothing more than just that: human qualities of flesh and blood.  Despite the fact Augustus Caesar may have been a great leader in his day, it matters little to us now. Leaders are people and they deal with the everyday issues of life, as we know them today, and not a thousand years ago.  As David Foster Wallace reminds us: “Real leaders are people who help us overcome the limitations of our own individual laziness and selfishness and weakness and fear and get us to do better, harder things than we can get ourselves to do on our own.”[2]

            So, how can you be a visionary leader for your organization as you begin a new school year. Take some advice from an interesting article I read a few month ago entitled the The 7 Secrets of Inspiring Leaders, by Carmine Gallo[3]:

1)             Ignite your enthusiasm: according to financial guru Suze Ormon, “You cannot inspire unless you inspire yourself.”[4] Struggling with low test scores reported last spring? Ignite passion for the work of being the leader of your school.

2)             Navigate a course of action: vision, sharing it, directing it, and leading others into a process to successfully meet their goals is the purpose of the vision or the course of action.

3)             Sell the benefit: your teachers, students and even their parents are in need of a rationale for making sense of the common core issues of our schools. Make it a goal to incorporate it into your comments, dialogues, and conversations to reinforce the vision.

4)             Paint a picture: the human mind is programmed to see the bigger picture. Sometimes that is accomplished through telling stories, using humor to lighten the load, and finding the group moral to the narrative.

5)             Invite participation: we all lived through “shared decision-making”. Now, invite everyone to participate in working towards the mission and the vision. Invite faculty to drop in regularly to voice their opinions and concerns. Have a weekly coffee hour with parents  so they can do the same. Valued constituents in a school organization want meaning. They need to feel valued as well as their opinions and feedback.

6)             Reinforce optimism: General Colin Powell said it best: “Optimism is a force multiplier”. Find something positive about something that is happening everyday in your schools. Share the excitement.

7)             Encourage potential: In this phase of heightened teacher accountability, and professional learning plans, and the fear of firing people, look for ways to encourage the seminal goodness and earnest potential of each and every faculty and staff member.

There are many things to remember about starting a successful school year. Consider the lifeless statues I mentioned earlier. Being known for greatness is not worth anything after you are gone. Making meaning for the people in your organization is worth everything now.

Have a great school year.


[1] Bier, Sariel. "Iconic Images: What Images Will Change the Way a Person Sees the World after Viewing Them?" August 8, 2014. Accessed August 23, 2014.
2 "A Quote by David Foster Wallace." Goodreads. Accessed August 23, 2014.
[3] Gallo, Carmine. "The 7 Secrets of Inspiring Leaders." Forbes. July 6, 2011. Accessed August 24, 2014.

[4] ibid