Steven Covey’s book The 8th Habit has many connections to the life of a building administrator especially in his insistence on character being so crucial.
In the midst of the 1992 presidential campaign, Bill Clinton’s campaign manager, James Carville, put an inspirational sign on a bulletin board at the Little Rock headquarters for the benefit of the campaign workers. One of the points Carville wrote on the sign was “The economy, stupid. “ He knew that Clinton’s chances of winning would be increased dramatically if the campaign kept focused on the perception that Bill will be a president concerned with the economy, unlike his predecessor. Ironically, despite possessing enormous political talent, and achieving success in promoting economic growth, his legacy will always be partially tied to a character problem. Perhaps Carville should have added another point to his bulletin board post: It’s all about character too”.
Covey states that “90% of all leadership failures are character failures.” Who we are is more important than who we appear to be.
As a building Principal, my leadership is centered less on my accomplishments and more on the person I am. This can be a frustrating principle for leaders who long to be judged by performance. Yet, treating my staff with respect, caring about their personal and professional lives, and projecting a positive attitude in meetings and in the hallway reaps greater rewards than any task I can complete. One could draw a parallel to MLK’s famous line from the “I Have A Dream” speech: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
A good leader celebrates others’ successes.
Covey introduces the idea of an Abundance Mentality (AM) which exists when we are motivated not by success at the expense of others but by mutual prosperity. There isn’t a limited pot of riches that will be dolled out over time but a boundless supply of opportunity for all. Embracing this principle has many positive implications for leaders in public schools, including:
- Principals and their schools can be easily compared to each other via test scores and reputation. Adopting AM can lead to a lessening of competition and a greater sense of collaboration.
- Teachers don’t have a natural route to promotion. An AM perspective is crucial in developing selfless teacher leaders.
Life balance comes from making your values the driving force behind your decision making.
Covey uses the metaphor of Big Rocks to illustrate the need to “keep the main thing the main thing”. If the big rocks of life (family, opportunities, professional development) are put in your container of life first, then the small pebbles (emergencies, micro-issues) do not overtake the more important causes. If the pebbles are placed first, then there’s little chance to get to the more important, Big Rock categories. (On Covey’s web site “The Community”, he has a video that illustrates this point well. Access requires registration). In order for character to be the major player in a leader’s arsenal, it’s necessary to make it a “big rock” and be sure that the details of life don’t choke it out. There’s little patience or energy to prioritize character if a leader is overwhelmed.
The Big Rocks metaphor is a surprisingly accurate portrayal of the dilemma I face every day. I never want details to suffocate what is truly important, yet daily I fight that battle. Living with a holistic and balanced perspective is the key.