Principle #31: Trust the process. Pause long enough to see and experience the light at the end of the tunnel. Premature departures can cause us to miss out on the benefits of our collective efforts.
We live in a society of instant gratification. It’s a frantic race. Our mornings can begin with instant coffee, instant grits, and up-to-the-minute news reports. Everything is sold with the promise that it will speed up the pace of hair growth, weight loss, or teeth whitening. But what if we decided to intentionally slow the pace of things down so that we can enjoy the journey to our destiny? What if the path of our careers included moments where we agreed to just be still and listen to our inner voice for the right time to make a move? Corporate and school leaders need enough faith in their own vision to cast it, then step back to allow others to see the light at the end of the tunnel. In my article, The Art of the Mic Drop, I wrote, “Dropping the mic doesn’t equate to dropping the ball. It simply shows a level of trust in the team to get it done without micromanagement.”
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As I write this, school leaders all over the nation are launching into their new year of leading and learning. They’ve analyzed the data, identified the root causes, and hired the right people for the right seats on the bus. They have turned the ignition and are pulling out of the parking lot. No matter what changes a leader makes in an organization, the benefits of the change will take time to materialize. Some people have been moved to new roles on the team, others have opted to leave the team altogether. Any changes that are implemented must be allowed to run the course of the implementation dip before a true assessment of effectiveness can be made. All too often, a change is implemented and if it isn’t successful within minutes those tasked with implementing it write it off as another failed attempt at changing “what we’ve always done”.
In the last stanza of Edward Guest’s poem, See It Through, he writes:
Even hope may seem but futile,When with troubles you’re beset,But remember you are facingJust what other men have met.You may fail, but fall still fighting;Don’t give up, whate’er you do;Eyes front, head high to the finish.See it through!
See it through!
Leaders must have the fortitude to wait and see the light at the end of the tunnel when innovating in an organization. The learning curve for a team can be steep when it comes to changing how technology drives the work or rebranding the company. Anthony Muhammad describes the four types of educators in a school in his book, Transforming School Culture: How to Overcome Staff Division. In any school where I’ve worked, I’ve encountered each of the four types he describes: Believers, Tweeners, Survivors, and Fundamentalists. Believers have fully bought into the vision. Tweeners are new to the team or the profession and are finding their way. Survivors are waiting for the weekend or their grand finale in retirement. Finally, the most vocal of the four, Fundamentalists, devote all of their energy into derailing the plan or campaigning against the current leadership and any changes underway. I can honestly say that in my educational career, I’ve likely been all four at different phases and settings since deciding to become an educator. There have been leaders that I believed in and committed to, and there have been other leaders whose vision I couldn’t see because it didn’t align with my own philosophy of education. In either case, my number one priority was to do what was best for my students.
The Book of Gail
As I sat at the East Lake MARTA Station (Metro Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority) on a peaceful Sunday afternoon, I read about the Law of Magnetism in John Maxwell’s book The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership. We draw people into our organization who reflect the qualities and attributes we value. If you value creativity, you seek out and recognize people in your organization who demonstrate creativity. If you value initiative, you elevate and hire people who show initiative, regardless of their title. One of my staff members, Mrs. Gail, exemplifies this. She is that team member who is constantly thinking ahead and asking “How can I help?”, “Have we taken care of this?”. Rather than focusing on the leader, or her opinion of the current vision, she is fully focused on accomplishing the mission and supporting the team. She doesn’t complain about having to stay a few minutes longer or cover an additional duty. She’s not constantly cornering me to schedule a day when she needs to leave work early. She is an exemplar for those wise enough to notice. As a leader, I strategize on how to bring more people like this onto my team. It’s refreshing to work alongside those who, in the darkest moments, work and grind until we begin to see that twinkling of light at the end of the tunnel.
This year we have brought 13 new team members into our school family. Each of them brings their own wealth of experience, creativity, and instructional expertise to the team we are building. Establishing first impressions with parents, collaborating successfully with colleagues, and determining just what the administration values all takes time. Adjusting to a new school community is a process, so with support, our hope is that they will successfully transition into our school culture and shape it with their own contributions. As we grow with them, returning staff and new staff, we all stand waiting on the light at the end of the tunnel. For me, the light at the end of the tunnel represents student growth, social emotional maturity in our students, increased teacher effectiveness, successful collaborations among teams, and families who appreciate our efforts to create a unique space in public education.
André Benito Mountain is an educator and writer whose work has been featured in Education Week, Washington Principal Magazine, Curriculum in Context, and TEACH Magazine. He is the author of The Brilliance Beneath: The Power of Perspective in Urban Schools. His forthcoming book, The Mountain Principles, captures lessons in learning and leading for educators and leaders. He currently serves as the principal of Marbut Traditional Theme School in metro-Atlanta.