Monday, August 31, 2015

Metaphorical Leadership

Last week I was fortunate to hear BrendanSpillane for the second time, only on this occasion I was able to be in a workshop with him for the entire day, and I was able to bring other members of my SLT (Senior Leadership Team) with me.  

Last time, he was a keynote at the NZPF (New Zealand’s Principals Federation) Conference and his hour and half was, quite simply, transformational.  My Deputy and I bought back several key ideas that we have embedded in our school.  On a personal note, his conversation on what gives you joy (you can read my blog post on that here) was something that made me stop, reflect and it is something that I often refer back to it.  You can always tell the caliber of a speaker by the way it impacts on what you do, and it would be fair to say that Brendan has had a big impact. 

He is one of my favourite speakers, and if you ever get the opportunity to hear him, you are in for a treat!  I have blogged about him before here, and here.   Perhaps why I am so professionally smitten with him is because he comes from a practical background.  He understands he role of a Principal and a leader because he has been one.  He understands education because he is an educator and he understands coaching because he is a GCI accredited coach.  In addition to this, he has a wry sense of humor, complemented by a lilting Irish accent.  

Which brings me to the crux of todays post.  

Brendan uses many clever metaphors to ‘italicize’ his stories with beautiful and clever images, and some of them may resonate with you, as they did with me.    They also gave me pause for reflection.  Which metaphors strike a chord for you?  

Metaphors of Leadership:

“People are people through other people”

People are not machines or robots.  We get the best our of our teams when we remember what it is that makes a good person.  Things like gratitude, kindness, humility and appreciation are what grow people. 

Key Questions:
How do you encourage your team to be the best they can be?  What are you doing to help your team grow and how do you do this with intentionality and commitment?

“Work on it or sit in your ‘little puddle of lament’”

In other words, you can sit and bemoan the troubles you are facing and the worries you might have in your setting, or, you can get off your behind and work to do something about it.  The power is in your hands.

Key Questions:
Are there times when you sit in your ‘little puddle of lament’?  How do you change your mindset and ‘snap out of it’?  What do you do to support your team when they are stuck in their own ‘puddles’?

“The campfire we sit around is too hot” 

Brendan spoke about this in the context of how sometimes, when leaders or teachers are talking the talk but they can’t walk it and there is a disconnect between what the expectation is and what they are pretending to do or be.

Key Questions:
Do you know who your disconnected are?  Are there moments where you have felt like you are pretending?  What do you do for those who feel the ‘campfire is too hot’?

"Up to their knees in blood and gore - from their last victim!”

Funny as this one is, there is a ring of truth to the leadership role and this applies to when the leader gets lost between their intention and their impact. 

Key Questions:
How do you evaluate the impact of your leadership?  Can you tell when your impact and intention has parted ways?  Has there been moments where you have dealt with a staff member in less than kind circumstances, and what can you learn from that?

“Hurt people, hurt people” 

Sometimes we need to speak from our soul – the place where the passion and belief lives.  Remembering where your heart lives, and knowing when to call on that passion and the beliefs that reside there to use as a resource is helpful.   When you get the heart things right, you get the head right.  This will allow you and those around you to flourish. 

Key Questions:
Is your heart flourishing?  If not, what small changes can you make, starting today, to change this?  How do you encourage others to flourish?

 “Feeding your family into the engine to feed other peoples family”

This one really resonated with me.  Education, especially educational leadership, is an emotional roller coaster.  It is a daily juggling of other people’s lives, their ups and their downs.  Sometimes, in order to be your best to support the community you serve, the sacrifice is your own family.  It is a timely reminder that in actuality, our families need to come first – we need to make our families and ourselves the first priority. 

Key Questions: 
How often do you sacrifice your loved ones in order to be on the top of your game for others?  What small step can you make today, right now, to turn this around?

“When you find your question your find your QUEST”

It reminded me a little of ‘The Meaning of Life’ and the quest in ‘Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy’ when they are looking for the answer. 

Key Questions: 
In all seriousness, do you know what your question is?  For you and your life?  For your career?  Have you spent time pondering what your quest is?

“Finding your joy is your clue to finding your gift”

Your gift is your high performance place. It is where you excel the most.   Brendan was saying that once you know what it is that brings you joy in your life – then you will find what your gift is.   When you understand this, then your work performance improves. 

Key Questions: 
So, what brings you joy? 
In what way do you give joy to others?

“You’re never asked to be a bonsai version of yourself”

I love this one! It is very true.  No one ever asks us to be less of ourselves – to underperform at our jobs or to be mediocre as a parent, wife, husband, or friend.   To grow is to flourish and we flourish best under love.   

Key Questions: 
Are you reaching up to be a fully-fledged version of yourself or are you a mere bonsai?  Do you know what a full version of yourself looks like?  If you are a bonsai how do you know how to grow your own team?   What does flourishing look like at your place?

 “A tour of your head and none of us bought a ticket to it”

Imagine you are at a staff meeting, and you run the first 20 minutes, but people are drifting off. This is where Brendan is referring to a situation, which is a bit like your staff is having ‘ a tour of your head but none of them have bought a ticket to it’. 

Key Questions: 
Are there times where this might apply for you?   
Do you know how to practice humility?

“If its not right in the classroom the rest is just fairy floss”

This is another favourite that really struck a chord.  It is so true.  How many schools do we know of where they are all ‘whizzy bangy’ but scratch the surface and its all an illusion.  At the heart of Education are better outcomes for students.  If classrooms are not working the way they should, or we are not addressing issues in classrooms (and here Brendan referred to teacher competency) then what’s the point?  This is about tacking issues as they arise, and doing so with kindness and professionalism.

Key Questions: 
If you were to look critically at your place, is there any ‘fairy floss’ that is covering things that are not right in the classroom?  Is everything going right in all your classrooms?  If they are not, what are you doing about it?  How good is your feedback processes? 

“A vision that’s not shared is a hallucination”

It is an oldie but a goodie that refers to the people you work with all being on the same page and knowing what you are there for.  No point in a vision if you are the only one who knows it or is following it.   

Key Questions: 
Is what you are all doing in line with your vision?  Can you or your team articulate what the vision is and the steps you are all taking to make the vision come to life?  How do you check what you are doing?

“Principalship is a crucible – sometimes it is hot”

Leadership is hard.  It is complex.  It is a constant juggle.  One way to manage it is to notice and appreciate what is happening.  What you place your attention on grows.  It is important to be grateful for the things that are going well and to articulate that to others. 

Key Questions: 
How do you notice and celebrate your team?  How do you appreciate others? 


  1. This post really resonated with me in so many ways, thanks for sharing your reflective questions... lots to consider again :)

    1. My pleasure - he is an outstanding speaker and always leaves me with plenty of wonderings. Mindful leadership - thats my current wondering...