Finding your focus can often be a challenge when you’re in a leadership position, but is a necessary attribute as agreed by many. In HBO’s documentary Becoming Warren Buffett, there’s a scene that explores Buffet’s friendship with fellow billionaire, Bill Gates, during a dinner party hosted by Gates’ mother. She asks guests to identify what they believe attributed to their success in life. Gates and Buffett shared the same one-word answer: Focus.
In school leadership, finding your focus can be a challenge when other people are always vying for your time and attention. Take fire drills for example. Fire drills, though necessary, can always serve as an opportunity for someone who “just needs a few minutes of your time. “ It’s easy to get sucked into the vortex of somebody else’s priorities and lose focus, especially when the scheduler is an upset child or parent. However, just because it’s easy to lose focus, it doesn’t mean you should. In fact, as a school leader, you must keep your head about you to lead effectively.
Unfortunately, just like everyone else, you only get 24 hours in each day to complete the endless number of tasks that you are responsible for. Here are some ways to help you with finding your focus and maximizing every minute in your day:
Finding Your FOCUS
First things first:
Prioritize your very long to-do list every day. Start the day by moving the biggest rocks to the front of the line and schedule when you’ll work on those rocks and for how long. As Michael Hyatt says, “What gets scheduled, gets done.” Here are some important priority reminders for a school leader:
- Students, parents, and teachers must know, like, and trust you before they will follow you. Cultivate your relationship with stakeholders on a daily basis by being visual. Be in the car line each day; eat in the cafeteria; and teach a lesson every once in awhile.
- If you’ve scheduled evaluations, stick to the schedule unless a real fire happens. Instructional feedback is key to your students’ success.
- Reports are best done when the school is quiet and the chance for interruptions is minimal. When possible, write reports before or after school hours. This frees up your time to meet with your people, be available in the halls, and greet guests.
Own the situation:
People are going to get emotional sometimes. A parent is going to walk in angry about her child’s grades, and a teacher is going to walk in upset about a student. Consider these ideas before you respond:
- Stop everything that you are doing: Close the computer; invite them to sit down or stand up to join them as an equal; and focus all of your attention on that person.
- Help the person feel heard and understood: Dale Carnegie, author of How to Win Friends and Influence People, encourages us to “Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.” Disarm them by using their name throughout the conversation.
- Repeat back to them what you hear them saying: This acknowledges their perspective and encourages them to focus on facts, not emotions, giving them a chance to calm down.
Create a plan before you need it:
- Train your office staff in how you expect them to manage phone calls, drop-in visitors, and other potential interruptions. Help your staff discern a true emergency from a false one. As a team, define how they will treat every person who walks in the door as a customer. Then, model it yourself, monitor their implementation, provide feedback, and consistently look for ways to improve. When an incident occurs, sit down and review what went well and what didn’t.
Unite the folks involved:
- Ask yourself, “Who else needs to be involved?” to help you gather the right people in the room. Rely on your team to offer the insight that you need to make a decision that is best. This could include the parents, the teacher directly involved, the guidance counselor, and another teacher who works with the student and can provide a helpful perspective. When you have multiple perspectives in the room, the more likely it is that you will create a workable solution that everyone can buy into.
- Although this one is listed last, safety matters most in a school setting. It is our utmost duty to ensure that children depart in a very similar physical and emotional condition that they arrived to school in that morning. They should be tired and even a little dirty, but they should also be full of did-you-knows and you’ll-never-believes.
- Continuously assess how safety can be improved, and not only will everyone be safer, your school community will know that you care. A malfunctioning toilet can throw off instruction, so create a system where people report suspected or known issues. Planning on the front end saves lost instructional time and potential safety hazards on the back end.
Before you can go about finding your focus, you must first have vision. Finding your focus will give you the ability to answer the one question that should drive you every day: “What’s important right now?” Focus will give you the clarity of mind and the support system in place to create an answer to that question that reflects your school mission, your school culture, your students, and you as a leader. So let’s get focused today!
This blog was written by Katy Ridnouer, Leadership Coach, Speaker and Trainer with Leaders Building Leaders. If you found this content valuable, please share. If you want to learn how you can focus more reach out to me at Katy@Leaders-Building-Leaders.com for a complimentary FOCUS session.