Thursday, June 27, 2019

Choose Courage over Comfort

Brené Brown dare to lead—Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts.

I just finished my eighth year as an elementary school principal. I've truly loved every minute of my time with staff and those who support our drive to teach and inspire students to be and become their awesomeness. What I have learned is creating a positive school culture takes a lot of hard work, belief mindset, and most importantly, a shared leadership framework. I strive to be the type of leader that empowers teachers to be their best teacher leader self for each of our students. I also continue to push myself to be a more thoughtful and purposeful leader who is always a learner in order to serve well.

When Brené Brown's newest book, Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts. was published, I knew I needed to read it. Maybe it is my competitive spirit, but honestly, the word dare jumped out of me, and I know I still have a lot to learn when it comes to leadership. One area of focus for me is facilitating those difficult conversations for others to reach their greatness and have more of an impact on students achieving their "yet" goals. I know I need to fine tune this leadership skill, but daring myself to be better gives me a jumpstart.

I read and listened to Dare to Lead on audio while traveling back and forth to attend a principal conference...every minute counts to a busy leader! One of the featured speakers was principal Beth Houf, who is an inspiring middle school principal, author, and motivational speaker. Houf authentically and warmly encourages her audience to be that leader who creates a school culture where students and staff want to be a part of while learning and performing at high levels. She mentioned she is a quote junky, and for whatever reason, that is how I read and interpreted Brown's book Dare to Lead. There were so many gems of wisdom I wanted to capture them for my own learning.

Brown begins her first section with defining vulnerability "as the emotion we experience during times of uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure" and used a metaphor of filling or depleting a marble jar to emphasize the relationship of trust and vulnerability. "Trust is the stacking and layering of small moments (adding marbles) and reciprocal vulnerability over time. Trust and vulnerability grow together, and to betray one (depleting marbles) is to destroy both." Brown also shares, "We need to trust to be vulnerable, and we need to be vulnerable in order to build trust." A leader who dares to lead understands the importance of honesty, even during hard conversations and embraces doing so in a safe environment where we seek to learn more not for sympathy but understanding. This is vulnerability and trust in action.

These conversations often require principals like myself to dismantle our armor of vulnerability "and talk about hard things and tackle tough subjects" with courage. Brown referenced Joseph Campbell's famous quote, "The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek." Critical conversations can be extremely uncomfortable but often allows you and those you support to find the treasures you seek. Thinking about our school community, the treasures we seek is to find ways to empower each of our students to progress, achieve, and exceed their goals. Strategically analyzing the data together, having important conversations, and finding inequities of subgroups is an opportunity for teachers and leaders to move forward and lead with less armor and more daring strategies.

Here is the poster I want to put on my wall right across from my eye level.  

Brown then gives a list of 16 examples of Armored Leadership behaviors posted side by side with Daring Leadership practices to consider, followed by a comprehensive summary of each one.  Brilliant, because as a school leader I am wondering if too often I am "hustling for our (my) worth" (Armored Leadership) rather than "knowing our (my) value" (Daring Leadership). In addition, am I guilty of "collecting gold stars" (Armored Leadership), versus "giving gold stars" (Daring Leadership)? I should consider posting the list too!

There are so many other gems in Brown's latest book Dare to Lead, but the last takeaway I'll share is found in section two, "Daring leaders who live into their values are never silent about hard things" including for me leaning into "living my values" when giving feedback to teachers. What I love about Brené feedback recommendations is they lean into my core value of being of service to others. Each feedback guideline Brown recommends has the mindset of collaboration rather than in isolation including; sit down next to you, in front of us, listen and ask questions, acknowledge what you do well, recognize strengths, accountability without shame and blame, owning my part, thank someone for their efforts, lead to growth, and modeling vulnerability and openness.

My "why" is to lead by empowering our teachers to become purposeful instructional leaders. This requires a sense of bravery as a leader who is willing to build trust with careful steps towards vulnerability adhering to values that allows us to rise together rather than alone.

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