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Fred Ende’s “Leadership Late Night”

Remembering to prioritize and saying no as often as you say yes can both help you be a better leader, educator Fred Ende writes.

6 min read

EducationEducational Leadership

graphic of words yes and no with arrows for article on leadership

(Mikroman6/Getty Images)

Ever notice how your mind works differently at different parts of the day or night? For instance, I find that I am most creative in my thinking in the early morning hours, most efficient in the hours right before lunch, least effective in the early afternoon and most reflective in the late evening hours.

Which might explain why I’m feeling particularly inward-facing as I write this in the passenger seat of a rented car, driving from New York to Maryland, late on a Friday evening in March. With my youngest daughter singing Taylor Swift songs in the back, and my wife listening to early 21st-century pop, it’s as good a time as any for a bit of “Leadership Late Night,” and in this episode I’ll share three big ideas I’ve been thinking about lately.

Time is not the enemy

In the eight years that I have been writing these posts (I had to validate that too; here they are), the leadership lesson area that I have probably written about most regularly has been our relationship with time. I’ve gone from thinking time is out of our control to thinking it is in our control to thinking it doesn’t really matter since time isn’t the problem anyway. 

We can always lament the fact that there is never enough time for all the work on our plates. And we can blame time for seeming to be too short to experience life in the way we say we want to experience it. Yet, when we dig deeper, it isn’t about time. It’s about priorities. And if we spend life prioritizing everything, then we clearly will never get to all that is on the list. 

I recognize this might be overly simplistic. I also recognize that even when we prioritize well, time will still be a challenge. The key is to stop attempting a fight against time and instead recognize it isn’t the enemy and welcome the time that we do have. 

What I now believe this also means is that we have to think even more clearly about what we do and why we do it. And when we mess up? We can’t blame time. We have to take responsibility for overscheduling our lives. Instead of saying, “I’m so busy; there’s never enough time to get to everything!” we should instead say, “I’m not using my time effectively; I’ve overscheduled myself again.” It doesn’t sound as good to say it — but at least it’s honest.

For every yes, say no to something else

That yes/no recommendation is an offshoot of a Michael Bungay Stanier line. (If you haven’t read “The Coaching Habit,” I recommend you add it to your reading list as soon as you can.) It is designed to help us recognize that each acceptance of something results in a declination of something else. 

The takeaway here is that decisions have consequences. When we live a life filled with constantly saying yes, we end up being disappointed when those yeses become “laters” or “not nows” or “nevers.” Our intentions may be good; after all, why would we want to ever tell someone we can’t help them? Of course, that simplifies what’s at stake. 

Let’s engage in a late-night thought experiment. Let’s say that you are working on a really important project, one that will have really positive outcomes for students and staff. A colleague asks for your help with a project they are working on. They really seem to need your assistance, so you stop what you are doing and help them finish their work. When all is said and done, it’s now the end of the day, and you have to head home to spend time with your family. 

Now it’s decision time: Do you use valuable family time to finish your work, or do you put it off until tomorrow in hopes that you won’t have an interruption then? Neither choice is a good one, and both require you to say no to something. 

Truth be told, this is an area I struggle with. At a recent meeting with curriculum leaders from across my region, I shared that saying no continues to be hard for me to do, even 25 years into my career as an educator. Which, to be honest, probably further highlights its importance. Because every time I say yes, I’m forced to say no to something else. And sometimes, what I have to say no to has a greater impact on my life than what I said yes to in the first place.

Caring for others doesn’t mean we avoid caring for ourselves

One big challenge that we face as servant leaders is sometimes believing that when we care about others, we can’t also care for ourselves. In education, there are no awards for burning the candle at both ends, though we might want to believe there are. In fact, when we never put ourselves first, we are liable to become unable to put others first. It seems illogical initially, but after considering it for a while, it makes perfect sense. How could we give energy and resources to others if we have no energy or resources left for ourselves? 

This is where the importance of self-care really arises. Caring for ourselves gives us what we need to support others in their time of need. That self-care doesn’t have to be as complex as a spa vacation or goat yoga. It can simply be getting a good night’s sleep, reading a good book or enjoying a good meal. 

That requires us to know enough about ourselves to figure out what that self-care looks like and when we need it. Ignoring those signs can be the difference between acting as a servant leader or serving as an absent one. Clearly, the former is more in line with our aspirations for ourselves than the latter.

So, roughly an hour later, the pop music is still playing on the radio, my daughter has transitioned to a movie on her device, we’ve picked up my older daughter from a friend’s party and we’re driving through New Jersey. This episode of “Leadership Late Night” is coming to a close, and I’ve appreciated the opportunity to reflect on life and leadership. Whether you’re reading this with your favorite morning beverage or your favorite late-night one, I hope these nighttime musings provided an opportunity for you to think critically about your own work as a leader and learner. Until next time!

Opinions expressed by SmartBrief contributors are their own. 


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