By the time anyone reads this, we will all be back to school in some capacity; even our colleagues in the Southern Hemisphere will still be a few months away from summer. September is definitely a school month in the vast majority of the world. Though New York, and the northeastern US in general, tend to begin a new school year very late compared with other parts of the country and world, it makes good sense to look back on leadership lessons learned during our respective summers as a fresh year gets underway.
In no particular order, here are four takeaways that have helped me lean into leadership as I’ve sized up the recent summer.
What you don’t anticipate is as probable as what you do
I may be taking a bit of liberty with this subhead, as clearly, the odds of a polar bear joining me as I write this to share its thoughts on this year’s Super Bowl contenders is both unanticipated and not very probable. However, taking the extreme out of the equation, we have all experienced those situations where we have prepared for every possible occurrence but the one that does, in fact, occur.
A case in point: At the end of the summer, our family was returning from a wonderful trip to Disney World in Orlando, Fla. Despite a significant delay, we were able to board our aircraft before flights were grounded. Unfortunately for us, due to the time of night during which we were flying, we had to be diverted to a different airport than the one we had originally left from (and the one where our car was still located). After gaining some insight into airport maps, getting a late-night Uber ride and eventually getting to our own car, we were all exhausted. And, also, we were all the better for the experience.
As leaders, we can never prepare for everything. We can, though, prepare for most, and we can be prepared for what we aren’t. In other words, by running through what could happen, and recognizing that we never really know what will, we are prepping ourselves for most occurrences. That has to be good enough.
Though loss is never easy, it is part of life
This past summer I wrote about the realization that my wife and I had when our daughters were out of the house for a month at sleepaway camp. We came to the important conclusion that we are entering the time period where more and more of our children’s lives can be led by them, and where our connection to them is just as much about being informed by what came before as what comes now and into the future.
I wrote about how there is some loss in that, certainly different than the passing of a colleague, friend or loved one, yet still connected, in that any loss recognizes that life will never be the same.
That may be the foundation of why change in general is so difficult. Any change leads to both growth and loss, and rarely can we separate the two enough to recognize the value the growth brings long-term. As leaders we have to do just that and help those we serve do the same. While we don’t have to welcome the loss, we must understand its place.
Challenges can be embraced or avoided — but not both
Earlier this summer our dog became very ill. While he has since recovered, there was a time where we were not sure what would happen. Medical bills were high, and we were committed to doing what we could to care for him in whatever way was possible.
This presented some challenges for us that we did not anticipate when the summer began. While we could have avoided confronting them head-on, we instead chose to make some difficult decisions and change some of our summer plans. While these changes were not easy, by confronting them and changing some of our personal life practices, we ended up avoiding having to deal with other challenges down the line.
While our challenges were on the financial and recreational end, we can apply this approach to anything. We always have the choice whether to deal with a challenge or pretend it doesn’t exist. However, when faced with an obstacle, we can’t choose to both climb over it and stop moving. Challenges require decisions to be made, and as leaders, the best we can do when faced with them (or when helping others who are faced with challenges) is to recognize that we are always presented with a choice, and once made, the benefits and consequences are ours to live with.
Leaders who recognize that decisions come with impacts are better able to support any given decision and grow from the experience of deciding itself, regardless of whether the end results are positive, neutral or negative.
We control whether time is a blessing or a burden
I have had the pleasure of writing monthly blogs for SmartBrief for roughly five years. During that time I have written quite a bit about the importance of recognizing that time is within our control. While the fact that it constantly passes may not be something we can do anything about, the perception of it certainly is.
As an example, my family is fortunate to have a small boat on a small lake near our home. During the summer months, if my schedule allows, every so often I like to take the boat out in the afternoon, listen to some music and read. Weekday afternoons tend to be quiet on the lake, certainly much more so than weekends or holidays. Besides the lake being calm, it’s also quite beautiful.
One afternoon this summer, I happened to look up from my book in utter amazement. The temperature was perfect, and the sun was hitting the water in the perfect way. I heard birds, and the song playing was exactly the right song for that moment in time. I stared out at the lake for those few minutes while the song played, and that short time felt like an eternity. It was amazing. I was truly in the moment.
As leaders, we have to give ourselves the opportunity to welcome the presence that is necessary to see time as a blessing and not a curse. That awareness of where we are in the world allows us to better understand what is happening around us and provides us with the perspective needed to help ourselves, and others, navigate life in general.
This past summer was an empowering one. While not everything that happened would be considered good, everything that did happen was valuable in helping me grow. As the new school year starts, I feel reflective in regard to my experiences, present in the moment, and with an eye towards future change. While I can’t predict what this year may throw my way, I feel confident that whatever it is, I will be able to lean into it more effectively because of what these last few months have given me. Here’s hoping the same is true for you.
Fred Ende is the director of curriculum and instructional services for Putnam/Northern Westchester BOCES in Yorktown Heights, N.Y. Ende currently blogs for SmartBrief Education, and his two books, “Professional Development That Sticks” and “Forces of Influence,” are available from ASCD. Connect with Ende on his website or on Twitter.
Opinions expressed by SmartBrief contributors are their own.