The "Red Flash"

Updated: Nov 1

School leaders are busy.


Walk into any building and leaders can be seen bobbing and weaving through hallways and classrooms to ensure the day runs smoothly.

When leaders are on the go, it is easy to have a one-track mind: Solve one issue and on to the next.


Unfortunately, leaders who operate with tunnel vision often fail to notice the most vital aspect of their job:


Their people.


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"How can a leader walk right by a group of people they work with and not even say hello to them?"


When I initially read this passage in John Maxwell's The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership I didn't feel this issue pertained to me. I was always respectful of employees and certainly didn't pass them without acknowledgement.


However, reading further I realized there may be more personal truth than I first believed: "Don't say 'I've got a lot of work to do today and I really want to get started.' You just walked past your work. Never forget that leadership is about people."


And then it dawned on me: Although I've learned how to deliver superficial greetings, I still struggle giving others full attention when other work needs to be done.


As an assistant principal, a colleague nicknamed me "The Red Flash" due to my red hair and my penchant for dashing around the building putting out fires. While I was a pro at solving "important" issues, I was still a novice at slowing down and investing time with staff.


As a principal, my nickname did not follow (thankfully). What did follow was my bad habit of prioritizing problems over people. In a large building with 1600 kids, my attention was often focused on addressing "pressing" student matters - at the expense of staff relationships.


As a superintendent, one would think a small office setting might help break my bad habit once and for all. While initially I was good about spending time with staff, over time I resorted to my old ways. Instead of strengthening friendships, I opted to retreat to my office to complete "urgent" work.


Old habits die hard.


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Energy is precious and the brain is wired to conserve it whenever possible. Therefore, it is human nature to follow The Law of Least Effort. This principle suggests when deciding between two options, people naturally gravitate toward the choice requiring the least amount of work.


Often, this concept pertains to our personal life. Rather than clean out the garage or go for a bike ride, our tendency is to select easier options such as scrolling through our phones or watching television.


The Law of Least Effort impacts work as well. School leaders have many options for how to spend their time, with varying levels of energy needed to complete each task.


For example, when a school leader enters the office, she is faced with two options: Stop to engage with her secretary, or proceed to her office to begin work.


While conversation seems like the easier option, the reality is many supervisors choose the latter.


Why is this?


Many leaders are preoccupied with work. Driven to succeed, their mind is trained to think about the next problem needing solved or the next project requiring attention.


Too bad their work was outside the door.


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School leaders are given many responsibilities. Their “to-do” lists are never-ending. With so many duties, working in isolation can feel more important than asking co-workers about their weekend.


Do you see personal moments with staff as investments or expenditures? When leaders spend even a few minutes engaging in conversation with employees, they do wonders to instill loyalty and trust with those individuals.


Sometimes giving ten minutes to chit chat with a secretary can seem like an eternity. My challenge to you (and me!) is to remember leadership is about people.


Next time you make a mad dash to your office to return a phone call or answer an email without acknowledging staff remember this:

You just walked past your work.

Copyright © 2019 by Dr. Jared Smith LLC.  Specializing in Leadership, Education, and Personal Growth.